It is Not a New Normal, It’s a New Reality!

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

My Friend, Lou Strugala, and I were discussing the current state of life under the rules of stay-at-home. I asked Lou is this the new normal? Lou, quickly and with certainty stated; No, it’s not a new normal, rather it is a new reality. Explaining that the current situation of forced isolation isn’t normal for any person, but it is our current reality.

I thought about what Lou had to say and he is right. There is a danger for those suffering from isolation to call it normal. Humankind are social creatures and need human interaction. Not by Zoom or phone calls, but actually in-person contact. Our bodies need food and water, and our minds need human contact.

To call what we are going through as normal it is really a misinterpretation of the word normal. While it is a new reality, it isn’t a new normal.

Over the past week, I have had discussions with people who are working from home, and when I ask how they are doing, I am confronted with words like lonely, isolated, and depressed. You can hear it in their voices and through Zoom see the weight of this new reality.

Many spend their days on the phone or tied to their desks; doing their work. Some do it from seven to seven. There is no transition in their lives, they get up, have breakfast, and hit the phones or spreadsheets. Some stay on the phone all day. Many have lunch at their home workplace without ever moving. Then transitioning to dinner with little changes.

One person even mentioned they missed the commute. Others have said they miss office banter. Those who work from home live an unvaried existence. None of this is normal.

They miss seeing smiles or nodding heads of agreement. They can’t see the body language of support. All that is normal with non-verbal communication is missing. Leaving people isolated, depressed, and overly tired.

Well, I hope that things go back to the way they were, it is unlikely. There will be residue, even when we get to the final phases of stay-at-home. So what can we do?

One friend doesn’t start work until [8:30] and is strict about this starting time. He takes a walk and avoids work until then. He makes sure he makes lunch for his daughter. He stops all phone calls at four and spends time doing his email. After dinner, he does something different each day. At eight each night he picks something special to do, every day. And he does all this on a regular basis, no exception.

It is not that he does less work, but he has created boundaries and has given himself things to look forward to at the end of the day.

Another person has upped their exercise time and goes on long walks. They are excited because they are in better shape, which makes them happier.

In our verse today, This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. This verse applies to life’s problems, especially now. Life won’t always be perfect, but God will always be with us.

This is what my friend Lou did. His church, A Church by the Bay, he just started hasn’t met in two months. Through prayer, he discovered another ministry. And bravely with his faith marched forward with the new path of his new reality. Today, through volunteers he makes two hundred and fifty meals a week for shut-ins.

How does he do this and still comply with social distancing? The meals are made in people’s homes instead of in a communal kitchen. Then dropped off at a collection center. Another person picks up the meals and then puts them on the doorsteps of the shut-ins. All complying with social distancing, but still getting meals to those who need them.

Lou also now sends out a daily Bible verse and records a short message on his Facebook page, A Church by the Bay. Every day, four thousand people hear or read his messages.

Lou gave his worries to God and listened for a different way to live. He is busier today than a few months ago. There is joy in his voice. An unusual event occurred that gave him new income. Sure Lou, who is very social, would love to be with people, but this is his new reality.

Lou knows this isn’t normal what we are doing today, to avoid getting worn down, Lou has reoriented and reinvented his life. He gave God his worries and bravely off he went.

Today is a new reality. And we shouldn’t accept it as a new normal. By recognizing it as different and not normal means we have to act differently. It means we have to be creative and identify what makes us not only productive but gives us hope, joy and human interaction.

Being Christian doesn’t mean we won’t have problems, rather how we handle problems is different. That was God’s message to Joshua thousands of years ago, to be strong and know that whatever happens in our lives, God is with us wherever we go, even with our new reality.

Listen to the Full Podcast – It’s Not the New Normal

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

book of revelations

The Book of  Revelations isn’t Really that Scary!

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place.

Revelations 1:1

When I first took on the task of reading the Bible cover to cover, I started with the New Testament. My reasoning for starting there was because of Jesus and my personal belief that the books of the Old Testament point to the arrival of Jesus. As such, I would have a better understanding of the Old Testament after I read the New Testament.

However, when I got to the book or Revelations, I was very nervous and skipped over the book and proceeded to the Old Testament. I always had felt and heard that Revelations was dark and scary. So I put it off to last.

Now I am not the only one who felt this way. Even though it was one of the first books to be included in the New Testament by the early organizers of the Bible, the book was not universally accepted. Even today, there are some in the Eastern church that don’t consider the book to be worthy and don’t include the book in their version of the Bible.

Early Protestant reformers, Luther and Calvin did not think Revelations should be in the Bible. Even when you look at Calvin’s comprehensive commentary’s on the Bible you will find Revelations missing. Both believed the book was not God-inspired.

After reading the book on my first reading of the complete Bible and studying it at Theological school, I changed my views. I came to view Revelations as a wonderful story of the battle between good and evil, that Jesus ultimately wins.

The imagery of the battle between good and evil in Revelations is vivid and very colorful. In part this is what makes the book scary. When you read Revelations you discover very dark characters like Death riding on a pale horse, followed by Hades. Even the angels at one point scorch a third of the earth. Humans even retreat into caves. A cosmic battle between good and evil vividly shown.

Even near the end of the book, the reader is warned to not take anything away from this book. If they do, they will lose their share of the tree of life.

Some really harsh and vivid language. But there is a backdrop to why this type of language was used. While the letter is intended to be the revelation of Jesus to the author, John, as it states in the very first line of Revelations, it was written to give confidence to the general Christian population of the late first century, who were enduring persecution by the Roman Empire.

Specifically, in a concealed way the book is about Rome as the evil empire and Christians as being protected by Jesus. Concealed in not specifically calling out Rome, instead using scary and dark characters to represent evil. This was done to prevent the book from being banished. But as we have seen consistently throughout the New Testament, these writings about current events led to the creation of Biblical masterpieces that can be brought forward in time. Their messages just as relevant to the 21st century as they are to the 1st century. God-breathed words, through God created events that created stories and messages that are timeless.

Also, included are letters to seven churches. These letters give guidance to these churches as how to become better Christians. Instructions on how to move closer to Jesus. When you read these letters, you can identify weaknesses in these churches that are not much different than today.  Still relevant criticisms that must urgently be addressed.

The book also uses extensive numerology to tell its story of good and evil. The number seven, which for the reader means God or heavenly things, is mentioned well over one hundred times, explicitly or implicitly. The “Beast” or evil is expressed with “666.” This contrast was used for the hearers of the story in the 1st century to further draw out the battle between good and evil. In the 1st century, because so few could read, they received the Bible orally and numerology helped reinforce memory.

There is also a sense of immediacy in the book. And you get this from the first line, where it says,  The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place. While this call to action was spoken in the first century, it is really an eternal call to respond quickly to evil. And many have misunderstood this to only apply to the time of its writing. We are now in the 21st century and the battle between good and evil still exists, so its sense of urgency is for all time. In other words, whenever we are engaged or witness good or evil, we must quickly side with good in our actions and deeds. To do nothing is the same as siding with evil.

A final note in the book that occurs in the final chapter, Jesus declares himself to be the Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. In all things Jesus is the Lord. And in all things Jesus will be involved. And not only that Jesus will resolve evil promptly.

This statement is reassuring for those desirous of doing good and a caution for those committing evil. In that the Alpha and Omega, Jesus, will always prevail.

So while the imagery and words of Revelation are vivid and would rival anything produced by Marvel comics, it is simply a very strong revelation by Jesus for us to always and with urgency resist evil. And when evil occurs or happens to us, to know and have a strong faith that Jesus will always win.

I am now happy to be able to say, that with this knowledge, I can venture into Revelations and not become alarmed. Revelations is a vivid message from Jesus to get our attention to resist evil urgently, for both us as individuals and the church at large.

Listen to the Full Podcast – The Book of Revelations Isn’t That Scary

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

In the Bible there are three books called the Wisdom Books; Proverbs, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs and Psalms are certainly the most well-known. Ecclesiastes is lesser-known, but still just as important. Ecclesiastes (3:1-9) is perhaps one of the most well-known poems in the Bible, called A Time for Everything. When I was much younger, and had not had many seasons in my life, I viewed this poem as nice and well written; and never really took the time to understand what it meant. Frankly, I was more interested in the Byrds song called Turn, Turn, Turn, whose words come from this poem. You can hear the song using this link; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4ga_M5Zdn4

As the seasons of my life have accumulated, this wonderful poem has taken on a far different impact. It is a poem about opposites. For instance, in verse two it says; A time to be born and a time to die. Each of the verses contains this structure. There is always a beginning and end and each of these activities are under the heavens.

Over the last few weeks I have been deeply immersed in these opposites of life. These weeks have been a constant time of opposites for my extended family and myself. My father died peacefully on April 26th. The first real-time of mourning for an extended family of forty souls.

We were grateful that he went to his Lord surrounded by his family, the gift of in-home hospice. It wasn’t that he was ill, his body just gave out. In his final week we could all see it was close and he knew as well that he was slipping away.

Over his last few days I treasured my calls to say goodnight to my dad, knowing each one might be the last. In each call I experienced the joy of the memories of having a wonderful dad and the sadness of knowing he was going.

At the same time I sensed he was nervous about the impending event. Leaving me and my brother, Jim, to provide hope that this transition was leading to paradise, a place of peace. We both helped him with his final transition while fighting the grief of knowing he was going and we would remain behind.

In my quiet moments my emotions would toss between joy, knowing he was going to be safe and the sadness of losing my earthly rock.

On his final day, when he could only hear and squeeze a hand, I took an afternoon nap and awoke compelled to write him a poem. A poem titled I hope You Know (Attached at the end); to let him know he was loved and was going to be with Jesus. At five PM, through tears I read him my poem, while my mother held his hand. Moments later, he opened his eyes one last time, looked at my mom, and was gone.

A moment for me where I had the important duty of comforting him, with sadness mixed with joy knowing he was going to Jesus.

The extended family gathered quickly and flocked to his house, the funeral home was called and another moment in the many seasons of life was revealed. As he left the house, the family lined the driveway gathered to honor and say goodbye. My daughter, Ashley, sang Amazing Grace as his flag-draped body was moved to the hearse.

A time of honor, goodbyes, reverence, and peace. A peace that his battle was over and he was safe while we all felt sad that he was gone.

I had prayed before he died that I would get a signal that he was safe and at peace. The day after he died, my answer came early in the morning. Sitting on my favorite bench,  a bird joined me, sitting unnaturally close, while singing a song. An intimate moment in the morning that gave me relief. Another moment of the opposites of life, one of joy and one of sadness.

Other moments would occur that let us know he was safe.

My oldest daughter, who lives overseas in a far distant time zone, had a dream she saw him walking on the beach. She yelled in her dream, Papa Bob! he turned and smiled, then proceeded on his way. In the morning when I told her he had died while she was sleeping; she knew what the dream meant. Another moment of joy and sadness.

In his obituary we put included a picture of him just before he was married, a young and handsome man. We also included a picture of him in his later years, the wise guiding force of our family. This reminded me of the first verse of the poem; A time to be born and a time to die.

There were so many emotions during his last few days that had the full range of this wonderful poem in Ecclesiastes. All of his children got to say goodbye and each of his thirteen grand-children did as well, many hearing for the last time; I love you. A man of few words gave us one last gift with these wonderful words.

I take comfort now in this poem. A poem I had always known, but only looked at with curiosity. It was now both a guiding force of how to think about these last few weeks and a place of comfort.

Comfort in knowing this God-breathed verse in the Bible clearly lays out that the seasons of life are God designed and not a random set of events. We all will have beginnings and endure endings. But these seasons exist for a reason. There will be for all of us a time to gather and a time to cast away. A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to build up and a time to tear down.

This is a life designed by God. And because God is involved, it is necessary and good.

Poem Read to My Dad in His Last Moments

I Hope You Know

I hope you know how much you’re loved

I hope you know how many lives you’ve touched

I hope you know how much we care

I hope you know Jesus is waiting for you

I know when you cross over the bridge you will find peace

I know Jesus has a place for you

I know you will find Chuck and Eleanor

I know you will be safe

Thank you for being you

Thank you for the times you said no

Thank you for believing in me

Thank you for being my dad.

(Author’s note: I was reluctant to post this message because of its very personal nature. When I told my mom about my concerns, she quickly replied “Your father would want you to publish it, because it might help someone.” And so I have; perhaps in some way, this will help others.)

Listen to the Full Podcast – The Seasons of Life

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Michael Aleo on Unsplash

mired in darkness

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness but will have the Light of life.

John [8:12]

On a day when the number of new COVID-19 cases had dropped by fifteen percent for the third day in a row, all I read and saw was frightening headlines. Headlines that promoted danger and reminded us to be fearful. The major newspapers ran headlines that said deaths hit an all-time high on that day. Yet missing from the article was the erroneous inclusion of deaths on that day of missed reporting from January to March.  Simple fact-checking would have revealed the error.

Our news reporting on the national level has become so obviously biased, it is promoting division among the populace. Short of facts and long on agenda, our television has moved from unbiased reporting to opinion-based reporting. Missing are the real facts and news.

In every report, we hear about the risks without the solutions. It seems as if people are setting themselves up to say; I told you so! When we listen or read the news we only get problems, which promotes fear.

In John [8:12], Jesus tells us He is the light of the world. And that those who follow Him will no longer walk in darkness. It is not that following Jesus will make us problem-free, rather Jesus reorients us to think about how to live with hope. People that only give you problems without solutions only create fear. People who see problems and think through the solutions provide hope. They give us the light of encouragement.

In my business life, you couldn’t come to my office with a problem that didn’t contain a solution. Otherwise, we considered the act of just identifying problems as dark behavior. Almost like a hit and run.

Successful Christians, businesses, and people are solution-oriented. Not looking to make things worse by creating fear, but making things better by working the problem.

This is what Jesus is talking about when He says I am the light of the world. And this is what Jesus wants from us; to walk in the light and not in darkness. Jesus wants us to find hope through problem-solving and not fear.

Jesus doesn’t want us to report numbers in the press just to create fear. But to dig deeper and look for hope with a solution. Jesus doesn’t want us to intentionally edit remarks by others to promote our agenda, rather be balanced in our views. Jesus doesn’t want us to look at a small piece of information and make it larger, so we create more fear, rather Jesus wants us to be objective.

The media believes that this negative and fearful reporting will help their business, nothing could be further from the truth. In the all-important 25-54 age group, the combined audience of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox are all seeing drops in viewership of over twenty percent. In fact, if you add up all three, their audience doesn’t achieve one million viewers. A far cry from the lofty numbers of years gone by.

What they are missing is Americans want the truth. Americans want light and not darkness. They are missing that hope sells. They are missing that there is always a solution to every problem.

Thin thinking has led us to this point. Critical thinking will lead us out. It is way too easy to just tell the bad, but far harder to critically think about a solution.

Americans are not dumb they know this difference between thin and critical thinking. Americans are not sheep, rather they are sheepdogs. Give Americans a goal and they will achieve it. Only give Americans problems and they will tune you out. And the numbers don’t lie, Americans are tuning out.

Imagine if those reporting the problem thought first; what would Jesus want us to report? Certainly, the agenda would disappear. Certainly, a harder look at the facts would occur. Certainly, solutions would be revealed. We all know Jesus wouldn’t approve of craftily edited sound bites that don’t reveal the truth.

John Krasinski, from The Office and Jack Ryan, recently set up a YouTube channel called Some Good News. His viewership is over two million people. And he just started! There is a message here about how people want the news. Not overly optimistic, but the real facts.

I can see Jesus sitting back and saying; Well you did a great job at identifying the problem. Now what is the solution and where is there hope. We all know Jesus wouldn’t allow only the darkness to be reported. We all know Jesus would only want the facts and messages of hope.

This is true in our own lives; problems will always appear. Jesus wants us to seek the Light and not darkness.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Avoiding Being Mired by Darkness

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Anthony Bouzalas on Unsplash

grace

We Are Who We Are Because of The Grace of God

But by the grace of God I am what I am.

1st Corinthians [15:10]

I am sure you have heard the phrases, By the grace of God or I am saved by the grace of God. So what is God’s grace? The simplest answer is; grace is God’s love towards us, which has not been earned by us but given freely by God. The multiple branches of this statement in explanation are long and if all are followed, provide more insight if carefully worked by the mind.

The amount of theological doctrine relating to grace is immense and it seems that not all can quite agree. Some parts are agreed to by some and others have other dimensions of grace to explain.

And that is part of the point about grace, each person receives and feels God’s grace differently. But its effect on the individual is universal. So universal that God’s grace is perhaps the most important aspect of the Bible. In our relationship with God, it starts with God’s desire to be in relationship with us. A compelling desire by God that is not diminished by our rejection of God.

Jesus is a prime example of grace. The cross, His life, and resurrection were all done as a result of God’s grace. The forgiveness of our sins was unearned. Simply, an innocent entity stood in for us on the cross. The lessons of Jesus become guideposts for our lives, yet they have been given freely. The resurrection of Jesus was to defeat death for us. Again, an extraordinarily powerful act, that was not deserved but given.

Creation itself is the gift of grace. We live in a vibrant world filled with colors, light, mountains, and lakes. Even in our most vivid moments, it would be impossible for any human to create what God has made.

Now some will say all humankind is totally depraved and we need God’s grace to redeem us. I do not buy into total depravity and many have tried to convince me that all of humankind is totally depraved. All well-intentioned opinions and certainly well documented in theological research. I am not there and I know I have a minority viewpoint of this issue. I will readily admit we all fall short, and I certainly have. But I believe part of grace is the innate goodness I see in people.

While I can continue the list of God’s activities to benefit humankind, it is doubtful I could ever finish. So, let’s keep this simpler and focus on how God’s grace affects the individual. In 1st Corinthians [15:10], Paul states; But by the grace of God, I am what I am. In these ten words, I find all I need to know.

For instance, I do not exist without grace. Paul is clear; he is because of God. And so it is with each of us. Sure some will say we are because of evolution. And from my viewpoint, that is true when we consider that evolution was God’s mechanism for creating us. Evolution is the medium and God is the creator. Now let’s be careful here, there are plenty who disagree with me on this point and believe God created us from dust. That very well may be the case, if you are a literalist. Being metaphorical, I tend to complicate these issues and always try to connect science with God’s activity. But either way, grace is what made us what and who we are.

Also, in this statement is another definition of who we are. Specifically, as it relates to us as individuals. Some are good with numbers, others are strong with language and we have those who are good with science. And each of us has a blending of all human traits. So when Paul says; By the grace of God I am what I am, he is also specifically talking about his uniqueness. The gifts of talents we receive were delivered to us by the grace of God.

But did God have to give us our gifts or make us wonderfully made? Well no, but God did and this is grace. Our own individuality is the gift of grace.

Another thing I love about Paul’s statement is his humble and wise recognition of where his strength comes from. By saying; by the grace of God…, he gives full credit to who he is and what he accomplishes to the grace of God. He knows the source of his power and his very existence. And at the same time humbly admits he is and what he accomplishes is through the grace of God.

So while all that we are and do is because of the grace of God, it is experienced by the individual differently from person to person. It is certainly a worthwhile effort to type into Google; quotes about the grace of God. When you do, you will find hundreds of quotes, all correct, but all different.

When I posted on twitter the following question; what is grace to you?; Likewise, I received wonderfully rich answers from many different points of view. Most were theologically correct, but all came from a different point of view.

So it seems to me that Grace is experienced differently person by person. But at the same time, it is always a free and unmerited gift of love from God. Not that we don’t deserve it, but more that we didn’t earn it.

So while I could spend many more days researching grace, I believe Paul has summed it best when he said; but by the grace of God, I am what I am. Leading to the question, who is the person that God wants us to be? In answering this question, we answer our own personal question of what does grace mean to me?

Listen to the Full Podcast – We Are Who We Are Because of the Grace of God

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

Photo by Kirill Pershin on Unsplash

 

church closed

Are Religious Freedoms Being Trampled Because of the Corona Virus?

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

Matthew [18:20]

 

Due to the lockdowns across our country caused by Covid-19, most churches have been ordered to be closed. Ironically in most states, Liquor stores have been declared an essential business and remain opened. For many Christians, this appears to be a trampling of the first amendment, which protects religious freedom. Certainly, politically we can see this as a denial of our rights and in some state’s lawsuits have been filed.

But as Christians are we driven by politics or acting in a way God desires? In other words, how does God want us to act? After all, didn’t Jesus say; Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things are God’s. Paul in Romans wrote; Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.

So it appears Biblically, that we should comply with the civil orders, but at the same time stay committed to Jesus. In other words, still worship, but find a different way. Instead of being confrontational, we should put our energies into thinking about alternative ways to worship. Leave the political bickering to civil authorities.

As Christians, we have a long history of figuring out how to be true to Christ and avoid civil conflict. The early Christians in Rome worshipped under the city in the catacombs to avoid upsetting the local authorities. The early Methodists in England met in homes or chapels, so as not to upset the state-sponsored Anglican church. Even in early America when the population grew faster than churches could be built, Methodists and Baptist met in homes or created camp meetings. Ingenuity in worship has always been a Christian hallmark.

Jesus defines worship as; For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew [18:20]) A simple message that means all we have to do is gather in Jesus’s name.

While I agree, the right to practice religious freedom is a constitutional hallmark, I don’t think fighting this ban is as productive as finding other ways to worship. Our energies are better spent using alternative methods and gathering in Jesus’ name.

And many churches are live streaming their services. Some have started drive-in churches, even though some overly zealous authorities have been handing out tickets.

Zoom has become a way for Christians to gather in Jesus’ name. Zoom is a great place to hold small bible groups or even meet for prayer. It has the added advantage of being able to this with friends who are physically far away. I am sure, Jesus would approve of Zoom for small Bible groups and prayer groups.

I am also sure Jesus would not want us to get our neighbors sick, by meeting in unsafe environments. Biblically, social distancing is supported, particularly in Leviticus 13, which lays out the Biblical rules of self-quarantine. Ironically fourteen days is mentioned as the protocol, similar to today’s rules.

Some will disagree and say we should fight harder to protect our religious freedom, to which I heartedly agree. But there are bigger Christian persecution issues we should labor against. Once COVID-19 is diminished, we will be able to go back to our physical church. Instead, we should stay focused on issues that will not go away when COVID-19 disappears; like letting Bibles be okay in school. Fighting for the right to pray in schools.

Internationally, we should still fight for religious freedom in faraway places like China. Today, more than ten percent of Christians live with persecution. Frankly, this is the battle to fight and not be distracted by the obvious insanity of letting liquor stores be open when churches are closed.

Here in the United States, we have viable options for worship, in other parts of the world, many Christians not only do not have options. Their worship is banned, no matter the form. This is where our voices can have a long term impact.

Our voices should be louder with allowing prayer and Bibles to exist in schools and businesses. While atheists will proclaim that this is an invasion of their 1st Amendment rights, to not allow Christians to pray or read the Bible is also a violation of practicing Christian rights. Those who oppose will say they are being coerced and being put upon illegally. This issue isn’t about anyone being forced but providing the freedom to those who hold Jesus as their source of faith. Prayer and Bibles at work or in schools don’t have to be forced upon people, just made available for practicing Christians.

In the meantime, we will be able to worship together in person in the near future. And at the same time, we have Zoom to connect with other Christians. By the way one of the hidden advantages of virtual Christianity is that people who are geographically far away can now participate. A special blessing for Christian friends to stay connected even though thousands of miles separate them.

Maybe today, reach out to those you know who want to have a virtual Bible study and start one up. Perhaps even start a long-distance prayer group. And don’t forget on Sunday to tune into your church’s live-streamed worship service or perhaps one you find on the internet.

All Jesus asks is that we gather in His name.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Are Religious Freedoms Being Trampled Because of the Corona Virus?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

 

learning to fish

Finding God is Like Learning to Fish

I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.

Proverbs [8:17]

When I was twelve, I lived in a very rural part of central Massachusetts. Our home was surrounded by farms and streams. A very pastoral setting. I was also of the age where I could roam without parental supervision. And with my brother, we roamed the streams and countryside. Discovering remote places and quiet settings where few would walk.

Over time, my brother and I started thinking about fishing. So with our money from cashing in bottles and doing odd jobs, we got fishing licenses, rods, reels, and all the stuff needed to fish. Our first attempts were weak and produced very little results.

But we loved roaming around and would spend hours discussing how to get better. We talked to the locals to find the right bait and whenever we saw someone fishing, I would ask lots of questions.

And we got better with most trips producing results. We discovered that the further away from roads you got, the more productive the fishing holes. We learned to let our line drift into the quiet shady pools, where the water didn’t run fast. We discovered that in front of dams, whether man-made or by beavers, were great places as well. We looked for places just next to the current and had good hiding places for the trout. Over the three years we lived there we learned a lot and diligently scoured the countryside to find fish.

As time wore on, in my twenties, when I lived in the rural parts of Maine. I fished on my days off with my friend Steve. We would go to the remote parts of Maine looking for streams that were just right; off the beaten path, wide enough for fish to live and had shade covered pools.

They were wonderful places to sit and feel gentle breezes on our faces. Quiet solitude where we fished and discussed the intricacies of the fishing holes we visited. Sometimes, it would take a couple of miles of walking to find just the right place. But the journey itself was as enjoyable as the fishing.

As life got busier, with a family and growing career responsibilities I put my fishing poles away.

This past summer, when I hiked a large part of the Appalachian Trail, I rediscovered my love for finding fishing places. When Connie and I would walk by a stream, I would search to see if there was a good fishing spot. Invariably each day we would find one. Not that we carried fishing equipment, but just to look and see if we spot some trout. And we did a lot.

As we hiked, we would say, that’s a good spot, and look to see if we could spot a trout facing upstream, and stationary. Its camouflaged body staying very still, with its back fin waving back and forth just enough to keep the fish from going backward with the current.

What I had learned decades ago was still present and not forgotten. Recently, Connie and I got our licenses and fishing gear, and are heading out to find those streams similar to the ones of my youth.

During my studies to get my Doctorate degree, I discovered two types of Theologians. There were those who studied God and Theology. And those who were trying to discover God. Now you might ask isn’t that the same thing? Well, actually it is very different. Studying God is an academic pursuit and while it is a critical activity, it isn’t the same as trying to find God. Most of these students would go on to be teachers. Finding God is more pastoral and the study of where you will find God. Learning this, hopefully, helps others in the future. Many of these students went on to ministry.

I love today’s verse because it is the essence of finding God. It has two simple statements that show us what is required to find God. Let’s reread the verse; I love those who love me, And those who diligently seek me will find me. The first requirement is to love God. To be desirous of finding God and learning about God. The second is to diligently look for God.

My experience is that most people love God, pew research states that ninety percent of people believe in God, and two-thirds want a relationship with God. The second part is the hardest, that of being diligent.

This isn’t about where God is, but more about our attitude in how we search for God. In other words, God is in different places for different people. And more likely God is found in a very intimate and personal place that is different for each person.

This is somewhat like fishing. I always liked Brook Trout or Brookies. Others like bass, ocean fishing, or large lakes. It is more about being diligent in discovering God, like fishing. You have to be willing to go to places that are hard to get to. Not because God is playing hard to get, but is found in places in which we have to put in the effort.

Doing this makes the effort far more personal and intimate. God wants to be found, but God wants to be found in a memorable way.

Like my early fishing life, trial and error produce results. And so it is with our search for God. The journey to God is almost as important as finding God.

For myself in my life; I have found God in a hotel parking lot, through my grandmother, and on a quiet bench under a streetlight. Each time I vividly remember each step I took and the events. Not that this means I am better than others in finding God. But like fishing, I passionately and diligently journeyed towards God, with a lot of mistakes along the way.

And you don’t have to study Theology to find God, you simply have to love God and diligently look for God. There is no prescribed time frame and no roadmap. Each person’s journey is very different and very personal.

This is not something to overthink, rather it’s being passionate in our journey. You will discover God by observing and searching, not on a map.

God wants to be found in a memorable way.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Finding God is Like Learning to Fish

 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

river jordan

The River Jordan and Being Courageous With Your Faith

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Joshua stands in front of the River Jordan as God’s newly appointed leader of the Israelites who left Egypt over forty years earlier. God has asked that he lead the Israelites to the promised land of milk and honey, across the River Jordan.

Many years earlier, Joshua as a young man, stood on these same banks and was part of a group sent by Moses to investigate and see if it was safe to cross the River Jordan. Joshua, and a man named Caleb, advised Moses that they should proceed across the River Jordan, but others convinced Moses they shouldn’t cross. The others told Moses there were too many obstacles to overcome and they would die on the other side even though crossing the river meant going to the place that God told them was their promised land. The Israelites refused and even began wondering if they should have left Egypt in the first place!

So God left them wandering in the wilderness for forty more years and each year members of the original group died without receiving God’s promise. After forty years the only people that remained of the earlier group were their descendants, Moses and Joshua and as they approached the River Jordan for the second time, Moses knew he would not be going to the promised land. Moses would see the promised land, but he would die on top of a mountain that overlooked God’s gift.

Joshua stood on the banks of the River Jordan, getting ready to lead the Israelites across. There was to be no investigation of the other side, just Joshua’s belief that God would protect the faithful, as he had seen God do many times before in the previous decades. As Joshua left to cross the mighty river, he had God’s simple directions; Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

This second crossing was very dangerous. The River Jordan was flowing at flood stage and would be difficult for the Israelites to cross. God told Joshua to have the priests go first and carry the Ark of the Covenant, and when the priests stepped into the water, the raging waters of the River Jordan stopped, leaving a path for the Israelites to cross.

This group of Israelites was much stronger in their faith than their predecessors; they crossed over and settled the land. Although they faced many obstacles in their settlement, God protected them and was true to the promise he made to Joshua; for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. This faith allowed them to reside in the promised land of milk and honey.

At this point you may ask why didn’t the first group trust God and cross over when they had already seen many of God’s miracles. On their journey from Egypt, God had Moses part the Red Sea and released them from Pharaoh and He gave them manna from heaven to eat and produced water from stones. Despite all God had done for them, they allowed their human fears, of great danger and doom of the unknown, prevent them from crossing the River Jordan. They made up stories to defend their position about people who were giants on the other side and allowed their humanness to swamp their faith in God.

For many the River Jordan is both historical and symbolic. Over the years many have used this story to inspire themselves to move over their River Jordan. In fact, when you look up the River Jordan in Wikipedia, part of the description is about its symbolism.

This story easily extends to future readers of the bible to imagine and connect with their own life challenges. This story is about being brave with your faith and trusting God so we aren’t left wandering in our own wilderness but are released from our bondage.

So while we can wonder why the first group didn’t trust God and cross the River Jordan, shouldn’t we also focus on our own personal crossing of the River Jordan? What is it in our own lives that is our current River Jordan? Is it a delayed call to a friend to apologize? Is it a long put off task? Perhaps it is something bigger, like drug addiction or alcoholism. Maybe a nasty bad habit.

Whether it is large or small, not crossing our personal River Jordan leaves us in our personal wilderness, like those who first approached the River Jordan. We know what we must do, but don’t believe we are brave enough or courageous enough to cross. In those moments we forget the promise of God; to not be afraid; to not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

This is the point of faith; not letting our fears swamp over our trust in God. This is simple to think and say; or even to advise others. But when we are standing on the shore of our River Jordan, even at flood stage; the decision to move across is deeply personal and unique to each of us.

Inevitably it means letting go and just crossing. It means remembering the times God was with you in the past. Sometimes it takes a friend to encourage you. The River Jordan must be crossed, or we are left wandering in our personal wilderness adrift from God.

Ironically, the moment you cross over, you immediately feel relief and are rid of your fears. Many times you may be left thinking what was the fuss all about. This crossing strengthens and revitalizes us. Most importantly we will know God was with us.

And this is the essence of our relationship with God; letting our fears go to accept God’s promised land of milk and honey.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Crossing Our River Jordan

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

ephesians

Christians, Get Along with Each Other!

Epistle to the Ephesians

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

If I had to sum up the message of Ephesians, I would say that it is for Christians to get along with each other. Not just socially, but also in the church and with family. The starting point for why this letter was written is once again; for the newly converted gentile Christians and Jewish Christians in the 1st century to get along. While this theme keeps getting repeated in Paul’s letters, it provides a great example that is more universal than just the dispute between these two groups. In a way, these disputes act as an example of how we should all get along. In other words, we shouldn’t just look at the dispute between the gentile Christians and Jewish Christians as isolated and act amused at their inability to get along. Rather, we should look at our lives and see where we have created barriers with others, just because they are different.

But before we get too far in this discussion of Ephesians, there are two critical items regarding authorship and its date; and who the letter is written to we should discuss.

First, many scholars do not believe that this letter was written by Paul, but by a devoted student of Paul’s. The reason is the letter isn’t written with Paul’s normal literary style. Things like greetings and very personal well wishes are not as prevalent. But we should also know that in the first century, this was very common for a student to write in a teacher’s name. So, while in the 21st century this might be considered a bit shady, in the 1st century this was very acceptable and encouraged. So, if this is true than the letter was probably written around 80AD.

The reason for bringing this up; is that some people might feel that this is an inferior writing because of this issue. But the letter, by itself without this interesting quirk, was highly regarded by the early church leaders and thus its inclusion in the New testament. Because of the completeness of its message, I completely agree it is a very helpful letter for all Christians, regardless of this small quirk.

Another item, while the title is the Ephesians, I view this as an open letter to all churches and Christians. In other words, just take the word Ephesians and substitute your own church name. It will still apply. The reason for this thought is that the letter contains no reference to the church in Ephesus in its content. Thus causing me to think that it’s message is far more universal than just one church in Asia Minor.

So let’s turn to the opening verses in chapter 5, where it says, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. So, what I see here is the attitude that is expressed, to walk in love as Christ loved us. What a wonderful sentiment! To just imitate Christ in all that we do.

So what does this mean? It doesn’t matter if we are a Yankee Catholic or a Southern Baptist. What matters is our desire to lovingly commune with all people with God through Jesus.

It also doesn’t mean to value each other differently based on our own special gifts. In other words, because one person is a banker and another is an author, that either is better. The most important thing is that we value each other as Christian.

We see this in chapter 4, verse 1-2 it says; As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

In other words, what we do and who we are isn’t as important as we how we treat each other. If you go into a business and meet the CEO and a dock worker, we are asked to treat both with humility, gentleness, patience, and love.

So, this is the primary message of this wonderful book in the Bible. As Christians, we should all get along with each other.  

Now another place we need to go, and it’s quite controversial; is Ephesians [5:21]-23, where it says; Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. The interpretation of these verses has led to a lot of harm over the years.

Some men have used the words, Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as a source of domination, while ignoring the words, Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is called Versification. Or in other words when we take selected words to support our behavior, instead of putting them together with other verses to understand their global meaning. This is very important. We always have to be careful in using the Bible to justify our behavior. Instead, use the Bible to form our behavior.

So my position on this controversial verse, is that I should treat my family out of reverence for Christ. I know there are some who will want to drag me back into the submission piece, but I feel my primary goal is one of love and not to have others dominated.

Finally, the last message of Ephesians is to stay strong in Christ. In chapter 6-13 it says, Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Another reminder of the purpose of faith. That we will all be tested, but keep to your beliefs and faith. And while things may be rough for a while, not giving in to evil or doubt will keep you safe. So while this statement doesn’t appear to fit with the theme of getting along as Christians, it does fit in with the theme of our Christian conduct. Which is still the overarching message of Ephesians.

This book is personally one of my favorites, as it gets to the point and is clear in its message of Christian conduct.

Read Ephesians with the knowledge, the writer wants us to all get along and put Christ first.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Christians, Get Along with Each Other!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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pleasing god

On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.

1st Thessalonians 2:4

Paul sits in Corinth having been joined by his student, Timothy and writes a letter to the church in Thessalonica. The date is sometime between 50AD and 52AD. Paul is currently in the middle of his second missionary journey. The letter Paul writes is likely the first of all his great letters.

Since Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus, he has spent three years in the wilderness; met with Peter and the early church in Jerusalem; waited in Taurus for a way to help spread the good news about Jesus; finally called to work with Barnabas in Antioch, and then complete his first missionary journey. And now he is in the second of his three missionary journeys to spread the Good News of Jesus. A time frame that has spanned around fifteen years.

Paul has endured a lot and his trials along the way have become legendary. Now, he sits peacefully in Corinth. Timothy has returned from Thessalonica with good news about the church they helped create. Paul is overjoyed and relieved; his work is bearing fruit. Through his many struggles and travels, he has worked very hard to spread the message about Christ throughout the Gentile world, now it seems it has been worth the effort.

Now begins the time Paul uses his extraordinary literary skills and writes the Letter to the Thessalonians. The first of many that would not only encourage and help those he visited but resonate throughout the ages for many others. These letters would become his other mission. Letters so skillfully written that their messages are still relevant for Christians centuries later.

Out of joy, Paul writes to the Thessalonians. A message so infused with heartfelt expressions,  as the reader, you can feel this joy spring forth. We have all had this moment in our lives. When we have worked hard and seen the fruits of our labor. A place of silent satisfaction, knowing that we have achieved something so personally important, we sit with a joy that is hard to contain. This is where Paul was for this moment.

The letter doesn’t really contain any deep theological pronouncements, rather it is a to the point reminder of the basic values of Christianity. Kind of a primer that lays out the basics.  But in chapter 2:4; Paul makes a radical statement for that time that is easily overlooked when reading 1st Thessalonians. It says; On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.

The critical statement of; we are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts, is a critical point about what it takes to be a good Christian. In all that we do or say; it should be pointed to please God.

Now for 21st century Christians, this might seem obvious and rather simple. But consider the 1st-century reader, who lived in a world controlled by kings and emperors, freedom of whom to please was minimal.

Beyond its basic point of whatever we do, we should do to please God; this was a revolutionary and new concept for the Gentile community. A radical departure from serving and pleasing masters or emperors. The statement is a dramatic reorientation of their minds as to whom they serve. An extraordinary change in mindset from how they were living.

In part, this direction stated by Paul directly led to the persecution of Christians that would last for almost another three hundred years.

To turn away from worshipping the Roman gods or the emperor, who was considered a god, meant in some way, treason. In later years, Christians would be challenged to show their loyalty by pinching incense to prove their loyalty to the Roman gods and the emperor. Their reluctance to do this put them at odds with the ruling authorities and sometimes cost them their lives. Yet many did try to please God first. Their bravery propelled the growth of Christianity forward to today.

What about us in the 21st century, we certainly have more freedom of choice in what we do and how we think? What can we take from this letter? Well many of us don’t have to publicly bow down to an emperor or masters. Instead, we have to fight off those internal temptations of life that move us away from God.

For us there are different things; power, money, and fame that lure us away from God. Things of life are put in front of us than bend our values. Causing us at times to rationalize our intentions. Forcing us to internally calibrate our real motives.

This doesn’t mean we should not try to be successful or to work hard to provide for our families. Instead, it means that in all we do we should do as to please God and not our human desires.

The pursuit of those positive things of life and pleasing God, we shouldn’t view as separate, but as interlinked. We should show passion for being our best. We should try to be the best parent, spouse, friend, partner, tradesperson, or businessperson we can be. But this doesn’t mean we can’t connect these efforts to pleasing God as well. Rather our mission is to do both.

Paul is asking us in this letter, not to be the best at pleasing others, rather please God while being the best person we can be. It is a higher calling than just existing successfully, but to exist successfully with God’s values.

Now we should also remember, sometimes when we seek to first please God, we will lose in the short term. And this is the point of faith, knowing and believing that pleasing God will at times give us short term losses, but over time long term benefit.

Pleasing God is an important message of Paul to the Thessalonians, which also applies to us in the 21st century. This is an important and foundational principle of Christianity; to please God in all that we do, say, and think. The more we practice this principle, the easier it becomes.

By the way, God is easier to please than some people.

Click here to listen to the podcast

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

Photo by Senzekile Msomi on Unsplash

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