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A Final Message About “Fully” Accepting Jesus

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.

Matthew [16:21]

Today is the final installment in our series, Jesus Is Everything. As I sat watching the Two Popes movie, I was both inspired by the movie and compelled to know more about Pope Francis. In my research, I discovered lots of interesting information. Mostly inspiring and good, and like all of us, Pope Francis has a few skeletons.

He has a number of first’s to his credit; the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from South America, the first non-European Pope since the 8th century, the first Pope to speak to the joint session of Congress, the first Pope not to live in the Papal apartments and the first Pope to preach in front of one million people in the United States. He is a populist Pope who is heavily indoctrinated in pastoral theology.

Pope Francis is both very smart and personable, which allowed him to rise quickly in the Jesuit ranks. He became a Cardinal in 2001 and quickly became admired by the other cardinals. In fact, after the death of John Paul the second in 2005, after only being a Cardinal for four years, was the runner-up in choosing the New Pope. A remarkable ascent.

He became the Pope in 2013 after Pope Benedict resigned due to murky controversies. As the Cardinals were meeting to discuss the next Pope, a fellow Cardinal went up to Pope Francis and said; Don’t forget the poor. After his election, Pope Francis remembered this advice and believing it was a message of providence, selected the name Francis, after Saint Francis. His reasoning as he states; Saint Francis was a  man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man.

Pope Francis grew up in a middle-class family in Argentina.  Prior to becoming the Pope his name was Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He had a fairly normal childhood and was reasonably educated. At first, he was a chemist prior to entering the Jesuit Seminary. He is an avid soccer fan and loves to Tango. He had a couple of romantic interests as a young adult and almost was engaged. He was always torn between following the priesthood or leading a secular life. A confusion that delayed his ordination as a priest until the age of thirty-one. In fact, he told one girlfriend, If I don’t become a priest, I would want to be married to you.

Pope Francis is not without controversy. Early in his ministry and as a leader of the Jesuit Society of Argentina, Francis was criticized for not doing more to stand up to the military Junta that terrorized Argentina in the late 1970s. He has not denounced gay marriage, which has led the conservative faction of the church to complain. His response; If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge? Many have also suggested that Pope Francis has been slow in dealing with the Catholic child abuse scandal. For a time, even the Jesuit society was critical, because he was too pastoral and concerned with religiosity, versus social Justice.

At his center, Francis is a humble man and remains committed to helping people, especially the poor. He avoids the material trappings of being a Pope. In fact, he still wears his Iron cross from his time as a bishop. He leans more to mercy than judgment, which we find in one of his more famous quotes; A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.

Certainly, all this is nice to know and gives us color into the life of Pope Francis. In my research, I wanted to discover more, like how did he find and fully accept Jesus. A friend of mine, Tom Stanton, once told me, You have to fully embrace Jesus to fully experience Jesus. A well-intentioned comment that has made me think over the last year, what did Tom mean by fully and how does one arrive at this point? As my year has preceded, I have turned this thought, Fully, over and over in my mind. As I was doing my research on Pope Francis, I discovered what Tom was talking about when he said, fully.

Pope Francis has a three-step process to fully accepting Jesus, the first two are easy. First, we must find Jesus. Doing things like reading the Bible, going to church, or attending a Bible study. In this step, we are both compelled and desirous of finding Jesus. The second step is our outward proclamation; which includes, wearing crosses, leaving Bibles on our desk, singing in church, or speak openly about Jesus. In this step, we are not embarrassed or afraid to say what we know about Jesus.

The third and final step is where the word, fully comes into play. Pope Francis says we must fully believe in the resurrection of Jesus, to fully accept Jesus. While the first two steps are easy to absorb, this third step is the biggest hurdle in our journey to fully knowing Jesus. It involves believing Jesus’ sacrificial act on the cross gives all humankind redemption.  We must both understand the importance of the cross and the sacredness of the gift Jesus has given us. When we do, it moves us from seeing our lives as permanently residing in this world to seeing our lives as an eternal pursuit of the divine. In this moment of belief, we no longer intellectualize the cross, but fully have faith in Jesus’ act on the cross. With this faith, we become both freed and redeemed. The movements of this world take on far less meaning and our worries subside. Both our inner and outer expressions transform into loving God and our neighbor.

For Pope Francis, our fully accepting Jesus happens with the help of the Holy Spirit. A calling out to the Spirit to both change us and guide us. I have long held that this part of the journey is very unique, different from individual to individual. When completed, we no longer have a foot in two worlds. We are no longer Catholics or Methodists, we are first Christians. Pope Francis describes this attitude as follows; The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!

This journey to fully believing in Jesus is different for every person. And for each individual there will be moments of remorse when we fail to live what we have fully accepted; and moments of joy when we live what we have fully accepted. Fully accepting Jesus; can take the time or happen in an instant, but should be constantly pursued.

I hope and pray for all those on this journey of faith, that this helps in some way.

For my readers over the last three years, this is my last regular posting of a blog for a while. My fourth book is underway and will require my full attention until it is published on March 31st. Until then, be at peace and enjoy the blessings of Jesus.

 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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A Woman Alone On A Bench

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John [3:16]

Today, we continue with our four-part series called, Jesus is everything. Our story today is about a young woman from Panama, who considered ending her life.  At the darkest moment of her life, she found God’s and her friend’s love.

Karina sat alone on a bench on the campus of Panama National University. Her eyes were covered with sunglasses hiding her red and swollen eyes. The pressure of her life and sense of abandonment had finally overwhelmed her ability to cope. She sat there with suicidal thoughts, she no longer thought anyone cared. At this moment she felt utterly alone.

Karina had been adopted by a couple who couldn’t have children. Soon after her adopted parents started a restaurant, which quickly became so busy they had little time for her. They hired a nanny and for many hours of the day and night, the nanny was the only person Karina saw. Over time her nanny became her surrogate mother. As her parent’s business continued to grow, Karina’s sense of abandonment grew.

When she first entered college, life got much harder. Both of her adopted parents became chronically ill. Making her the head of a household almost overnight. A life that was already hard, became harder. It was too much for her to handle alone.

In her earlier years she wrestled with; why does everyone abandon me? She wondered why her birth parents gave her up and why her adopted parents spent little time with her. The added pressure of being in college and the head of a dysfunctional household brought her to the point of sitting alone on a quiet bench. Even though she was surrounded by people, she sat feeling entirely alone. A desperate person, who had lost the ability to lift her head up and smile.

Two of her friends came by the bench Karina where she was sitting, Daniela and Zoar, and noticed her grief. Then without thinking,  all of Karina’s poisonous thoughts poured out. All that she had been holding in for many years, came out through tears. Her emotional dam had broken and all she could do was spin in her mind over and over, why me.

Her friends listened and consoled. Holding her hands they quoted John [3:16];  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. They told her about the four spiritual laws, one of which says; We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

And there it was, a desperate young woman looking for a way out of the hole of discouragement, had a plan. Because of her bareness, the verse and her friends created an overwhelming desire in her to seek to know more. Over the next few months, she absorbed all she could about Jesus and the Bible. Instead of looking at why me, she focused on how to find meaning through Jesus.

Karina, turned her tears to hope. Relief set in, because she was finding answers. She knew Jesus had heard her crying out. She was no longer alone. Things quickly changed in her life, not because her situation changed, but because she knew she was loved, by her friends and Jesus.

This is a familiar story about how crisis puts us at a crossroad in life. A place where we can choose which path to take. We can choose the path of why I or the path of hope. This crisis for a search for meaning and a sense of being loved is common. Most of us will or have experienced the same thoughts as Karina. If not, we are either very lucky and well-adjusted or overdue.

We can pour through the thousands of self-help books that show up on Amazon or in book stores. While helpful, not always on the mark. For Karina, it was her entry into the New Testament that lifted her out of her dungeon of despair. For others, it is the resistance of the pursuit of Jesus. An intellectual exercise in trying to rationalize if Jesus is real. C.S. Lewis rationalized for many years, before finally relenting in a dark corner of a library, describing himself as; the most reluctant and desperate of all converts. Each encounter of faith is very similar, a change is needed. While the individual’s journey to the crossroad of crisis is always unique.

At this crossroads, where most will stand at some point, a choice has to be made. Sometimes, so desperate, no other path exists, but the path to Jesus. Other times a desperate prayer had been answered and recognized as so personal, it must be Jesus. Still, other times, the long-awaited encounter with Jesus which has been long ignored, reappears at a time of utter hopelessness.

For Karina, it took friends to show her the path. In her reflection back to that very dark moment, she says; The Lord heard my cry. I’m not alone, and He loves me because He sent His only Son to pay for my sins. He dried my tears, and He continues picking me up when I fall. She had found Jesus and Jesus became her everything.

Life didn’t get easier for Karina after her crisis has passed. What got easier was her ability to cope. Driven by the knowledge that she did have friends that loved her and Jesus had heard her cry. She still had two very ill parents, school to complete, and a business to watch. In this painful journey, she learned she wasn’t abandoned. She found Jesus and she gave Him her life.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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The Eyes of Our Heart Gives Us Hope and Optimism

I ask that the eyes of your heart may be opened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe….”

Ephesians [1:18]-19

Opening the eyes of our hearts may seem to be an odd statement to some. However, when we choose to search for goodness and blessings: our lives become richer and fuller. We are able to weather the momentary squalls and move forward knowing we are supported by God.

When we recognize the Divine eyes of our hearts, we see so much of the richness that is right in front of us.  And sometimes I have to remind myself that those eyes can get heavy and begin to close. When that happens we tend to fall into a funk and miss the joy that is all around.

God is giving us a beautiful landscape of life to observe and participate in. Let’s all open our eyes and take it all in!

Praying for God’s vision in your hearts!

Pastor Lou Strugala

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

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An Illiterate Southern Baptist Preacher; To Whom Jesus Was Everything.

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew [7:12]

Last week we began our four-part series called Jesus Is Our Everything. Today we continue this series with a story about an illiterate preacher. An everyday person, who followed Jesus to the pulpit, to run a  successful racially mixed small church in the deep south.

One of my favorite preachers I use to give me inspiration is Clarence Jordan. Clarence was the inspirational founder of Habit for Humanity. He was the father of Hamilton Jordan, who was Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff. Clarence was a pioneer in social justice in the mid-20th century, at a time when our country was deeply divided racially. His main message was to bring Jesus’s words to life with action and not rhetoric. A peace-seeking man, who in every way lived this life. One of his formative learning moments occurred when he visited and preached at a Southern Baptist church in the deep south.

The church, Clarence visited and asked to preach at, was in a suburb near a large southern town. Clarence was positive that the church contained affluent white people who spoke the gospel, but did not live the gospel. As such, Clarence prepared a sermon for the church that would be hard hitting to teach them a lesson.

When he arrived at the church he found quite the opposite of his preconceived notion. He was amazed that a church that only had seating for three hundred, held six hundred. Not only that, both the black and white parishioners sat amongst each other. Seeing this he was startled and immediately knew he had to change his sermon on the fly.

When he was done preaching that Sunday, the church’s preacher asked him to stay and eat Sunday dinner with the parishioners. Once again, Clarence had an assumption that would be proven wrong. He assumed that the dinner would be held away from the main street and in the back of the church, where the local townspeople would not be able to see the diners. He also thought the parishioners would eat divided along racial lines. Instead, they ate together on the lawn in front of the church, where everyone in town could see. Quite remarkable in the mid-20th century of the deep south.

After the dinner, Clarence was compelled to discover more, asking the preacher to tell his story of how he achieved this unusual racial harmony. The humble preacher told Clarence his life story.

He revealed to Clarence that he had worked in the local mills before he became the church’s preacher. He also had never learned to read or write before he started preaching. He was just an ordinary person struggling to make a life with little resources. One Sunday he attended this church and became moved to learn more about the Bible and Jesus. At first, his friends read him the Bible and over time he learned the lessons of the Gospel. He also learned how to read and write. When the previous preacher left the church and there was no one to lead the Sunday service, he volunteered. Being the only one to volunteer, the church deacons said okay.

His first sermon was a hard-hitting message about loving all people. Not to look at the color of their skin, but to look at all people as equals. After delivering the sermon, a group of Deacons approached him and asked him not to preach that message again. Then the preacher did something very unusual, he told the deacons he would continue to preach this universal message of equality. He was a volunteer and they held no power over him. Some of the deacons left the church and others stayed. For a while he still had trouble, but as he said to Clarence; I preached awfully hard and I finally convinced all the members they were giving their lives to Jesus. And they were to be serious about it. What you see here today is a result of that.

And it wasn’t just that the white attendees understood this message. It was also that the black attendees understood. Everyone had to change their view of each other. One common thread was to view each other as neighbors and to love each other. The other important message was; Jesus was the only source of the truth, not the existing societal norm.

The reason this preaching style worked was the preacher’s insistence that they not only know the words of the Gospel but to also be serious about living the Gospel. He helped them see Jesus as their only guiding light.

This simple man with no education and limited worldly experience transformed a church by making Jesus the center point and everything to the parishioners. He faithfully resisted the societal norms of the day and stuck to his message. A simple message; in all that we do, we do for Jesus. Through his firm and resolute weekly messages, he eroded the built-up plaque of historical social divides and taught that all people are equally the people of God.

Clarence observed that the preacher had an important advantage in his task. He wasn’t educated at a university, where his faith could have tempered. He didn’t learn to read until after he found Jesus. He was pure and unaffected by those who could have steered him off course. Allowing him to stay completely focused on Jesus.

As a preacher, Jesus was his everything. He knew little about human theories and doctrine. He only knew a lot about Jesus. In this simple man, Clarence saw a purity of purpose untarnished by human thought. A person free from the lure of the world, who had nothing but Jesus. A message Clarence took with him on a day he thought he would be the teacher. A message that making Jesus everything, was the true course of his life.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Listening Quickly!

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…

James [1:19]

Last week, I had the opportunity to relax for an hour after a very long day, and before sleep took over.  While channel surfing, I kept being reminded of COVID-19, the President was taken to Walter Reed and the noise of newscaster’s personal opinions.

Noise. Noise. Noise.

Is that the sum of life at this moment?  The sounds of people talking without listening?  The opinions that create fear and distrust?  The lack of compassion and respect for fellow human beings who have their own struggles?

James authored some of the most direct and powerful verses in the New Testament.  Virtually all of them addressed caring for one another in our human and spiritual needs. Today’s verse hits home. We need to listen and then respond deliberately and in measured form without anger and condemnation.

Let’s listen carefully to each other and lift one another up through these times of fear, knowing that when the load is too heavy, God is there to give us strength and support us…..

Praying for you!!

Pastor Lou Strugala

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Jesus Is Our Everything

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” -John 14:6

Recently, while sitting on a park bench, reading Karl Barth’s book, The Epistle to the Romans, I noticed it took me fifteen minutes to digest just one paragraph. Barth is considered to be the most important Protestant theologian of the 20th century. Certainly, one every theological student will have to study at some point. His wording is complicated and extraordinarily dense. Leading to a very interesting, but hard attempt to understand what he has to say.

The process of mining Barth’s valuable insights is hard and cumbersome. For many, Barth becomes inaccessible. This is also true for many other worthy and great theological writers. Making theological study, primarily an academic exercise.

There is a need, however, to move Jesus to the kitchen table. I see this within many of the people I talk with and listen to, as they give their thoughts. For them, Jesus isn’t an academic exercise. Nor is it an exercise in judging, which I see far too often. For most people, knowing Jesus more intimately is an individual exercise in strengthening their faith in the Risen Lord.

One of the things I have also noticed is each of our relationships with Jesus is very personal and developed differently. Sometimes we find Jesus through the crisis and other times through slow steady steps. Regardless, each of us arrives at knowing and finding Jesus- individually. Our relationship with Jesus is always unique, intimate, and extraordinarily personal.

So while I thoroughly love reading Barth, I don’t because I agree with everything he has to say. It is more that he expands my mind in thinking about Jesus and helps me to know Jesus better. And I am sure Barth would be more than satisfied with this viewpoint.

And while I love talking to professors of Theology, I don’t agree with everything that they have to say. I like to talk with professors, because like bumblebees they drop theological pollen into my thoughts that expand my relationship and understanding of Jesus. And each of my professors would be happy with that answer as well.

Not everyone needs or desires to know Jesus through Theologians like Barth. Nor do they have to study Barth. For many individuals, Jesus arrives in their lives in unique and different ways. For some, like myself, the study of Jesus is helpful. For others, it is through life experiences. For others, it with through church as a youth. But for all, it is Jesus pursuing us as well. And when we encounter Jesus, His purpose is to make Himself our everything.

Here is what I mean by this. I love to post on Twitter, theological questions, like Who is Jesus to you? And always I see an extraordinary and varied outpouring of answers. I become amazed and inspired by the large and extraordinarily insightful responses to this question.

It has made me study why. This question of who is Jesus to you; makes people share profusely and not academically. The answers are not judgmental responses. They are a sharing of their joy. They love Jesus and they are real expressions of faith.

One recent response on Twitter from a mother of three best highlights and summarizes this point. She tweeted back to my question; He is all around me every day….I just don’t always recognize Him. He chooses so many different ways to move to touch my life…ways that He knows will get my attention. In her expression, she is both describing her desire for Jesus and Jesus’s pursuit of her. You can feel her yearning for Jesus to be her everything.

By far and away, I find in their responses; Jesus is their everything. For them, as John 14:6 states; Jesus is their way, the truth, and the life. This simple response, that Jesus is their everything, reveals so much about their relationship with Jesus. It tells about their experience with Jesus. That somewhere in either their distant or recent past, Jesus called to them and helped them. That this encounter wasn’t made up, but so extraordinarily personal and intimate, they have let go of their worldly trusts and fully submitted to Jesus. A faith to seek.

They rely on Jesus for everything. When they need help, they seek Jesus. When they are content, they thank Jesus. This statement doesn’t mean they don’t fail, for surely they do. It doesn’t mean they are perfect, for none are. It simply means that their guttural response is to seek Jesus. Their faith is deep and pervasive.

And I am sure, they all would want to be better. And to be better they know to stay focused on Jesus as their everything.

So for some, reading Barth is a great exercise in discovering of how a wonderful theologian thinks about Jesus. Certainly, the professors of Theology are very valuable in helping frame thoughts and to think critically about Jesus. And minsters that guide and nurture stronger relationships with Jesus are wonderful hands-on helpers for Jesus.

Our individual task is and should be to take these positive influences and our life experiences with Jesus to shape our faith. Always knowing that it is primarily our personal encounter with Jesus that cements our faith.  Professors, writers, and minsters can help in our journey to Jesus, but it is our responding to the persistent call of Jesus that creates our faith. No one individual has the exact answer for us, as each person’s relationship with Jesus is very intimate and personal. Our individual faith is special in its uniqueness and is a private journey with our heart to Jesus.

Jesus is our everything because we have been with Jesus and in turn submitted our lives to Jesus.

As an end note, Barth visited America just one time, in 1962. During this visit he asked by Theologians to summarize the millions of words he wrote; he responded, Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Singing Our Praise To The Lord

“But I will sing of Your strength and proclaim Your loving devotion in the morning.  For You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble…..”

Psalm [59:16]

I don’t know about you, but I usually can’t sing in the morning until the coffee kicks in.  When I read this psalm today, it came to me that singing, even badly, makes us happy.

Think of how we feel when we sing with the radio in the car, or refreshed singing while we work, or even just humming or whistling a tune as we go about our daily grind.

The writer of this psalm reminded me of just how good I feel when I sing out God’s praise in the morning; either out loud or in my heart. It changes me from a sleepyhead to someone ready to take on the day, knowing that God has is with me!

Praying we sing together….

Pastor Lou Strugala

NJSP Chaplain

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Living With Faith Requires Courage

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 Joshua to lead the Israelites to the promised land of milk and honey, across this River Jordan.

Many years earlier, Joshua as a young man, stood on these same banks as part of a group of twelve sent by Moses to investigate and see if it was safe to cross the River Jordan. Joshua, and Caleb, advised Moses that they should proceed across the River Jordan, but the others convinced Moses they shouldn’t cross. The others were fearful and told Moses there were giants to overcome and they would die on the other side. Refusing to go, even though crossing the river meant going to the place that God told them this was their promised land. The Israelites fear caused them to doubt this promise.

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, and a few others like; Moses and Joshua. 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.  And Joshua became the leader, appointed by Moses through God.

Now Joshua stood on the banks of the River Jordan, getting ready to lead the Israelites across. There was to be no large 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. Before Joshua began 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 far more dangerous than the first. The River Jordan was flowing at flood stage and would be almost impossible for the Israelites to cross. God told Joshua to have the priests go first and carry the Ark of the Covenant. God also told Joshua, when the priests stepped into the water the raging waters of the River Jordan would stop, leaving a path for the Israelites to cross. An added leap of faith for this generation of Israelites.

This group of Israelites were braver 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. Their courageous 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 even though they had also seen so many of God’s miracles. On their journey from Egypt, God had Moses part the Red Sea and released them from Pharaoh. In the wilderness, he gave them manna from heaven to eat and produced water from stones. Despite all God had done for them, they made the critical mistake of letting fear become bigger than their faith.

The River Jordan is a real place and for many, it is symbolic of faith. Over the years many have used this story to inspire themselves to cross over their own personal River Jordan. In fact, when you look up the River Jordan in Wikipedia, part of the description is about the symbolism of trusting God.

This story easily extends to future readers of the Bible to imagine and connect with their own life challenges. This story is about combining courage with your faith in trusting God. A courageous faith that prevents us from being left wandering in our own wilderness.

So while we can wonder why the first group didn’t trust God and cross the River Jordan, instead we can 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 long put off task? Perhaps it is something bigger, like drug addiction or alcoholism. There are always difficult times and things in our lives that require both our faith and courage to conquer.

Whether it is large or small, not crossing our personal River Jordan leaves us in our personal wilderness, like the first group of Israelites who approached the River Jordan. We know what we must do, but don’t believe we are courageous enough to cross. In these 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 challenge of faith; not letting our fears drown out our trust in God. Faith without courage prevents us from receiving God’s bounty and plan for our lives. It is simple to think and say; or even to advise others, to trust God. But when we are standing on the shore of our River Jordan, even at flood stage; the decision to move across requires a courageous faith.

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ezra Jeffrey-Comeau on Unsplash

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Choosing Peace as the First Option

Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures…..”

John F. Kennedy

When someone speaks with a prophetic voice, their politics and personal flaws are not as important as the message given.

JFK had a prophetic voice that encouraged a nation and world to strive for better life for all.

I grew up during the 1960’s.  I remember the fear that gripped us.  The fear of nuclear attack, so we hid under desks during drills. The fear of Russian conquest when Kennedy was shot. The fear of the unknown as MLK preached a message of peace and justice for all people as equal; and the fear of total destruction when he was killed and riots consumed cities.

As I waited for an announcement from Kentucky, I felt the same fear in a different, more mature way.  But it is still fear.  Fear of revenge instead of justice; fear of hate overcoming human love and compassion; fear that we may not survive this moment.

God promises us His peace if we trust.  But trust also requires the constant and regular effort that JFK referred to: this day, week, month and on.

Today please join me in praying God’s peace through His Spirit of understanding and conversation on our land.

Pastor Lou Strugala

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Jesus is Permanent and Life is Temporary

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;

Philippians [3:20]

On September 10th at three in the morning, a man was awakened by a loud crash of glass outside his home. When he looked out his window he saw two men breaking into his car. He ran outside with his gun and confronted the two men. A gunfight ensued, and the man retreated to his house. He called the police, who arrived quickly.

After the police arrived on the scene, the two men initially agreed to surrender. The sheriff’s relaxed just for a moment. Then with a very quick movement, one of the men pulled out his gun and shot Deputy Sheriff Ryan Hendrix in the face. Later he died at the hospital.

Deputy Hendrix was a father of two and recently had become engaged. He had served as a sheriff in Hendersonville County, North Carolina for eight years. He was also a former Marine. Those who knew him described Ryan as a humble Christian. A well-known and liked member of his community. His funeral procession was long and backed up traffic for hours in Hendersonville county.

At three AM on September 10th, 2020, the temporary nature of this world became real. For the man in the house, for the two young children now without a father, for a young woman who lost her fiancé and Deputy Hendrix’s parents, everything changed in an instant. They all had gone to bed normally and arose to the abnormal.

Sure they all knew that being a law enforcement officer is a very dangerous job. I am sure they prayed frequently for Deputy Hendrix’s safety. And it is ironic that Deputy Hendrix served to help his community, only to be killed in service. Unfortunately, this is the ever-present risk of being in law enforcement. Dealing with criminals is a dangerous job.

This sad event is also a reflection of the very temporary nature of our own existence. We go along many moments and days with perceived normalcy. Only to be suddenly disrupted in a moment. Years may pass between these moments, but they will always exist. Moments when everything goes dark and the future is no longer certain.

One of my favorite quotes from Billy Graham is; My home is in heaven; I am just passing through this world. When I first heard this quote, I pondered it for days. Thinking through every aspect of why Graham said this now-famous quote. Concluding Graham’s perspective was so very true. We are on a journey back to our permanent home and life can be very temporary.  Our life here is unknown and temporary, which in itself creates a sense of urgency to our connecting with Jesus. For none of us do not know the day when life will change.

An urgency to never let our guard down. Each moment is precious as we are passing through to heaven. An urgency to intimately connect with our Lord and savior. An urgency to correct our failures and fix our wrongs. An urgency to be a beacon of love and hope for others. For we all exist for each other when we accept Jesus.

Unfortunately, these moments will exist, as did for Deputy Ryan Hendrix and his family. The devasting consequence of the reality of this very temporary existence. These are the moments when we can question the value of God or does God even exists. They can and have pushed many of us further away from God.

But there is ultimately no other place to turn for relief but Jesus. Grief can send us down many roads, not all leading to Jesus. Yet Jesus will still be there when it is our time to arrive or in the most difficult of circumstances.

As my own father was dying, I prayed, not for my father’s recovery, but that he would be safe on this final lap in his life. Many times, through tears it was my only desire. I asked only two things, that he pass safely over his personal River Jordan and that I would know he was safe. The answer to him being safe came the following day after died, through a songbird who sat next to me, singing it’s a sweet song.

Jesus is the permanent aspect of our lives. When we fully release ourselves to Jesus’s compelling request for us to be connected, Jesus becomes our never-ending companion on our journey home. A journey that is inevitable.

While our lives here are temporary, they are not an illusion. Life is a great blessing given to us. A blessing to be cherished. There are many things to be discovered in this life and many people to help. There are birds in the sky and the sweet smells of life. And many moments to cause our souls to rejoice.

I grieve for Ryan Hendrix’s community of friends, family, fiancé, and children who have been stung by the temporary nature of our lives. Their loss is unmeasurable. It is a harsh reminder of the urgency of having our souls ready for the inevitable. Their souls will journey on. We can and should pray that their grief turns into memories of the time Ryan spent with them.

Jesus is real and permanent. He knows our journey home can sometimes be difficult. Jesus will always be there in our every step, especially in the most difficult of times.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash