2nd corinthians

2nd Corinthians: A Look at The Human Side of Paul

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2nd Corinthians 5:18

Before we get too far in, I should explain that there were at least three letters written by Paul, with some help from Timothy, to the Corinthians. Perhaps even four. You could point out that there are only two in the New Testament, and that is correct. But it appears that the missing two are in both 1st Corinthians and 2nd Corinthians. So while this might seem a bit odd, it happened in other books of the New Testament as well, notably Philippians.

While many will speculate why did this happen, I think that is the wrong way to look at these books, especially 2nd Corinthians. What the combining of these letters did was to create for us a very human Paul,  who appears both saddened and joyful, in 2nd Corinthians. To me, this is the bigger story of 2nd Corinthians.

But for those who are curious, here are the four letters in order of authorship.

  • Warning Letter; written to the Corinthians to caution them about sexual Immorality; referenced in chapter 5:9 of 1st
  • Actual 1st Corinthians
  • Letter of Tears; written pre 2nd Corinthians, but referenced in Chapters 2:3-4 and it appears to be included in Chapters 10-13 of 2nd
  • 2nd Corinthians

The reason this is important, is we get the full range of Paul’s emotions. After the writing of 1st Corinthians, which was intended to get the church back on track, more drama arose.  Paul visited the church in Corinth, prior to the writing of 2nd Corinthians, to resolve these new issues.  In this book, he referred to this as his painful visit. Spurred on by outsiders, his Apostleship and teachings were challenged, leaving him hurt and dismayed. Prompting him to write the letter of tears; which in part is included in chapters 10-13 of 2nd Corinthians.

However, the Corinthians moved forward after Paul’s visit in a far more positive manner, prompting the writing of 2nd Corinthians. Joy springs from many of the pages in this book. For example, Paul declares in Chapter 7:4, I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

Amazing words of support, written from Paul’s heart because the crisis of the Corinthian church has passed.

Another side of Paul we see in this letter is the hurt feelings he had when his Apostleship was questioned. He goes to great pains to justify his position as an Apostle. For example in Chapter 12; he gives great detail about a time he was in heaven. He was with God and Jesus; hearing many things that he could not utter. Not really knowing if he was there in body or out of body. But certainly, he had gone to heaven, whether in spirit or body. A most remarkable disclosure on Paul’s part. A very personal time that he shares with the Corinthians.

During this visit, he asked Jesus to remove a thorn that Satan had put in his side. Jesus refused by saying, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Paul accepts this answer, by saying, when I am weak I am strong. In other words, humility comes in our weakness, making us stronger Christians. As a note, this is part of the section, (Chapter 10-13) which was included from the letter of tears.

Knowing this background will help the reader navigate 2nd Corinthians, by understanding the historical and literary content of the letter.

There is also a deeper message, that shines through in this letter. A message that when we are born again, we are new creations. Paul says, Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

As new creations, we are asked to turn our eyes away from the world and towards our new life in Christ. Paul explains this throughout the Book, but a great example is at the beginning of chapter 5, where Paul says; For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God. This theme is of not worrying about our calamities on earth, instead of knowing that serving Jesus is our source of joy and our eternal home is in heaven. This is repeated a number of times throughout the book. And typical of Paul he repeats in various ways to make sure we don’t miss it.

Billy Graham once said I am only traveling through this world, heaven is my home. While I certainly never got to discuss this Billy Graham, I am certain he is right and he derived this quote from 2nd Corinthians!

Paul also mentions in chapter 5 that we are reconciled with God through Christ. That Christ’s ministry to humankind included this reconciliation. Through the death on the cross, our sins are forgiven, and Christ becomes our mediator with God. This is an important subplot of the book, as well as in most of Paul’s writings, particularly in Romans.

Paul’s point is that our sins were washed away on the cross and our faith in Jesus justifies us with God. For instance, when we pray, at the end, we say In Jesus’s name we pray. This concept is what Paul is getting at.

Paul stresses as well, that we will at times endure, affliction, pain, calamities, and hardships. He encourages us to still; be pure, patient, kind, courageous, be truthful in speech; and to walk by faith and not by sight, during these times.

2nd Corinthians is a letter that was written from a sense of pride and joy in the Corinthian church. Having endured many missteps on their journey, they had, at last, began to move forward in a positive direction.

Typical of Paul and his writing, he once again in helping and writing to a church from two thousand years earlier, created a masterpiece for followers of the 21st century to follow.

A message to stand firm in our beliefs as new creations. A message that lets us know that our earthly home here is temporary, a permanent place exists in heaven for those who walk by faith and not sight.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

our ministry

A Closer Walk With God

“Indeed, our lives are guided by faith, not by sight.”

2 Corinthians 5:7

One day last week, three very good friends asked me to explain my ministry or what are you trying to achieve. Now when I get the same feeling or question three or more times in a day, I know God is up to something. So I thought about this question harder.

This has been a persistent question, directed at me for the better part of ten years. A good question, that at first, I couldn’t answer. Always goal-driven, I tried to search for my answer in numbers and results. I even have tried various ministry assignments to help with this discovery. Never fully getting the answer to this question.

During my seven or so years in Theological school, I was always the outlier who couldn’t fully explain what I felt I was called to do for Jesus. Every attempt I tried never seemed right. I have given sermons, counseled the poor in spirit and fed the poor. All noble and worthy ministries, but I never felt this was what God called me to do.

But at least I knew better than to just blurt something out to satisfy others. But this day I was able to clearly tell these three friends what my ministry was.

As an outgrowth from my doctoral thesis, I set up a digital media company to test delivering messages to the world at large. Certainly not a local or tangible ministry. But a ministry in the ether of the internet.

I never really intended this to be my life’s ministry nor did I know this is where I would find my place with God.

Over time and through a lot of missteps I had arrived, like a wanderer in the woods not knowing where he was going, but still never lost. Along the way, I never knew that this was where God was taking me,  but now know this was where God was leading me. Through observation of events, that were connected to my prayers, in hindsight, I can now see clearly the path behind me and in front of me.

What continued to pop up in front of me was writing and dispersing information about God. So what is interesting that to do this, my two areas of significant weakness, writing and anything at all to do with technology, have become my platform.

Over time, I have gotten better at both, but nowhere proficient enough to be called a professional. When others glide through their tasks, I struggle.

But what I have noticed, is even though I struggle, I am glad for the morning, to start a new day. A clear sign that I am doing is what I am supposed to be doing. Wanting to get up early and being excited you can do your work, is called passion. That I have.

Another area of weakness is being overly sensitive. When you put yourself out in the world every day. Criticism flies at you every day. I have been called satan, a white supremacist, charlatan, and many other names. So again I have had to adjust. Not to take these very isolated comments personally. But to evaluate why the comments were made and not get angry.

But here I am, not quite sure how I got here. Every week, over one hundred thousand people read what I write. Sixty thousand people follow what I have to say. And each week, close to another thousand join.

I am now a regular contributor on thirty radio shows and this spring will appear on television.

So what is it that I do, simply help people have a closer walk with God. That’s it and no more. Every message I send and every word I speak on the radio is designed to nudge people closer to God. Something I have to get better at every day.

Every Instagram image is designed to make people think deeper about their relationship with God. Every tweet is to help move people towards God, even if it is only an inch. Each radio appearance is focused on the same.

There is nothing fancy here.

My friend Steve on his radio show exclaimed, what you have accomplished is amazing! And perhaps he is right. But for myself and the two people who work with me, don’t think about the numbers. We focus on this simple task of helping people have a closer walk with God.

Don’t get me wrong we look at our numbers weekly, every Tuesday morning at 8:45. Not to see how good we are, but how we can get better. We ponder how can we make better Instagram posts or tweets. We think about how to spread the message further, not for our glory, but for that of helping God.

For traditional ministers, it’s hard for them to understand this work. Their work is noble and strongly needed, mine is not traditional. But with so much of America unchurched, this is who we reach.

There is a gap that has grown in America, between those who attend church and believe in God and don’t. In fact, the same percentage of American’s still believe in God today as did one hundred years ago, even with church attendance down by fifty percent. Today seventy percent of Americans believe in Jesus, but only twenty percent go to church. This is the place we try to go.

And we see our results, not in numbers, but in responses. People write to us a say, I needed that reminder today. Or they say, Brother, thank you! I read your messages every day. We also get a lot of Amen’s every day as well, hundreds a week.

Not all agree with my messages, some more traditional ministers think I am too liberal or that I view the Bible with too much of a metaphorical view. Others will say I am too conservative. And this is where I want to be, not left or right. Encouraging people to have their own special relationship with God.

So we work every day, not with a focus on results, but on helping people take more steps in their faith. We work not by sight, but by faith.

So I tell everyone who asks, what do you do? My reply is anything that helps people have a closer walk with God.

Click here to listen to the podcast or click below!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

do everything through god

Do Everything Through God; The Simple Message of Philippians

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

Philippians 4:13

The Apostle Paul sits in a Roman prison, after completing his three missionary journeys. During this imprisonment he wrote three letters to the Philippians. Now you might ask, I thought there was only one letter written to the church in Philippi. Well, there were actually three and the book of Philippians we read in the Bible is a combination of all three. While all three letters were written by Paul, skillful editing by an unknown scribe many centuries ago created this great letter out of three. A wonderfully positive and uplifting book in the Bible that I highly recommend for all.

And what makes this letter most remarkable, are the optimistic and encouraging sentiments, written while Paul was sitting in Jail!. A letter of thanksgiving written to the Philippians for their financial support and their positive growth as new Christians.

Imagine ourselves, sitting in a jail in the first century, uncertain of our future and then crafting the letters that make up one of the most uplifting books in the New testament. And that is the point of Philippians, no matter how dire our circumstances, we can be optimistic because of our faith in God. Or as Paul says,  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Not only that, amazingly Paul was still ministering and creating disciples. Late in this book (4:22), Paul mentions his work with Caesar’s servants. Yes, while in jail, Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, continued his work of creating new followers. More amazing is that it was not just any people, but people who had originally committed their lives to Caesar became servants to the Lord.

Imagine ourselves sitting in a jail and not knowing our future; would we have given up our worries to continue working for the Lord? What drove Paul to continue his work despite his imprisonment, was his personal relationship with Jesus. No matter how dire things in the past became, he always survived and had success. Which in turn reinforced in him, everything would be alright. For more than twenty years he had been thrown in prison, beaten, chased out of towns, denied and wandered the Roman empire. Yet, none of these events defeated him. Each event created more confidence that Jesus was with him. As Jesus is with us. When you read Philippians this mindset will pop out at you.

Paul explains his mindset in chapter 4, where he says; “ I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Now we must remember, Paul had also accomplished a lot, despite his trials. The churches he established were growing and everywhere Christianity was growing. Green shoots of faith were sprouting up throughout the Roman Empire. All because of Paul’s commitment and faith in Jesus.

So when Paul says he has learned the secret, at first we might say it was his faith in Jesus and that Jesus was always with him. Well, all this is true, but it is far deeper than just that.

Paul had learned that being in continuous prayer and communication with the Lord is extraordinarily important. At every step of his journey, he measured his thoughts with that of Jesus’s teachings. Constantly observing how each action he took resulted in a God-like outcome.

Paul had also learned that to serve Jesus, he must also act. Not be passive, but very engaged. To be very positive and energetic, and put our worries away. Act with confidence that when we follow Christ, all will be right.

For each of us, this is the example we should follow in our own lives. When we pray and ask for guidance, we will get an answer. Then it is up to us to stick to the plan like Paul did.

This all sounds simple, but three things will get in the way. First is worry. When we get our answer, it will always be bigger than we expected. So big, we will wonder if we can accomplish the task. We will also have to give something up to attain what we have asked for. A surrendering of something important. Letting go of a lifelong fear, or perhaps fear of scarcity, or ending a treasured routine.

Our worries if not fully addressed internally will limit our ability to be a good partner with God. The bigger the plan, the bigger the worry. For each person, their personal hurdle to following God’s plan is different, but letting go of the past and our worries is a critical step.

The second thing will be people who will tell you God’s plan is not possible. Not that they don’t mean well, they probably do. Likely their concern is about us stretching too far and failing. Sometimes it will be good advice and sometimes protective advice. Each encounter will require analysis. A simple exercise to know which advice is correct is to evaluate if the advice is Godly.

The third item is to remember God isn’t a Genie! In our partnership with God, we don’t simply ask and then receive. We have to put in the work. Sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. And God is looking for quality, not quantity. Which means don’t just do the work as an obligation, but do the work with passion. And we must test all that we do against the word of God.

If you don’t feel the passion, you aren’t ready or are headed in the wrong direction. That feeling of desiring to get right to work is a good sign that we have passion for God’s plan. When you work with God on your plan, you have to be a passionate partner.

And this is the point of the letter to the Philippians. The secret Paul is talking about is how to handle the ups and downs of life. To have faith and stay the course. Plus, to remember; we can do all things through him who strengthens us. Our fears and circumstances are never as high as what God wants for us.

In closing, I highly recommend reading this wonderfully optimistic book, Philippians. It will take less than 30 minutes. And this reading should inspire you to leave your comfort zone, knowing God is with and next to you.

Maybe today is the day you reach for yours and God’s higher purpose for your life.

Click here to listen to the podcast or click below!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Choose God Over Fear

Choose God Over Fear

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ

Philippians 3:7-8

Over the last few days, I have talked with my daughters via Facetime. We all have an iPhone. Facetime is a video feature that comes with an iPhone, which makes talking via video so much easier than in the past. Essentially, replacing voice with both video and audio. A real blessing!

As well, Connie and I have noticed we are talking to both sets of our parents more and certainly our brothers and sisters. Most of the conversation is about how are you doing? Essentially checking in to see how each other is faring during the Coronavirus crisis.

We recently talked to a friend, we saw and heard the same things happening to them. Their adult children have moved in for a while because they are working from home and are escaping New York city where the virus has escalated.

Connie and I have created new routines with most things around us closed. Every day we play cribbage at four in the afternoon. Each day we take long walks. And recently, we started running up five flights of stairs in our apartment building. Ever competitive, to see if we can beat our last time.

In more quiet times we have taken on new hobbies. Connie has started replaying the guitar and is learning to crochet. I have picked back up my love for two-dimensional art. Buying a ruler, drawing pencils and a sketchpad.

Everywhere in our neighborhood, we see people also taking long walks. During these walks, we have met Archie, a one-year-old dog, fully on energy and love. His owner takes him out five times a day. He is now the mayor of our neighborhood, spreading joy from person to person.

Archie arrived during a tough time for his owner. A woman who had lost her husband. She tells us that Archie has helped her with her grief.

The Coronavirus has certainly changed lives. And these are certainly tough times. We can’t help but worry about those around us who have lost jobs. We don’t have many sick people in Asheville, so the disease is far distant. But we worry about the health care workers and their patients.

We know retirees who have lost a significant amount of their savings, and we also worry about them.

Certainly, we can’t go every place we would like to go. Movies are out. No more dining out and having a cold beer from the tap. All our places to go are closed.

But the calls from and to family have made me think, what have I really lost? It seems to me that it is more what have I gained?

I have gotten to see Mischa, my daughter’s new puppy, bounce around. I have gotten to see Dave’s homemade corned beef. I have talked with my dad more than any time from the recent past. His polite voice, always a hallmark, has steadied my thoughts.

I have gotten to hear my father-in-law chide me about my favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. He is a life-long Indians fan.

Through cribbage, Connie and I have a daily competitive battle. Watching each other get better, all to learn how to beat each other. Our latest time running up the stairs has become a source of competition.

In times of stress, we have turned to prayer. Which soothes our anxiety and reminds us that through faith we have gained a lot. Instead of focusing on the virus, we focus on trusting God.

While we have our concerns about the virus and where is the stock market going, we love this new life we have gained.

I recently had a friend tell me how he was dealing with the virus and its impact. He said; Refuse to feed the fear that comes to steal your peace and joy. Rather dwell in the knowledge that every person is so important to the Father that he knows the number of hairs on our head, and every tear we shed. Place your trust in Him.

And that is where we should be. Our fears are real and so isn’t the virus and the heavy financial toil it is taking. But we stand at a crossroad, do we have faith and see the good in life or let fear drown our faith and joy.

I can declare, that the virus will go away and life will become normal. Maybe in weeks or perhaps months, but it will subside. Tomorrow will replace today and the steps we take today will decide what tomorrow looks like. We shouldn’t let fear strip our ability to make wise choices. Choices that will help us tomorrow.

Like calling my father frequently. I will always cherish the voice of my father. A voice of reason and politeness. A voice that steadied my ship so many times in life. He is bravely fighting the debilitating effect of Alzheimer’s. My moments with him are coming to an end. Instead of fear, I choose to hear his voice. I choose the voices of my children. I choose to race my wife up the stairs and to win that game of cribbage. These are moments of joy and not of fear.

I choose God over fear.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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coronavirus panic

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

This Saturday, while having lunch at a local restaurant, the general manager came to our table to ask us how my wife and I were doing. We replied, very well; How are you? Our reply set off a lengthy explanation of his panic. He was afraid he might have to close the restaurant with his business off seventy-five percent. In his eyes, I could see real fear. The kind of fear that unsettles our stomach, weakens our knees and causes us to labor on the easiest of tasks.

With our friends and family, we also have heard and seen fear. Supermarket shelves are being emptied. Hand sanitizer is being sold on the street for fifty dollars a bottle. True panic seems to abound.

A disquieting sense of being seems to be present in all that we see and hear. Panic caused by a lack of control of people’s lives and events.

Each announcement of school and store closings seems to raise the fear level higher. Watching television, you hear even more information that stiffens your body. The stock market is violently swinging in turmoil, causing people to wonder; how much will their savings go down? All around us fear seems to be growing faster than the Coronavirus itself, which is at the root of people’s fear.

But our fear, is just that, fear. People are forgetting that fear breeds fear. Fear is not tangible or something you can touch. But a vicious psychological marauder that seeks harm. Not physical harm, but emotional.

Panic causes bad decisions when more than ever good ones are required. Panic causes unsteady steps when the steps of life need to be sure.

Friends are asking me; what do we do when things get panicky?  My reply is have faith and focus on what we can control. By doing this we gain power over our emotions, no longer letting panic dictate how we feel.

I have been here many times before, whether it was H1N1 or SARS. I have lived through the stock market crash of 1987, September 11th, and the Great Recession of 2009. All dangerous things for the psyche. But this panic seems far more out of control.

Now I am not saying that the risk of catching the Coronavirus isn’t real, it is a dangerous flu. What has become more dangerous is that the level of panic seems to have exceeded the danger.

We need to remember that the stock market always comes back, and in all cases moves much higher. The virus will run its course and we will all learn more about how to be better protected from getting new viruses. When the danger has passed, and it will, the lessons we learned will make us healthier. Most importantly, life will return to normal.

We should have a healthy level of concern and wash our hands more frequently. We should trust that the civil authorities know what they are doing. But we shouldn’t let panic control us, we should control us. Not changing our lives is a great place to start.

Doing the things we always do, no matter how modified, is a good place to start.

We should still say I love you to our loved ones, maybe more. We should still hug our children, maybe a little tighter.  We should still call our parents, probably more frequently. We should plant the spring flowers, perhaps a few more this year. We should still help the elderly, especially now.

The problem with the disease of panic is that it is an easy bed to jump into and a hard one to get out of. But arise we must, because staying there will only make things worse.

Instead of needing to be consoled, we should try to console. Helping others is a wonderful antidote to fear. Try it, you will feel better. That I can guarantee.

As Christians, we know to have faith and we should. We may not be sure how this all turns out, but losing our faith doesn’t make sense. How many times in the past has God has answered our prayers. And this we should remember.

In these times of stress, God’s arms of help haven’t been shortened. They are just as long as they were yesterday, probably longer.

Faith is something we can count on. It is a place that shields us from panic. A place where the Holy Spirit delivers comfort and wisdom. A quiet place of prayer. On our knees or sitting, we are in commune with God, who will answer us today as happened yesterday.

Panic is an emotional virus that is spread much like a physical virus. Fear breeds fear and left unchecked is an unreasonable pursuer of mayhem. But panic is a disease that is curable.

Deep breaths will diminish its effect. Remembering to continue our lives will tap down its desire to debilitate. Washing our hands often will give us a greater sense of control.

Prayer will provide peace and reassure us. Reading the Bible will give insight. For times like this, I highly recommend reading Philippians and 2nd Corinthians. Both wonderfully uplifting books that provide hope in times of duress.

Things will get better in time, not because I have seen it many times, but because I live by faith. Let panic abate. The flowers of spring will sprout green soon. Hope will replace despair. The streams of light called everyday life will return.

Be at peace.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Faith and Reducing Coronavirus induced Panic

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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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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praying at work

3 Ways Being Like Jesus Will Help Your Career

The son can do nothing on his own accord, but only what he sees the father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.

Luke 5:19

This year when I was doing my speeches on college campuses, I wanted to try some different. Instead of preparing an intricately weaved message, I would focus on only three points and keep repeating them using different examples each time. My message this year was how to find a job and become a great employee. Simply, there are three ways, be positive, be trustworthy and pursue excellence. That’s it, no sophisticated weaving to make the point at the end, just keep repeating the same message.

Well, it worked! When I got the feedback and reviews back from my college visit at Theil College in Western Pennsylvania, the students overwhelmingly repeated the message in their reviews and used the explanations to support their reviews.

The message is simple, you only need to be three things to be a great employee. Yes, only three; being positive, trustworthy and committed to excellence. When I explained this to a friend, he said, But my employee appraisal given by my employer had forty-three different measurements! I told him this wasn’t that unusual; many companies make the mistake of over-complicating evaluating employees.

So, I asked him to give me his appraisal form. He did and we placed all forty-three review items into one of three categories; Being Positive, Being trustworthy and Committed to excellence. And yes, everyone could fit into one of the three categories!

I think we all make this mistake of overthinking things; I am certainly heavily prone to doing this! But just imagine telling your spouse, mom, and dad or even a friend every one of your forty-three individual rankings from your employee appraisal. Heck, for most of us ten minutes after the review we can only remember a few. So why not just work on the three that cover everything! Three is easy to remember and simpler to deal with.

So, let’s start with being positive. Well, Jesus has a point of view on this category, He said, If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light. So, just imagine using this point of view when you approach a customer. They would be happier and more open to hearing what you have to say. We shouldn’t be dour or stern, but open and receptive. If one of your forty-three ratings was on customer service, guess what; you would get a high mark.

Now imagine you are working in a team setting and have this same attitude Jesus is talking about. You would be a great listener and a patient partner. Every word you speak will be geared to lift up and help collaborate. Well, you know what your rating would be for teamwork. Sure, very high.

Let’s turn to the second category, being trustworthy. Here Jesus explains; One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in much. (Luke 16:10) Well, this seems pretty simple. Trustworthiness is built by doing even the smallest things with integrity. Another way of looking at this is by answering the question; how do you work when no one is watching?

I once had a boss who said he could tell a lot by how someone played golf. If they played by the rules, he could trust them in the office. Likewise, when we interview for a new job, there should be no stretching of the truth, not even the smallest amount.

One of the things people miss here is that body language and tone can give away dishonest intentions. Many people don’t know that almost seventy percent of all communication is non-verbal. Yes, that’s right, seventy percent. We all give off subtle cues about our real intent, non-verbally. And most people are smart and will pick them up

But I know only one sure-fire way around letting non-verbal communication give away dishonest communication. Don’t be dishonest.

The final point; is pursue excellence in all that you do. The more you learn and are willing to do the more valuable you become. The more valuable, the more treasured. Jesus explains this in The Parable of the Talents. A story about a manager who went away for a few days and left his employees things to do. Two of the three employees actually did more than what was asked, to which the manager said; Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.

So this is the way work goes, you are given a task and if you just complete it, you will get another task, but not much different. If you do more than is asked, you get more responsibility, become more valued and get more job freedom.

Simple? Not quite, to do this you have to learn things you didn’t already know. Here is the difference-maker. Learn them with enthusiasm. Be incredibly curious about how everything works. Even if it seems boring. And no excuses, like I never did this before, or this is hard. Always remember, in most workplaces you aren’t doing neo-natal surgery, so most any requirements or new tasks can be learned. Learning to figure stuff out is within all our capabilities and becomes a valuable trait.

This part is also about commitment to excellence. Not excellence derived from a long management book. But practical excellence. Excellence that you know in your heart. When you feel yourself giving in or giving up, be the one willing to continue. Excellence expressed in getting even the little things perfect.  And always remember as Christians we work for the Lord! So make your work acceptable to Jesus.

Whether you have a job or are looking for a job, keep it simple. And trust me, everything comes down to three things, being positive, being trustworthy and pursuing excellence. You can read all the self-help books you can find or tie yourself up in knots thinking about how to impress people. But it always comes down to these three traits. Work on these three and the rest will fall in place.

And always remember that Jesus, the Son, only did what, God, the Father was doing! So when we work, work to please the Lord.

Listen to the Full Podcast – 3 Ways Being Like Jesus Will Help Your Career

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

book of romans

The Book of Romans; The Original Diversity Document

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:13

Near the end of Paul’s three journeys throughout the Mediterranean world, he wrote The Epistle to the Romans, or more commonly known as the Book of Romans. While this is the first of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, it is actually the last one he personally wrote, sometime in 57AD. This letter is considered to contain the most complete theology of all the letters in the New Testament.

In fact, its message is so rich in thought, that I recently had someone tell me they are part of a Bible study group that would review the Book of Romans for a full year. Yes, every week for a full year!

Every sentence in Romans is so deep in explaining our Christian faith, I can easily see how this would be possible. Even a year might not even be enough!

What’s more remarkable, is that while the letter is addressed to the Christians who lived in Rome, Paul had not been to Rome at the time of this writing. So you might ask, why did Paul write this letter? Well, the answer is a little complicated.

Three years earlier in 54AD, there were two groups of Christians in Rome, who were bickering with each other to the point of social disruption and were thrown out of Rome by the emperor.

One group was Jewish Christians who had practiced Judaism prior to converting to Christianity. Possibly even from Jerusalem.  The second were Gentile Christians or not originally connected to Judaism. Ironically, even though both groups lived in Rome, they viewed themselves as separate factions and worshipped separately.

The Jewish Christians viewed themselves as superior and often criticized their Gentile brethren. In turn, the Gentile Christians were a bit anti-Semitic and recoiled at the criticism they received from the Jewish Christians. Creating a very rancorous environment

Paul found out about this from some of the exiles who went to Corinth from Rome. By the way, Corinth was where Romans was written. Both sides told Paul their point of view. Paul, himself grew weary of the complaints and decided to sit down and write the letter to ALL the Roman Christians.

I stress the word, ALL, as this was the point that Paul was trying to get at in his letter.

And this important, what created this great masterpiece of Christian writing was written to resolve a localized issue. Paul was such a gifted writer and deeply committed to spreading the message of Christ, that resolving an ordinary dispute turned into the preeminent statement of our faith.

Amazing a local issue of two bickering groups from the 1st century created the Book of Romans. So wonderfully written, that its message resonates with believers in the 21st century.

As a side note; this is how I believe God created the Bible; using inspired people, through God-inspired circumstances, that created all the words of the Bible.

The circumstance here was two groups of people who had created divisions amongst themselves, forgetting the important message that God created all humankind in God’s image. And that regardless of our origin, race, gender and any other difference we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. In this letter, Paul exhorts those arguing to remember these points by saying; “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But not only does Paul do that, he explains in great detail the purpose of Christ. He further explains for the Gentile Christians the special value of Jewish Christians. Likewise, he explains the special value of Gentile Christians. Like any good parent, Paul writes in great detail why both sides should like each other and not fight.

Paul is very clear, that what makes a good Christian is their faith in the risen Lord. Not their biology, origin, male or female, or whether they are Greek or Jew. That is through faith we are all saved. Each chapter, builds on this theme, taking the reader from; justification, to peace with God, to the grace of God and how we are reconciled with God through Jesus. In extremely exquisite writing Paul lays out in Romans, thoughts that would transcend generations eternally.

What I love about this letter is how important it is for those of today. Beyond its deeply detailed explanation of the importance of faith and the grace of God, it points out that we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ. Because we are Catholic, it doesn’t mean we are better or worse than Methodists or Baptists or Quakers. And likewise, as Methodists we do not have superiority over any other denomination. Our faith in Jesus and God’s grace make us equal.

Sometimes even within denominations today we see these unsavory splits. Take the current schism in the Methodist denomination. They are acting in a very similar manner to what happened between the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians two thousand years earlier, effectively putting their social views ahead of faith and the grace of God. To the point, they have agreed to split up!

The simple message of our faith is that through our faith in Christ we are justified with God and we receive grace and mercy from God, equally!

The beauty of Romans does lie in its wonderful explanation of faith and the grace of God. It also lies in its very important statement on diversity. As Paul said over two thousand years ago; everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Listen to the Full Podcast – The Book of Roman’s

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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romans

Galatians: We Are All Equal In Christ!

There is neither Greek or Jew, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

A friend of mine came to me overwhelmed by the complexity of the Book of Romans. It is certainly one of the most complex books in the Bible! I suggested she should read Galatians first. Here was my reasoning, it was written before Romans and is considered a primer to Romans. Certainly less burdensome in its length and the deeply elegantly prose written by Paul in Romans is replaced with a simpler to the point prose of Paul. So while Galatians isn’t as theologically rich, it is far more accessible. By comparison, Romans has sixteen chapters and Galatians has six. But both contain many of the same thoughts.

The letter was written to a church in Galatia, a region of present-day Turkey. The date of the letter is late 40’s AD, maybe 50 AD. This one of Paul’s first letters. What I personally love about this letter is a verse in chapter 3:28, where it says; There is neither Greek or Jew, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Jesus.

I would call this a foundational statement by Paul. A statement that we can use to measure other writings or verses written by Paul. Here it is a well-crafted sentence written for the Galatians that tells all about how Paul thinks. He believes that All people, and I cannot stress ALL enough! His message is that ALL are equal and worthy to Jesus. It doesn’t matter where you come from, your gender, what you believed before you were born again, we are ALL equal. And we ALL start as Christians first and everything else second.

Knowing this foundational message by Paul will not only open up Galatians but also help in the reading of Romans.

In this verse, is also the statement that while we should view others as equal, it also means; just because you are rich doesn’t mean you are better in God’s eyes. Whether you are Republican or Democrat isn’t important to God. But your personal character and values are what God cares about.

Another fundamental statement for Paul in Galatians is in Chapter 2:16, where it says; Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus. As much as any other verse in Galatians this is a critical message. We can do all the good we are capable of, but without our faith in Christ, we cannot be justified with God. In other words, we can’t work our way into heaven, and that shouldn’t be our goal. Our goal is to simply believe completely, and most importantly have faith in Jesus.

Now,  let’s be careful here, this doesn’t mean that we can intentionally live in sin and believe our faith frees us. Nope, that is not what this means. Partially, because it doesn’t make sense. If you believe fully in Christ Jesus, why would you not want to always do good? Rather if we are doing only what we want, rather than following the words of Christ than it is a good indication we have a faulty sense of faith.

Simply, we want to do good, because we fully believe and have faith in Jesus.

The difference is our attitude to faith if we say we believe only for a selfish purpose of eternal life, this isn’t true faith. If we have faith because we believe in Jesus, we exhibit this faith by our unselfish being. But faith comes first and being good is a by-product.

Now we should also remember, we will all fail and have difficult moments even with a strong faith and I excel at these moments. This gets us to Paul’s point about God’s grace and forgiveness. The grace and forgiveness of God is unmerited and is freely given for just these moments. Repeating our failures and difficult moments intentionally, however, will eventually separate us from God.

Now there is a very deep difference in how the Catholic church thinks about doing good as a testament of our faith; versus Protestants. Protestants believe they are justified with God through faith alone. While Catholics believe that our faith is shown in our works. Personally, I think Paul is telling us that both are right. Faith comes first, but it manifests itself in our good works.

In Chapter 5 Paul handles this rather well, where he says, For you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve each other.

So you might also ask, why doesn’t Paul mention the law or the ten commandments as our guide. Well, he says something different, he agrees with the law but says the Jesus wants us to walk with the Spirit. That by doing this we gain freedom. For the Spirit will not lead us to sin. So trying to follow the law by ourselves is not enough, and this the point Paul is making. He states that as believers in Christ we are better off to walk with and trust the Spirit. And in turn this is a more effective way of complying with the Ten Commandments

One final point is why Paul wrote this letter to the church in Galatia because other people had visited the church and tried to change the minds of the people of the church in Galatia. Things like, you have to be circumcised to be a Christian or confusing suggestions about what faith really was. This letter, like Romans, was designed to get this church back on track.

But be careful in judging the Galatians, this was a very early church and it shouldn’t surprise us they struggled. What is important in this letter is that not only does it apply to the church in Galatia, but for churches two thousand years later. Any modern church could and perhaps even should review Galatians and test their own spiritual practices, by asking themselves; Are we following these principles?

Galatians was a well-crafted primer for Christians and churches in the 1st century, but also for us in the 21st century.

Read Galatians with these thoughts in the back of your mind and see how they apply to your life. Then read Romans, you will be prepared and ready!

And as always, remember to bring the Holy Spirit along as well.

Listen to the Full Podcast –Galatians: We Are All Equal in Christ

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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elevator of faith

The Elevator of Faith is Boring

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Part of my day is reading and more reading. Mostly to find how other people think about faith, and to find interesting and helpful historical Christian facts. All to pass on to other people to help them have a closer walk with God. While doing this recently, I came across an article named, My Boring Christian testimony. As I read the article I was anything but bored. Essentially, the testimony was written by a woman named Megan Hill, a married mom, and writer. The point of the article was that she didn’t feel her faith was real because she didn’t have a dramatic conversion process or an incredible faith story.

As I read the article, I discovered a very normal life. As a young person, her parents took her to church. She asked to join the church when she was twelve. As she entered college, when most young people drift away from the church, she continued going to church. After marriage and having children, she started the same cycle with her children, by taking them to church. It seems pretty normal, certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

But through the years she doubted if her faith was real. She saw other people have dramatic moments of faith. She heard wonderful testimonies of people curing their addictions through faith. Others who had led an immoral life were struck by God and saved. On and on this drumbeat went, leaving her to feel if she had done something wrong.

Her real problem was in not understanding 2nd Corinthians 5:7, where it says, For we walk by faith, not by sight. She had always walked by faith, while many of us got off course by walking by sight and then needed to have a dramatic event to turn our lives around.

She had answered life’s most important question correctly, early in life, while many of us did the opposite and answered the question wrong.

This statement in 2nd Corinthians is a fundamental statement about faith. It isn’t something you can touch, see, hear, taste or physically feel. Faith is the opposite, it’s like walking into a dark room and being sure you won’t bump into anything.

For someone, like Megan, it’s like having the option of walking into a building and walking up all the stairs to get to the top; or just hitting the button on the faith elevator and arriving on top. It doesn’t mean she took a short cut or had a boring journey on the faith elevator. It meant she answered life’s toughest question right the first time.

Some of us choose to walk up, because we don’t see how it’s possible to just believe. For some it is a lifetime of a tepid prayer life, until the overwhelming responses from God turns a person’s heart.

For others, it is a point in life where they had no place to turn. They had hit the 6 o’clock of life and were left desperate. Only then do they make the long walk back to faith.

Still, others are sometimes in and sometimes out. The glory of God’s blessings don’t fully outweigh their human desires. They are constantly pulled back by a new want in life.

For these people, they take the stairs up to the top of the faith elevator, stopping along the way to investigate the floors. Sometimes they look at every floor, other times skipping a few.

But faith is believing in something you can’t see. You can’t rationalize faith. And no one can ever adequately explain how you are supposed to feel.

C.S. Lewis explained his faith and conversion experience by saying the following; You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen , night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.

Faith is no more than an intimate encounter with God when you fully realize that God exists. A realization that leaves you grateful and fulfilled. No longer desiring things you want, but to be a humble servant of God.

Faith isn’t something you can will or force. Sometimes it is a persistent knocking on the door by God. Other times it is a dramatic event. But God is always compelling us to believe. Compelling us to take one more step into the unknown and walking one step away from what we know.

But because some answer the compelling force of God on the first try, it doesn’t mean they are missing something, like Megan felt. Many people have a simple faith. I admire people with a boring journey to God. They saved themselves a lot of trouble.

But is Megan’s testimony really boring? How can it be, when you consider the power and beauty of a direct connection God? Her own personal and intimate relationship with the one who created the earth,  the universe, the stars in the sky and even knitted us in our mother’s womb.

No, Megan, your faith isn’t boring!

Listen to the Full Podcast –The Elevator of Faith is Boring

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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