Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. 

Colossians [3:23] 

The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, or simply Colossians, is the twelfth book of the New testament. Likely written sometime between 55AD and 60AD, while the Apostle Paul sat in a Roman prison. Colossians is one of four letters Paul wrote while held as a prisoner. The other three are; Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians. They are called as a group the Prison Epistles. Even in prison, Paul continued to write to many of the churches he started during his three missionary journeys.  

The letter to the Colossians was written to get these churches back on track in serving only Christ. But, unfortunately, it seems they had started taking shortcuts in their practices and introduced pagan rituals in worship services. One verse that hit home for me was in chapter 3, verse 23, which says, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. While a reminder not to take shortcuts in our relationship with Jesus or religious practices, it is also a reminder of how we conduct ourselves when we work. 

Paul is reminding us to work heartily and with quality in all that we do. And there is no better reminder than to always work with all your heart as if we are working for the Lord.  Wow, imagine the change in our efforts if we know whatever we do, we do for Jesus. This thought would undoubtedly make each effort we put into work more meaningful. So while this message was essential to the Colossians two thousand years ago, it is just as relevant today.  

As I was sitting one morning thinking about this message from Paul, it made me think about my brother-in-law Ken and my wife Connie, putting up a picture gallery of our relatives in our new home. There was a blank wall in one of the hallways that seemed to them to be a great place to put up pictures of our grandparents, our parents when they were younger, and even great-grandparents—a wonderful reminder of our roots.  

After visiting Lowes to get all the required material, Connie and Ken looked at the wall and discussed how to make the placements mean something and in what order. Then they began the laborious effort of measuring and rethinking each placement. Next, they carefully prepared each picture to be hung. A process that required exact precision to ensure each image hung evenly. I noticed how much time was spent preparing and thinking before they hung the pictures while wondering if I would have the same patience.  

Soon, they began hanging each picture while continuing to debate, measure, and assess each placement. This was no haphazard effort. So much thought went into each step; no shortcuts! I enjoyed listening to the banter and discussion, and it allowed me to feel the quality of their efforts.  

Then they proudly announced it was done. Both looking at their work, satisfied each picture hung properly. When I walked around the corner to see the gallery, I was stunned! Not just at the quality of the work, but seeing how the quality of preparation showed itself in the results. This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about with work as if working for the Lord. 

While this is a simple story, it is a reminder to be patient in our work. Not just do something to get it done, but to do it well. Sure it might seem it takes longer, but in actuality, it is a shorter and more sustainable effort.  

Sometimes, we might hurry to get something done only to be met with having to redo our work or end up with shoddy work. It is human nature to want to complete our to-do lists quickly. But Paul is telling us not to be expedient, instead to work as if working for the Lord.  

I can only imagine if a workplace had this mindset, what wonderful products would be produced. The decisions that would be made would always represent high Christian ethics, and customers would always be happy—by simply taking the time to work as if Jesus is standing next to us. 

He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there. 

Luke [22:12] 

When Ryan first came into my office eight years ago, I noticed something different about him. He was unusually polite and used words like; yes sir and thank you. He listened intently and would wait to insert his opinion politely. Quickly the conversation became a mutual exchange of ideas and methods.  

I had spotted him during my tours through his department and wondered about his skills. The visit to my office was for me to find out more about him, by giving him a project. We reviewed the project requirements and together established a timeline with expected outcomes.  

Before the project deadline, Ryan came into my office with his completed project, which also included extra materials. There were no mistakes in his work. He delivered his work earlier than expected with additional value.  

Naturally, I gave him more work with increasing responsibility and freedom. Again, he consistently exceeded expectations.  

As time went on, I got to know Ryan better. At twenty-five, he had earned his pilot’s license. In fact, he was a flight instructor at a small local airport. He had graduated from college with honors. A quiet person who read the room well and spoke when it was his time. Never insistent he was heard, but always clear with his facts.  

As time wore on, I tried to have lunch with Ryan periodically. Primarily to offer him my help and learn more about him. I heard the dreams about his life and his pending marriage to his girlfriend. I learned his parents and grandparents were influential in his life. He spoke about his family with pride. Ryan is a person who was grateful for what he has and not one to pick at slights in his life. He is a hopeful person.  

During these conversations, I started to sense he had another mission in life other than being a business person. Aviation was his passion. When he talked about aviation, this subdued person became animated.  

He had been dutiful in following his parents’ lead to pursue a career in business. And he was good at business. But the business world wasn’t his passion.  

At one point, I asked him what did he really want to do in his life? Stumbling with his words, he told me he always to be a pilot for a national airline. He wanted to fly people around the country. He loved flying and all the electronics associated with aviation. Flying was his real passion. 

We discussed this, and I told him, follow your passion. Knowing that passion produces excellence and joy in life. He was surprised I told him this, assuming I would try to talk him out of becoming a pilot. It was his dream, not mine.  

Ryan did leave the company to become a pilot. At first, he was a trainee and flew prop planes. Later rising up to being a regional co-pilot flying Jets. He moved from the area he grew up in to be closer to his work.  

I remember the day he called with pride to tell me he was now a pilot for a small regional airline and no longer the co-pilot. As time wore on, I wondered how he was doing. His name would come up here and there. But like all of us, our life’s paths cross here and there. Ryan was very supportive of my books and has bought everyone. He always gave me feedback on what he thought about my books. 

I don’t hear from Ryan every day or even every month. Maybe once or twice a year. When we talked, it became a time to connect the events from the last time we spoke. Sometimes he needed a reference, which I always eagerly provided.  

Then the day came; he was about to be given the pilot job he always wanted. He was being considered to be a pilot for a national airline. He texted me to see if I could be his reference. And of course, I said yes. My reference was only needed for the airline to verify everything they already knew about Ryan,   

Over the last eight years, Ryan had shared his life with me. I knew what he wanted in his life. I knew when Ryan was disappointed and when he was excited. But on this day, his dream was coming true, and he needed one more phone call from me.  

Ryan hadn’t called just once over the years, but frequently enough for me to know about and watch his life. So when the final request came in, I eagerly helped.  

Unwittingly, Ryan exhibited the real process of networking. Ryan didn’t set out with a plan to call me in exactly eight years and ask for a reference. Instead, he mutually involved me in his life—a relationship where there is both receiving and giving. 

When I speak to students on college campuses and talk about networking, I always tell them networking is a lifelong activity with a genuine effort to be mutual. Nurturing these relationships is vital to them having a solid network.  

In my career counseling work, where I help people find a new job, those with strong networks have an easier time. The statistics bear this out. At the professional level, sixty to eighty percent of all jobs are found through a person’s network.  

People love to help out people that have been positive and trustworthy associates. A person’s network contains people who are like bumblebees that spread the pollen of a person’s ability throughout the business and professional world.  

Even Jesus used his network to obtain what he needed during his three-year ministry on earth. On His last trip to Jerusalem, he needed a room to have one last supper with his disciples. Jesus sent the two Apostles Peter and John, ahead to secure a place for this supper. Jesus sent the two men to a man he knew from the past and told Peter and John. He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there. (Luke [22:12]) 

On the surface, this may seem a little odd for Jesus to assume someone would give Him a room. The owner was someone Jesus had met and helped in the past. Who was now more than willing to return the favor.  

So while this could be viewed as a supernatural event, it still contains the value of networking. Jesus spent considerable time during His ministry on earth building social networks. All done through mutual relationships, which included the two most important factors of networking, giving and receiving.  

Networks are built over a lifetime and always need to be nurtured. I know I am not the only one Ryan stayed in touch. He has other friends as well, some of who I know. Ryan will undoubtedly continue to be a great pilot, and he will need help from time to time. He will also, from time to time, help others. We, who know Ryan, know this.

Work as if working for the Lord Christ.

Colossians [3:23]-24

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

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

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

The Golden Rule

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

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

Hire Great People and Pay Them Well

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

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

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

Produce Products As If They Are For the Lord

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

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

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

Never Deceive Customers or Employees

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

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

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

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

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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

Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

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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

Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash

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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

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

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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

Photo by Adismara Putri Pradiri on Unsplash

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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

Photo by Neal E. Johnson on Unsplash

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

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash