remote wilderness

Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Luke [9:48]

Ann, a twelve-year girl, built a castle on a white sand beach. On top of the castle, she placed a cross. For the balance of her day, she knelt and prayed. Praying and thanking God for saving her family. In itself, this is an unusual act, but the events of the previous day were far more extraordinary.

A mother, Constance, and her two children, Ann and her sister Jean who was 14 had been on a two summer journey in a canoe. For two summers they would go north in a 20-foot freight canoe from Alberta Canada to the shores of the Arctic ocean, over 2,500 hundred miles.

Constance, who at this time was 47, had spent her early adulthood living in Alaska off the land. She hiked, canoed, and hunted in the most remote parts of the Alaskan wilderness. After the birth of her two children, she decided they should be raised in civilization and moved to Tucson. Her husband did not want to leave Alaska, so they divorced. Leaving Constance to raise these two young girls.

After a few years, Constance missed the wilderness and wanted to share the experience with the girls. They planned for a year and decided to spend two summers in a freight canoe with a nine horse-powered motor exploring the wilderness.

The first summer was eventful but safe. Ann had to have an appendectomy and missed the final month. They returned the next spring after the ice had melted and started off in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada, where they had stopped the previous summer. This meant they had to take their canoe across the Great Slave Lake to connect with the Mackenzie River and then head north.

The Great Slave Lake is remote and has few human habitats, larger than any of the Great Lakes. For a few weeks, they would be isolated making their way on the shoreline until they would cross over a nine-mile stretch to get the mouth of the Mackenzie River.

Well, they turned to cross too early. Constance, using very vague maps thought they were crossing at the right spot, where it would be a short nine-mile crossing and somewhat sheltered from the wind.

As they were miles offshore, Constance realized her mistake. Instead of a nine-mile crossing with some shelter to break the wind, they had an eighteen-mile journey instead, most of it into strong headwinds. It was too late to turn back by the time Constance figured this out. So they plowed ahead.

Jean had learned to master the motor and for a substantial part of the trip was in charge of the motor and sat in the back of the canoe. Constance was the navigator and sat in the front of the canoe, giving Jean directions. As the wind got worse they buckled down what they could, but still stayed exposed to the wind and icy water that splashed on them every time the canoe hit a wave.

Jean sat in the back with her hand on the motor and followed her mother’s direction. After a while, Constance noticed they hadn’t made any headway. The shore was still far away. She stopped looking and thought of what to do. They were doomed without a new plan.

Constance quieted herself and began to pray. Now, not a religious person, but she had been getting impulses to get closer to God. So now she did. In her desperate prayer, she felt that God told her to slightly change the way they were going into the waves. Not sideways, but at a little different angle.

She ended her prayer and signaled to Jean to slightly alter their course. Earlier, Jean had been wondering if this would work. Now that her mother had told her to do this, she became confident and steered the boat at a slightly different angle.

For the next two hours, they made headway and Jean frozen and wet from the blowing wind and water, never took her hand off the motor. Gripping it, literally as if her life depended on it.

Finally, they arrived at the white sand beach on the shore of one of the most dangerous lakes in North America. Neither of the two girls’ hands worked because of the cold, yet Jean never let go of her grip. Constance built a twenty-foot fire to warm them up. In their tent, they slept peacefully that night.

In the morning, Ann built the shrine.

Both Ann and Constance had long ago begun feeling like they should explore God and find out who God was. They never went to church, but knew God was important. They were always distracted living life and could never find quite the right time.

But on that day, there was no else to turn, but to God. And God answered. A slight change in the course had saved them. A message that Constance knew came from God. And Ann praying in the canoe, asking for help, knew God had heard her as well.

In an overwhelming sense of gratitude, Ann built the shrine and spent her day kneeling and praying to God.

Jesus often used children to express faith. The innocence of those who have not been tainted by the world. Allowing them to see God vividly. Ann knew who had saved her. She didn’t need some long theological reason, she just needed her childlike faith. A faith that drowns out the contrary messages delivered by the world. A faith of innocence.

For Constance, God had been calling her for years. She had been too busy raising children and working. Exhausted from her roles as mother and provider, she never had the time or energy to hear what God had to say.

In a desperate moment, she had no choice this time, but to hear God out. She listened and obeyed, saving her children.

In an extraordinarily remote wilderness, a gift was delivered to three people. The gift of faith.

Author’s Note: This story comes from a book called Down the Wild River North, written by Constance Helmericks. The book is the story of their two summer journey in 1965 and 1966. Constance wrote eight books in her lifetime. I read this book in 1979. She died in 1989 of breast cancer. Jean lives in Alaska today and is also an author. Ann moved to Alaska as well. Both are now in their seventies.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Forgiveness Can Be Hard: The Story of Philemon

Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

Philemon [1:11]

The book of Philemon in the New Testament is one of the shortest books, at only 355 words. It contains only one chapter and its verses are seldom quoted or are its verses included in weekly church services. Yet its singular message is one of the most important messages in Christian life, that of forgiveness.

The book is a letter that Paul wrote to a person named Philemon. Philemon was a leader of the church in Colossae and the church actually met in his house. Philemon was a wealthy person who had many slaves. Paul wrote this letter in prison and intended for it to be delivered along with his large letter to the Colossians.

One of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, had run away and perhaps stole money. Somehow he found Paul. Now the details of how Onesimus became associated with Paul are not really known. But what is known is that Paul inspired Onesimus to deepen his Christian faith. Through this connection, Paul and  Onesimus became good friends.

Paul encouraged him to return to Colossae, his home. Naturally, Onesimus was nervous as he was a runaway slave and was fearful of the retribution. So, Paul wrote this letter to encourage Philemon to see Onesimus in a different light and to remember his Christian values. Which includes an attitude of forgiveness. Paul even offered to repay Philemon any amount that was a loss from Onesimus.

What is important in this letter, is that Paul could have commanded Philemon to forgive Onesimus, but instead asked him to consider in his own heart why he should forgive Onesimus. Essentially allowing Philemon to meditate and consider what Christian forgiveness means. Simply commanding or demanding forgiveness on Paul’s part, would have made Philemon’s actual forgiveness superficial. Paul knew that having Philemon consider and working through his own anger would strengthen Philemon’s Christian character.

An interesting part of this process is that Paul says to Philemon in the letter; Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. Useful not in a material sense, but useful in a Christian way. Useful in that he was a changed person and one that should be given a second chance.

Now there is an interesting play on words here, the name Onesimus in ancient Greek means useful. As is typical in the Bible, these wordplays strengthen the story. It is unlikely this is a coincidence. And probably it is providential.

Now, this is important, for all people we have had difficult moments in our lives, where we have let people down. For some, it might be minor offenses. For others, deeper and darker transgressions; drug abuse, immorality, theft, etc.… Paul’s point to Philemon, is that he is now useful and no longer useless. Why? Because Onesimus has changed his heart and become a faithful Christian.

Essentially, Paul has placed Philemon in a position where he would have to consider hanging on to the past and being angry; or wiping the slate clean and considering Onesimus a worthy person that he should embrace.

Paul could have had Onesimus stay with him and not return to Colossae. Instead, to help two people out, Paul advised Onesimus to return and face the person he offended. Likewise, he knew the process of reconciliation would move Philemon along in his Christianity. This was Paul’s point in writing the letter and suggesting Onesimus return to face the person who was angry with him.

We have all experienced both sides of this relationship. We likely have wronged someone and had to face them with an apology. Likewise, we have all had to receive an apology.

For the person who has offended, the apology needs to be humble and speak with an attitude of repentance. Not just a sorry, but a conveyance of remorse and showing a change in heart. Not a sorry to get out of trouble, but one where change is evident. Similar to when we confess our sins to God in prayer. This part in the process of forgiveness is hard, but one in which most are familiar.

Paul also points out the second part, which is forgiveness. It is as simple as Paul’s statement, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. This is the bridge those offended must cross to truly forgive. To put away the anger of the offense, whether large or small. So that they can see the other person has become useful. This is a major step forward in maturing as a Christian; looking to the future and not being enslaved by the past.

This is not easy, and for many of us, this is a tough bridge to cross. But this is what Paul was asking Philemon to do. Not commanding him to cross the bridge of forgiveness, but to consider crossing. A far more effective way of leading people to do what they should.

So, while this short little book in the middle of other larger and more theologically profound books, it still provides an important message about our responsibilities as Christians. If God forgave us and God has, we should likewise do the same.

It is easy for God, perhaps a little harder for us mortals. And we shouldn’t just forgive because we are supposed to, we should also deeply consider how useful all people are to God and us.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

A friend of mine, whom we will call Tom, called this week looking for financial advice. He is unfortunately generally unaware of the workings of investing. He was very unhappy with his financial advisor and due to the Coronavirus had seen his saving shrink considerably. Far more than the rest of the stock market.

His mistake was he went with a financial advisor who invested in some highly speculative places. Naturally, in a steep downturn, like we are having, these investments will perform poorly. And these investments also contain very high fees, further eroding his nest egg.

Instead of answering his question, I asked him two questions. The first is what were his goals? In other words, what was he saving for; retirement, a nest egg to cushion difficult times or college.

The second question was had he prayed before he made his decision? And had to go to God to seek advice?

In both cases he had done neither, leaving him exposed to luck and the wiles of a person he had only met with for an hour or so.

Ironically, the same day, another person, whom we will call Sally, called seeking the same advice. In this difficult time, she had a different plan. She was looking to save money wherever she could and was cutting household expenses quickly. To her cash was king. She wasn’t looking to score a big return, instead, she was looking to protect her family.

She knew that the Coronavirus not only affected her family’s health but also her ability to provide for her family. She knew jobs would be at a premium and this wasn’t the time to get risky.

She also prayed a lot. Seeking guidance and wisdom.

I could not offer her any new wisdom, other than just keep doing what she was doing and to stay close to God.

In Colossians, a book chock full of great advice, it says; Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Three pieces of wonderful advice; pray and pray a lot; be watchful and be thankful.

This is what tough times require. So let’s start with, why prayer, and how to pray. First, have faith that God is the source of all answers, not just another place to go. With an open mind and in a quiet place, layout your worries and ask; what do I do? Then listen with a clear head, what the Spirit is telling us.

Some people will say that it is way too simple. Well, it isn’t, the hardest part is being open and receptive. Not having preconceived ideas in prayer or our personal wishes is very hard to do. But prayer requires us to be a blank piece of paper. The more we remove ourselves and our wishes, the more God can talk to us and give us His plan.

Now you might not get your answer in the prayer session, but the answer will come shortly. It might be through a Bible verse you read latter. Or perhaps through circumstances or another person. But only you will know what is a real answer or an illusion.

This is where being watchful comes in. First and foremost know the facts. Know what God is telling you and know your situation. Know both of these in great detail. Then as events play out, you will see God working.

This process is a commitment on our parts. It is not just going to God and asking. It is also a responsibility to know the facts and the details of our lives and what God is saying to us. God isn’t a genie, that we ask, and we automatically receive. Always remember we are in a partnership with God. This partnership requires us to be watchful.

Then we turn to thankful. By going to God and then being watchful; God’s plan in our lives we be revealed. It is here that we can be thankful. Thankful that God listened and for God.  And there is no greater feeling of accomplishment when your plans with God work out. You become assured of God’s love and God’s presence.

Now both Tom and Sally are not their real names, those names will remain anonymous. Sally put in the work. She had tossed and turned her numbers. She had focused on what was most important. She knew God wanted her to protect her family. She knew it was a big task and it required a lot of extra thinking. She wasn’t going to let the Coronavirus threaten her family. This was what she felt God wanted her to do.

Her very nature is humility and hard work. Those her know her would agree. She is also a woman of great faith. Knowing her, I know when she started to pray, she didn’t bring her personal wishes to God, but openly looked for help. She didn’t cloud the issue with thoughts of grandeur or to get God to rubber-stamp her ideas. She wanted answers from a place that had answered her continuously in her life. This was serious business and she was serious.

Tom was looking for the big hit. A clever advisor had gotten Tom to hand over his life savings. A quick and easy way to become wealthier. What seemed to be good to be true was just that, too good to be true. He didn’t pray or become watchful. He went for the Hail Mary, in a time when risk needed to be eliminated.

Now you might ask, why didn’t he go to God first? Well, if you knew Tom, he is a great Christian and knows the Bible really well, but Tom is also prone to taking short cuts. Too quick to seek the next great thing.

Sure he has a great relationship with God, but in this case, his Achilles heel got exposed.

And that is the point of being watchful in prayer. Slow down and make sure you know what God is telling you to do. Rid ourselves of our wishes, so that we can replace them with God’s and common sense.

These are difficult days. And with certainty, I know things will be better. But in these times we have to make good decisions.

We only need to do three things;

  • Be devoted to prayer
  • Be watchful
  • Be thankful

And don’t forget God is with us.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Why I Love Being an American Citizen

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1st Corinthians 12:7

In our community, like many others, we can only go out to shop for food, exercise outdoors or seek medical help. In Asheville, we are locked down. On a recent trip to the grocery store, I noticed people avoiding me and subtly I was avoiding them. Now it would be easy to take this personally, but social distancing has become the norm.

And at first, I was a little put-off, but through a good and healthy self-scolding, I realized it wasn’t something to take personally. It was my neighbor’s complying with a new way of life. Politeness and respect have emerged in most people I see. People waiting for others to go by, to keep the six-foot barrier. Conversations in parks held at a distance.

And it is working, all of the models which predicted a higher infection rate are being proven overly conservative. The modelers have explained, that the models didn’t project that social distancing would work. They were afraid Americans wouldn’t comply. They don’t know the America I know.

As I have thought about it, what else would I have expected? Most people are following the rules. Trying in their own way to eliminate the impact of the Coronavirus. A banding together by Americans to do whatever they can to help fight this deadly disease. This is what I have seen in America for many decades. In tough times, Americans help out.

Now you might hear, not everyone is pitching in. Certainly, we have the famous video from Miami beach with college students partying. But I can also tell stories of grandchildren shopping for their grandparents, who can’t go out. I can tell stories of young adults working in supermarkets wiping down shopping carts after every use for new customers. These stories about our youth won’t make the news, only the bad seems to get on the national news.

I can tell a story about a friend who isn’t complying. But I can tell many more stories about those who are.

I know a few are hoarding toilet paper and Tylenol. But I know far more that are pitching in and helping.

I can tell the story of the CEO of Lilly working with his competitors to find a cure. I can tell you about the researchers at The University of Pittsburgh who have worked long hours to find a vaccine, which they think they have found.

I can tell the story of a police officer in Minnesota, pulling over a doctor, not to give her a ticket, but the facemasks for her day at the hospital.

In the same grocery store, I mentioned earlier, the store manager is giving food to a local food bank.

Kindness does exist and it is much bigger than we may hear.

And I know when this is all done, even more stories of heroism will emerge. Sure there will be some that will emerge that aren’t heroic, these are the ones that will be seen to lift media ratings.

I know what I am seeing, and hearing and you could call me an optimist. But I see far more acts of working together than not. This is the America in which I grew up. Neighbors taking care of neighbors.

And we all have a choice in what we see. We can either curse the darkness or light a candle. And most will light a candle.

I know this not through my own observations, but through what I know about the human condition that exists in all people, not just here in my home America. I have also seen this on the five continents I have visited. Neighbors caring about each other. In every country, not just mine. For, in each of us the Spirit of God dwells. I have seen many acts of kindness to be persuaded otherwise.

And my view is Biblically sound as well, especially when you read 1st Corinthians 12:7, where it says; Now to each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. A simple message layered in the Bible, that is easily missed. And the statement is very clear; in each of us dwells the Holy Spirit, which desires common good.

And this is what I see in my home called America. But I am not a nationalist, I have seen it in France, the Middle East, in South Korea, and in the immigrants who come to our land.

It is our choice what we see or don’t see. But I know what God sees because the Spirit of God exists. God sees all that we do and think. God knows every hair on our head, our desires, and plans. God knows us, better than we know us.

Now you may call me an optimist, but I also have statistics to prove my point. As a former CFO of major retailers, I had to study theft. Who stole from retailers and who didn’t. Here is what I discovered. Only two percent or so stole from our stores. When we looked by demographic, we never found any particular group was more prone to stealing.

As a retailer, we had the choice to focus on those who stole or focus on who didn’t. We always chose to believe in our customers.

Likewise, we all have this same choice, to focus on the bad or to see what God sees.

The Spirit of God dwells in all and in all the desire to do good. Life can scar us and tinge our views. But here in America, I see far more good.

God is looking for the good in all people, and God will find it.

Let today, be our day to find what God sees.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman


Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Colossians 3:1

If you visit Ephesus, in all likelihood you will see a small tower in town that the locals will tell you it is the prison Paul was in when he wrote Colossians. Now, nowhere in the Bible does it mention Paul was in prison in Ephesus, leading some scholars to think this is a traditional aspiration on the part of the citizens of Ephesus. Maybe it is or isn’t, but it certainly makes for an interesting discussion.

But what we are sure of is that Paul did write some of his letters while sitting in prison, three in fact. They are Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians. They are called the Prison Epistles. Whether or not they were written in a Roman prison, Ephesus or somewhere else is interesting, but not the real story. It’s more about Paul’s commitment to Christ, despite his circumstances.

So it is easy to miss Paul’s commitment to his work, as we read his letters. But let us put ourselves in Paul’s shoes. His trials and dangers during his three missionary trips are legendary. And that is what is important. His rock-steady commitment to spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire is not just a fictional story, it was real life. Filled with danger, resistance, physical harm, and prison stays.

Imagine ourselves, sitting in prison, all because we preached the gospel. Would we have stopped to pursue a less turbulent life? Could we have focused on the mission, while surrounded by jail bars? Well, Paul did, and not only that, some of his best writing came while sitting in a dank and dark prison. Now to me, that shows exactly how much Paul trusted God.

So, when we read Colossians this is a good thing to keep in mind.

Another interesting historical note about Colossians is that Paul never visited Colossae, a small town in current-day Turkey. The church was established by a convert of Paul’s, Epaphras. Epaphras was successful in getting the church started and off the ground. The church blossomed and many started attending on a regular basis.

But as is normal for any new organization, outsiders started to try to change things. Things like mixing Christianity with worshipping pagan festivals. Others tried to introduce human philosophies to mix in with Christian theology. Still, others tried to introduce restrictions based on Judaic traditions.

Most importantly people started giving the church theories about Jesus and his origin. All of which was off target.

Paul, by now has had a great experience with these outside influences and knew just what to say to the church in Colossae. So, instead of bemoaning the fact he was stuck in a prison, he wrote this wonderful letter to the Colossians.

For instance, in regard to Jesus and his origin, Paul writes; For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians [1:16])

So here it is, one of the most articulate and understandable statements about who Jesus is and his origin in the Bible. The ruling authority of all that exists, both visible and invisible. All created by Jesus and for Jesus. The bottom line, Jesus is the boss of everything he created!

The second thing Paul does with this letter is to make sure the church knows how proud Paul is of them. And when you read chapter one, you will see his praise. In verses 3-4, Paul says; We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—

Now, this piece is very important, Paul is letting them know they are on course and to continue and not let others tell them differently.

When you read this book, and it doesn’t take long, you will find it is full of wonderful theology and statements about being a Christian. So many, you will find yourself highlighting many of the passages. One of my favorites is; Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)

The reason I love this verse is Paul is doing what he is writing. His complete focus; and I really mean complete, was to focus on following Jesus. Nothing else is more important than following the ways of Jesus to Paul, not prison, beatings or scarcity. He stays committed no matter what happens to him. And he keeps doing the job Jesus has given to him; converting the Gentiles.

As I said before, Colossians is filled with short but powerful statements about what Christian life is and looks like. Listed below are some of these verses you will encounter.

  • So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, ([2:16])
  • Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (3:5)
  • Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (4:2)
  • Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ([3:13])
  • Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (3:2)

By no means is this list complete, but it gives a general idea. An interesting exercise when reading this book is to highlight these phrases that you like. Colossians is so rich in Christian statements; I suspect you will highlight half the book!

Colossians is a valuable addition to the New Testament for us. For history buffs, it is written to a church that Paul didn’t start and shows the power of the Gospel in the 1st century. The church was growing without Paul’s direct influence, but still much related to him.

For us, in the 21st century, if you want the Readers Digest version of the purpose of Jesus and how to be a good Christian, here it is in Colossians. The language is clear, and concepts vibrantly expressed.

The next time you have a few minutes, read Colossians with this background and it might become one of your favorite places in the Bible.

Author’s note: I have been very clear that I believe Paul wrote this letter and a number of scholars agree. But you should know there is some disagreement as to its authorship. I suspect that Timothy helped draft this letter with Paul, which has created this scholarly concern.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

mediator with god

Hebrews: Jesus Our Mediator with God

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Around 65-70AD,  Christians in the Roman Empire suffered severe persecution at the hands of Emperor Nero. Prompting some, notably Jewish Christians to want to return to Judaism to avoid persecution. Forgetting the purpose of Jesus.

Their lives had become very uprooted and desperate. Their livelihoods and social status were threatened. Their only way out was to either follow the Roman Gods or return to Judaism.

In response, a very skilled author wrote the book of Hebrews to this group to exhort them to maintain their faith in Jesus. To not forget that Jesus had come to earth in human form to die for their sins and become their intercessor with God.

Traditionally, this letter was assigned to Paul, but likely not. The language of the letter, while very complex, like Paul’s writing, has far fewer personal comments and doesn’t follow Paul’s normal style of bold assertions. Instead, it is written almost like a very logical legal defense.  Many people have been assigned the authorship; from the author of Luke to Clement of Rome, one of Paul students or even Apollos.

Origen, the great early Christian historian, says it best regarding the authorship, who wrote the epistle is known to God alone. I agree with Origen and find trying to figure out who wrote this masterpiece is a distraction to the wonderful message of the good news of Jesus, which is contained in Hebrews.

But this is a very hard book to read and understand without knowing in advance what and where the author is saying and going. So let me try to help with some background information.

This well-crafted letter is a defense of Jesus’s purpose and the author goes to great pains in writing specifically to the Jewish Christians. His point is; Jesus came as the highest priest and is humankind’s’ intercessor with God. Laying out his case with repetition and constantly referring to Judaic tradition. While this makes for harder reading by the 21st-century reader, knowing this in advance helps a lot.

We see this appeal in the opening sections or prologue, chapters 1-4. The author compares Jesus to Moses, one of the great heroes of Judaism. Explaining that Moses was human and subject to human frailties. And Jesus, while on earth was A perfector. Later saying Jesus was above all things; including Moses, Abraham, the prophets and the angels of God. Finally, you will note in the opening chapter, fairly extensive quotes from ancient Jewish scripture that identify Jesus. All to help the Jewish Christians understand the connection between their traditions and Jesus.

This appeal allows for two critical points. The first, to build up the Jewish Christians receptivity by using their traditions. The second, to make his case that Jesus was a continuation of the history of Judaism.

One of the more interesting and for many an obscure Old Testament reference occurs in Chapter seven, The high priest Melchizedek is brought in to the defense. The author compares Melchizedek as a different kind of priest, not one borne as a human, like the Jewish priests. But one who was with Abraham after a great victory. And to whom Abraham gave ten percent of his loot from a recent battle.

This part is a little confusing and for the reader a little overwhelming in trying to understand the author’s point. In part, because of the author’s commitment to proving to the Jewish Christians, that Jesus is the one. Melchizedek is a Biblical character not borne of human sources, and those with a  deep knowledge of Judaism would know about him. By comparing him to the human high priests and then saying Jesus was from the same source, he makes the argument Jesus was the highest priest. This section was strictly for Jewish Christians of the 1st century, but for 21st century Christians, it appears to be a little confusing. So when you get to this section, not having this knowledge will cause strain in understanding.

It is also most important for the author to point out that Jesus is the intercessor to God for humankind. His basic argument is that Jesus was both human and divine. In His human state, Jesus died on the cross to absorb all human sin. In doing so, in His divine state, he can appeal to the Father on our behalf.

This last point is the theme of Hebrews for the larger audience, Jesus and his role as mediator between God and humanity. This is why we should end every prayer with, In Jesus’ name we pray. So when we read this book, these are the two critical factors to keep in mind when trying to understand the author’s points.

He is asking Jewish Christians to have faith and not give up. While stating Jesus is the only connection to God. Not Moses, Abraham or the prophets.

This appeal or defense of Jesus is made in many different ways, but always addressing one of these two points. For instance, in Hebrews 13:8 it says, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow. In other words, Jesus existed at the beginning, through Jewish history, is here today and for eternity.

In the opening chapter, he states it another way, by saying; The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Notice it says, provided purification for sins. This is the act that created the connection between us and God.

In chapter seven, we get another verse on this point, where it says; Therefore he can save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them.

This theme is very prominent throughout Hebrews and is expressed in many ways.

While the author is laying out his defense of Jesus, he also appeals to this Jewish Christian group to maintain their faith, despite their circumstances. Essentially, the author builds his case that we can rely on Jesus’s role and now explains what faith is; to encourage the Jewish Christians to not give up. Again using multiple repetitions to make his point.

Perhaps the most famous verse in Hebrews is in 11:1 and best states his position, it says; Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

In a different way, but still using the word confidence, it says in [4:16]; Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Before we close, I would like to add,  while this is a very complicated book and the language can at times be daunting.  There is another option for reading Hebrews than our standard Bible. Try getting access to the Message Bible and read Hebrews with a modern interpretation. It will help a lot!

Once again, we have a masterpiece in the New Testament that was written to a very specific group, Jewish Christians, that transcends time and place. Even in the 21st century the message of sticking with our faith, even under duress, is still very relevant.  And the very detailed explanation and theme of this book of Jesus as humankind’s’ intercessor is most important to understanding our faith.

Well, I hoped I piqued your interest in this book and provided you with insight that will allow the book to move from complicated to understand.

So the next time you pray and say, In Jesus’ name I pray, You will know why.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Clarence Jordan And Bringing Jesus to Life

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John [1:14]

In 1942 Clarence Jordan and his wife, Florence, moved to a four hundred acre farm in Americus Georgia. Clarence had just received his Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and finished four years as a missionary. They called their farm Koinonia. The Greek word meaning fellowship. A name they used to identify their purpose and strongly connected to the first Christians portrayed in the Books of Acts. A Christian commune committed to sharing their resources and money.

To sustain their farm and community, they began raising peanuts. Clarence also had a degree in agriculture, which proved to be also valuable in creating an economically sustainable community. But Clarence did something very different than prevailing societal norms. He hired and recruited black and white to help maintain and live on the farm. Taking vastly underpaid sharecroppers and giving them a chance to earn a living wage for their efforts.  Long troubled by the racial and economic injustice of his region, he insisted on treating all people equally.

Well, this led to a substantial amount of backlash and Koinonia became viewed as a threat. There were bombings, boycotts and Clarence himself was dismissed as a Southern Baptist minister.

The FBI investigated the farm as a communist stronghold. For a few years, life was tough for those living on the farm. Cleverly, to work around the boycott, the farm shipped their peanuts to other parts of the country. And used the slogan, Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia. And it worked, the farm stayed self-sufficient.

Now an interesting turn in both Koinonia and Clarence’s vision occurred in 1965. Millard and Linda Fuller visited the farm, intending only staying for a few hours,  instead, they moved on the farm. Milliard by the age of twenty-nine had become a self-made millionaire and was looking for a different path in life and found it at Koinonia.

The Fullers brought new energy to the farm and created a home building initiative for those who could not afford new housing. After getting this initiative started, the Fullers wanted to take what they had learned to Africa. And so they did.

They went to the Democratic Republic of Congo and successfully started a home building initiative. There they learned more methods to helping people have safe and sound housing.

During this time, Clarence died in 1969. He was buried in an unmarked grave on the farm. But his legacy and methods continued. Leading one resident to say, He be gone now, but his footprint is still here.

Millard and Linda returned to the farm in 1976. Armed with what they learned overseas and seeing the work they had started earlier on the farm of building homes was still growing. They decided to set up a new organization, an international organization, to expand what they had learned and started.

And this new organization grew quickly throughout the United States and internationally. Today this organization still exists. Over the last forty-four years has built over one million homes and helped well over ten million people. All from the vision of one man and other loyal Christians. Recently they built a new headquarters in Americus Georgia in honor of Clarence Jordan.

The name of this organization is called Habitat for Humanity. Surprised? Well, many think this was Jimmy Carter’s idea. It wasn’t, but Jimmy and his wife Rosalyn became great ambassadors for Habitat and helped make it a much larger organization. Dedicating a substantial amount of time post-presidency to working with Habitat for Humanity.

On a side note, older readers may remember the name, Hamilton Jordan. He was Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff during his presidency. The son of Clarence Jordan.

While many deserve a lot of credit for the work of Habitat for Humanity, it was Clarence Jordan who created the environment and his commitment to Christian values that led the rise of one of the world’s most recognizeable organizations.

When Clarence started Koinonia farms, he believed the cause of poverty was spiritual and economic injustice. His life goal was to create a way to solve both, which explains why he was both a scientifically trained farmer and held a Doctorate in Theology. With a simple goal to help the sharecroppers of Georgia.

He wanted to bring the lessons of Jesus to life amidst the poverty and racism of the rural south. A unique way to bring the lessons of the Gospel into a real world practice. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses in the Gospels, from John [1:14]; where it says, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

And that’s what Clarence did, he brought Jesus the Word to life in Georgia. Not just because he was the guiding light of Habitat for Humanity, but also he radically changed the life of the poor rural sharecropper in the south.

Giving up a life of material abundance his parents had, he turned instead to giving his life for the downtrodden. He was well ahead of the commune times of the 60’s and 70’s, in his vision. He had no earthly model to follow, but the example in Acts, where early Christians lived in fellowship. Tending to the poor both spiritually and economically.

To the citizens of the nearby towns, his supposed radical approach was threatening. So radical the FBI investigated and looked for dangerous societal practices. When all any of them could have just read the first few chapters of Acts, to see where the idea came from.

No, Clarence’s idea of bringing Jesus’s lessons to life wasn’t radical or subversive. It was one man’s bringing the message of the Gospels back to earth. What was radical was Clarence’s complete commitment to bringing the words of Jesus to life and sacrificing his own wealth to help others.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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What Is the Value of a Homemade Cross?

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2

As I was putting on a sweater to go out recently, I accidentally broke the string to my cross and it fell off. Naturally driven to overthink, I wondered what it meant? Was it a message or something else? I never take off my cross and keep it on regardless of what I do. The string has broken before, I repaired it a few times. But this time there would be no repairing, the string had been repaired too many times.

The origin of my cross is that it was homemade and created for me by a good friend, Key, who lives in North Carolina. Connie and I had helped her with a few things. So she made the cross out of bronze and green wire. And then used string in place of a chain.

I was delighted when she gave it to me and promptly put it around my neck. Putting my old cross on the corner of my desk. Key is a sweet woman, with a rough exterior at times. What she has in life, she has fought hard to achieve. Not always understood by her neighbors, but once you get to know her and she trusts you, she becomes very open and kind.

She knew the cross would be very important to me, and with her limited resources this was what she could do for me in repayment.

So there I was, frustrated that this treasured item, that was symbolic of my faith and a dear friendship, was beyond repair. Connie, my wife, always knew what to do. Go to Hobby Lobby and find a similar piece of string, but perhaps a little sturdier.

Along the way we passed jewelry stores, making me wonder, if this cross, a symbol of faith and friendship, shouldn’t have something a little more ornate than just a piece of string. I saw chains for $150, but Connie kept on marching to Hobby Lobby.

We went into Hobby Lobby and looked around, not really quite finding what we were looking for. Then we met Wendy. Wendy is one of those salespeople you meet in a craft store. Handy and not afraid of tedious details, like a string for a cross.

Wendy studied the cross and gave us a roll of nylon string that matched the bronze background of the cross. Telling us if we spent the $2 it cost, she would put it on for us free of charge.

So, we did, but then she did something very unusual. She took the nylon string and made a sailor’s knot so that it could expand when put on or taken it off. A clever trick that only a craft salesperson or a Navy vet could do! Another piece of lore that is attached to my cross.

So why is all this important? Sure I could have bought a sterling silver chain. But this cross isn’t fancy. It’s very plain and homey. It needed something simple. Its real value is in what it represents.

Like our Lord, who was born in a barn. During his lifetime, never had more than sandals and a rough tunic. His crown was made of thorns. And his cross was two pieces of wood and some nails. Simple and not distracting from the real value of his life.

His life’s meaning meant so much more than material things. Even though he was God, he lived simply. His richness was in his service to humankind. He didn’t need shiny things to prove his worth.

For some an elegant and shiny cross could mean something different. Perhaps a way to show the Lord the respect that they have for the sacrifice that is represented by the cross. And they would be right.

For others, perhaps it is a reflection of their Christian values. A powerful acclamation to the world that they are a Christian. And they would be right.

For some like myself, it is both a recognition of the spiritual value of the cross and that is connected to a friendship or an important event.

But what is most important is the recognition of the statement the cross makes. A statement of outward commitment and faith in Jesus.

Let me explain. When I was serving a church, whose congregation was made up of mostly homeless people, we provided breakfast for free on Sunday morning.

Naturally, the church had limited resources and funding the breakfast was out of the question. So we visited the main street restaurants to look for donations. When I visited them, I looked for a cross. Perhaps hanging on the wall or near the cash register. Each time I saw the cross, I knew they would help. And they did.

With the help of these donations and volunteers, we were able to feed fifty or so people every Sunday. All connected by the cross.

The value of the cross isn’t what you paid for this great Christian replica. It is in what it stands for and a reflection of what we believe. It is so much more than just a piece of jewelry, regardless of its price.

Most importantly, It is a reminder of what Jesus did on his own cross for humankind.

An individual’s own cross is always very personal. Each cross having its own story of how it was acquired. Each cross has a special life connection with the person wearing the cross. A connection to Jesus and a person or set of events that led to its acquisition, creating special memories and stories.

And like our own faith and connection with Jesus, different person by person.

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Jesus and the Cross

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John [19:28]-30

For Christians, the most important historical event is the death of Jesus. So, we may ask the question, Did it really happen? Well, the answer is a very strong yes! Of all the events that are portrayed in the four Gospels; Jesus’s baptism and crucifixion, according to historians are the two most certain events that occurred.

There has been extensive research done by both Biblical and non-Biblical scholars around Jesus and His death. All have come to the conclusion that it happened. Famed Biblical scholar and historian John Dominic Crossan, states; The crucifixion of Jesus is as certain as any historical fact can be.

But is this the right way to approach this central event of Jesus’s life. It is nice to know. And we certainly can start our own process of discovery of the Risen Christ knowing this is certain. But Jesus and his death is far more than a checking of the facts. Jesus’s death isn’t just a one-dimensional historical exercise. For me, it’s more about knowing the purpose of the crucifixion and how it relates to the 21st-century believer.

Likewise, we can turn to the meta-physical aspect of His death as something we may also try to understand. He did die to save us from sin. In this death, Jesus erased of all aspects of our failings. Jesus also created Himself as our mediator with God. Because Jesus died to absorb our sins, we are freed. Released to be able to speak to and receive the grace of God through Jesus.

And how exactly does this work? God is pure and untarnished and while most of our acts as humans are to do good. Not all are. Which means that if we go directly to God, meta-physically we tarnish God. Hence, the need for Jesus as our go-between, and the value of the cross. This is why when we pray, we say, In Jesus’s name.

The Apostle Paul explains this in Romans [3:24], and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Now that’s the metaphysical argument and explanation of the value of the crucifixion. But even knowing this doesn’t fully explain how we experience and know the value of the crucifixion.

Both knowing history and the meta-physical justification won’t get us there. If we stay just with this knowledge, we become passive Christians.

Now earlier I mentioned that most acts of humanity are good. There are very many who would and always do disagree with me. Some say, that humanity is totally depraved. Some will say, I have a very rose-colored lens about the state of the human condition. But total depravity is not what I have seen or experienced. I have seen far more good than bad. I believe there is good in all people. But even the resolution of this argument is a dead-ended path to the purpose of the cross. For even if there is one act of evil in a lifetime, it still requires the cross.

Which means that now philosophy can’t assure us of the purpose of Jesus and the cross.

Knowing the history, meta-physics nor philosophy will fully get us to have faith in Jesus and the cross. It might get us close, but not over the line.

It only comes from answering the inevitable knock by Jesus on our faith door. A compelling call by Jesus to know Him. This doesn’t come from the study of history, the metaphysical or philosophy. It comes from our own and very unique relationship with Jesus.

A relationship which requires our complete yes to having this relationship. A movement from the tangible to the not tangible. A surrendering of ourselves and wants. A yearning to desire Jesus.

Jesus is always ready for this relationship and died for this connection with us. When we cross over to this side of being with Jesus, history won’t matter. Nor will philosophy or meta-physics matter. We will just know why the death on the cross was necessary.

And this is faith. This is the crossing over. This is the moment we believe all. It is a moment that the world dims and we see everything differently.

It doesn’t mean we are better people; it means we are faithful people. It means our hearts desire both good and Jesus.

It doesn’t mean we will never fail, because we will. It doesn’t mean we won’t have cringeful moments, we will. It doesn’t mean we won’t let people down through our mistakes, we will. It means we know we have another chance to correct a wrong because Jesus died on the cross. It means we will continue to try to be better, because our heart is now inflamed by Jesus to be better.

I can always prove that Jesus existed and died on a cross and I have plenty of places to go to prove he died on a cross.

I can always explain the meta-physics to the most astute scholars of logic.

I can always philosophically discuss the inherent sin in humankind.

But none of this is remotely as valuable as truly knowing Jesus in our heart. This is the place we should search. This the place Jesus wants us to go.

In all of humankind dwells the Spirit of God. A Spirit that we release from bondage when we accept Jesus in our heart. A Spirit that is constantly trying to get to the surface of our being. A Spirit that will give us the knowledge about Jesus that we need. A Spirit not interested in what we know but desirous of us knowing Jesus.

Jesus is only real when we let Jesus into our hearts.

Have a Blessed Easter!

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Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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