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

Living With Faith Requires Courage

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

Joshua 1:9

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

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

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

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

This second crossing was far more dangerous than the first. The River Jordan was flowing at flood stage and would be almost impossible for the Israelites to cross. God told Joshua to have the priests go first and carry the Ark of the Covenant. God also told Joshua, when the priests stepped into the water the raging waters of the River Jordan would stop, leaving a path for the Israelites to cross. An added leap of faith for this generation of Israelites.

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

At this point, you may ask why didn’t the first group trust God and cross over even though they had also seen so many of God’s miracles. On their journey from Egypt, God had Moses part the Red Sea and released them from Pharaoh. In the wilderness, he gave them manna from heaven to eat and produced water from stones. Despite all God had done for them, they made the critical mistake of letting fear become bigger than their faith.

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

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

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

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

This is the challenge of faith; not letting our fears drown out our trust in God. Faith without courage prevents us from receiving God’s bounty and plan for our lives. It is simple to think and say; or even to advise others, to trust God. But when we are standing on the shore of our River Jordan, even at flood stage; the decision to move across requires a courageous faith.

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ezra Jeffrey-Comeau on Unsplash

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Choosing Peace as the First Option

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

John F. Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Lou Strugala

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

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Jesus is Permanent and Life is Temporary

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

Philippians [3:20]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

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The Act of Giving is Divine

When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.

Matthew 6:3-4

Jesus was all about giving in a positive way.  That’s probably why this passage confused me for years. Lately, I’ve come to realize a much deeper message that’s contained within the words.

You see, we all are needy at some point in our lives. If you want to disagree; tell me how you changed your own diaper as a baby.

We all need something from someone at some time.  The joy of giving and the gratitude of receiving comes more often not with fanfare or parades, but often with a smile or a tear or a hug.  True giving elevates the recipient in a Divine and genuine way.

2020 hasn’t been the best of years, but we’re here.  Over the next few months, we can be there for each other and give of ourselves and especially our time.  Those gifts can truly make change happen.

Praying for you!

Pastor Lou Strugala

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him.

Mark 6:3

One of the more interesting questions about Jesus is; Did he have brothers and sisters? Like most things of ancient history, the answer is complicated and a little blurry. We have this very interesting verse, from today’s message in Mark. It seems to indicate that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters. But the verse itself contains a small hidden clue, that they may have not been brothers and sisters. Notice it says, Mary’s son and not a son of Mary. Then mentions his four brothers separately. With Theologians, this has led to a considerable amount of confusion and discussion as to the state of Jesus’s family. For the first three centuries, it was generally assumed that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters. However, later church writings suggest that these were half-brothers and half-sisters. In the fourth century, Catholic historian Jerome raised the issue of perpetual virginity of Mary, which took hold. A view shared by later Protestant leaders, such as Luther and Wesley. In other words, Mary had no more children after Jesus. While this became an accepted belief, there is the problem of explaining how Jesus was related to the brothers and sisters from Mark 6:3. There are two theories. The first is that Joseph had a previous wife and was a widower. The brothers and sisters are actually half-brothers and half-sisters. Others have said that the Greek word in Mark 6:3 used for siblings, Adelphos, has a broader meaning than brothers/sisters. That they could be closely connected relatives; as in a cousin, step-brother, or half-brother. At the very least the brothers and sisters mentioned are strongly connected and very familiar with Jesus. When I researched the writings around this issue, I found that these different interpretations were more of an opinion than solid factual evidence. Like many issues from the 1st century, little writing or records exist to support any of these assumptions. What is clear is that Jesus did not grow up alone, likely surrounded not only by his parents but also by a large group of children. Which leads us back to the verse, where it says; people from his town, And they took offense at him. Jesus, during his three-year ministry as an adult, had gone to his hometown to preach and heal. The people he grew up with; local townspeople, relatives, and even his quasi siblings, heard Jesus preach and perform miracles. But they couldn’t reconcile that this child they knew, could be the same person. Jesus later said about this visit to his hometown; A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home. In fact, after this display of a lack of faith, Jesus could no longer heal or help those he grew up with. In verses 5 and 6 of chapter 6, it says; He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. Their lack of faith reduced Jesus’s divine power to help them. While many in the surrounding communities fully accepted and had faith in Jesus, his own community initially could not. This was not all that unusual, even the original twelve Apostles struggled with understanding and fully accepting Jesus. Not to mention the ruling religious elite, the Pharisees and Sanhedrin. It seems that familiarity is a big impediment in accepting Jesus as Lord and savior. But Jesus gives us a clue as to how to tap into the power he holds. Simple, just have faith. Notice Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. And faith is the most critical part of recognizing Jesus and who he is. Seven times, Jesus said, your faith has made you well. In fact, faith is mentioned 262 times in the New Testament. Faith is a critical ingredient in recognizing Jesus. While it sounds easy that faith is all it takes, it really isn’t. That is the point of the story. Many things erode our faith; worry, temptation, ego and even our own human senses. For the townspeople and his relatives, their faith was diminished by their inability to separate what they had seen of Jesus as a child with his deity. The Apostle Paul has a great description of faith when he writes in 2nd Corinthians; So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2nd Corinthians [4:18]) We can’t use our senses or human knowledge to have faith. History won’t work as well.  To fully experience the power of Jesus, we have to put away everything we know and simply trust. No magic formula, just believe. Faith comes from being compelled to know Jesus and then giving up our human senses and experiences during this encounter. Taking this step is difficult for many, but when we do, we become fully engaged with Jesus. Many times it occurs when we have nowhere else to turn. You should know some of Jesus’s neighbors and siblings eventually came around to having faith. His oldest brother, James, eventually became the leader of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem after Peter went to Rome. I am sure after this initial encounter described in Mark 6:3, many others had their own personal journey of faith in fully accepting Jesus into their lives. Simply, just have faith that Jesus is the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and our personal connection with God. It will end a lifetime of wondering. Blessings, until next time, Bruce L. Hartman Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

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God’s Spirit of Hope

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us..”

Romans 5:5

It’s been a rough few weeks for several towns in Atlantic County.  Storms, COVID, and several deaths are highly impacting many of us.  As I was with a few police officers yesterday discussing the suicide of a 29-year-old, one of the young men said something that prompted this devotion.

“You can never give up hope…” was his comment.  It kept swirling in my mind the rest of the day and most of the evening because my go-to phrase is “hope will not leave us disappointed”.

Hope is in fact God’s gift of His Holy Spirit in our lives. Through my darkest days the Holy Spirit got me through; and sometimes that Spirit came through someone else.

We all have received God’s Spirit freely. We can keep It to ourselves for strength and we can share that Spirit with others to build that strength up.

Praying we use God’s Spirit often!

Pastor Lou Strugala

Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash