A Joyful Heart 

A joyful heart is a heart in which something new is being born…..”

Henri Nouwen

Father Henri stated in such simple terms such deep theological thoughts.  I wonder how many of us are resistant to new things or ways of living, that we block God’s joy from our hearts.

The above statement invites us to experience growth, accomplishment, and new ways of thinking that allows our hearts freedom to feel the love and peace that only comes from accepting the Creator’s love.  As we allow new to be born within, joy becomes our gift to others!

“Joyful, joyful we adore Thee….”

Praying for you

Pastor Lou Strugala

Photo by Peter Conlan on Unsplash

Refreshing Your Soul

The Almighty makes me lie down in green pastures. God leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Names’ sake…”

Psalm 23:2-3

Yesterday I was given a remarkable gift: rest. You see I, like many of you, live my life in overdrive 24/7.  There’s always something more to do, someone else to care for, another crisis to deal with.

Yesterday God gave me the gift of rest.

Oh don’t get me wrong; the day started just as hectic as any other, at 4 am.  But the morning brought God’s healing grace over my soul.  I had positive conversations regarding these texts and who they are reaching. We are creating a new support group for caregivers and a bit of good financial news for the churches’ feeding ministry.   I drove to a secluded spot at Atsion lake to record a video devotional and felt God’s peace as the water rippled.

You see God led me to a tranquil place to breathe in Creation and pause. God restored my soul at the water’s edge and gave me rest.

Please take a moment today to appreciate some of the little things in your life, and pause.

Refreshment of your spirit is waiting…

Praying with you…

Pastor Lou Strugala

Photo by Michael Walk on Unsplash

Does it Help to Cancel and Erase Aunt Jemima?

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you; this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Mark [12:41]-44

I recently read that Quaker Oats was eliminating the Aunt Jemima brand and was going to change the name on the syrup and other products that the name promoted. I wondered to myself, is this fair to the families of the woman who originally was used to create this image? As well as, was this just another one of those all too familiar, quick fixes to solve a problem? A ready, fire and then aim approach to addressing a problem

On the surface, this name and image represent a strong connection to slavery and racism. Aunt Jemima represents the prototype of a Mammy from the 19th century. A black slave cook for white families. It is clearly a name and image that represents the extraordinarily unfair treatment of our African American brothers and sisters.

But who was the first Aunt Jemima? And why are her relatives so upset with this decision by Quaker Oats. Well, she was Nancy Green, born into slavery in 1834. After the Civil war, in which she lost her husband and children, she moved to Chicago with the family that she had become their cook.

At the age of 59, Judge Walker whom she cooked for, recommended to the R.T. Davis Milling Company that she be hired to represent their brand. Thus, Nancy Green became their image to promote their product, pre-mixed pancake mix. At the same time, Ms. Green became the first African American corporate spokesperson. As well as, one of the first female corporate spokesperson.

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, she became an instant hit. Setting her off on a career promoting the brand. She was given a lifetime contract and she was the hit of many fairs, food stores, and festivals. Often promoted on large billboards with her picture.

Despite her lifetime contract, she was replaced because she refused to travel to Paris to promote the product. In 1910, at the age of 76, she was back working as a housekeeper. She died in 1923 in a bad car accident.

But there is far more to this woman when you dig deeper. She co-founded the largest African church in the United States, Olivet Baptist Church. Using her stature she became a spokesperson and activist in Chicago for equal rights and to end poverty. She lived not angry at her treatment but always trying to help others out.

You also should know that when she died, she was buried in an unmarked grave in Chicago’s Oakwood Cemetery. Thanks to a local Chicago historical society, in March 2020, she finally received her headstone.

When family members heard about the decision to eliminate her from the brand, they were upset. Feeling that important family history was being eliminated. African American YouTube star, Anthony Brian Logan, has called this decision an insult to black history.

I point this out because it isn’t clear that eliminating Aunt Jemima has widespread support. In fact, many disagree. Making we wonder; instead of eliminating Aunt Jemima, perhaps we should consider a way to recognize and honor her. After all, she was America’s first African American corporate spokesperson. More importantly, she was a very early civil rights activist and she helped start the largest African American church in the United States.

My thinking here is that while she used to portray a dark side of American lore, she did far more good. And how does canceling Ms. Green recognized this good? I agree with her family, it would be a shame to erase her from history. Instead, shouldn’t we lift up a woman who did so much good.

Instead of dressing her up like a mammy, why doesn’t Quaker Oats create an image of her as an early civil rights activist and call their brand; Ms. Green’s. And at the same time create a marketing campaign that explains why the change. Quaker Oats has made significant profits off of Nancy Green, perhaps they could share some of these profits to support Ms. Green’s causes.

Now you might think these are radical ideas, they aren’t. Think about how Jesus would want her honored. Perhaps the same way he honored the widow, in the Parable of the Widow. A woman who had been mistreated in the world, but still gave all she had to make the world a better place. Jesus certainly would want the world to know about the good Ms. Green did, as he did with the widow from today’s verse.

In the age of Cancelling, we should change to being an age of Correcting. Just because something is fashionable, like the current fad of canceling, it doesn’t mean it’s right. It is not hard to be brave when it is the fashionable thing to do. Real bravery is thinking things through and then acting, instead of being fearful of backlash and reacting.

Nancy Green gave all she had and died pennilessly. Canceling her solves little. Instead, let’s rejoice at what she accomplished and use her example to follow in our lives. That’s what Quaker Oats should do, rebrand her as the champion she became.

Jesus wants us to honor heroes, not cancel them.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Listen to the full podcast

Lou Strugala; God’s Servant

The Lord is merciful and compassionate; slow to anger, and giving of kindness and love……”

Psalm 145:8

Note from Dr. Hartman

Every Monday and Wednesday, our website, A Closer Walk With Jesus, posts a message from Pastor Lou Strugala. Today’s message from Lou is a story about how he served his Lord on an eventful Sunday. You should know, Lou is very humble and only seeks the ways of the Lord. I assigned the title today, and Lou would object if he knew in advance.

I am always amazed at Lou’s heart and depth of faith.

What follows is his recent Saturday and I thought you should know what a wonderful Pastor Lou is for our country.

Saturday was one of those typical Jersey summer days; humidity and temperature about equal, and the sun adding a bit to help bake.  I received notification early of a fatality in one of the communities where I serve as a police chaplain and arrived at the scene a short time later.  Praying for the young man was about all that I could do as we all were waiting for the investigation to run its’ course.  While there, we received word of a fatal car accident, and it was felt by all I could be of more service there.

I knew many of the officers and firefighters on the scene, and had prayed with the NJ State Police Sergeant and crew at a diner in the past.

As we waited for the painstaking and thorough investigation with multiple agencies involved, I observed this Psalmist’s verse being lived out.  God was working through everyone on the scene in so many ways.  Here are just a few.

The main concern was for the family of the deceased: it was imperative to be 100% certain of the young man’s identity.  The secondary concern was for everyone on the scene:  I lost count of how many times I heard “Pastor Lou, you ok?”  Or a certain person is having a tough time; can I have him talk to you?”  Do you need water?  We have some coffee if you’d like… and on and on.   Kindness

And finally, when we went to the parents’ home, the officer showed tenderness and compassion that only comes as a gift from God in sharing news that turns a family upside down.

God was present through all the events that day; and I wanted to take this time to say “Thank you” to all our first responders. You will always be in my thoughts and prayers; and I wish you peace and safety!

Pastor Lou Strugala

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Jesus’s Lesson About Freedom Through Prayer

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil..”

Jesus of Nazareth

Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus’ followers had a simple request, and from that request, we have a prayer that has lasted centuries all over the earth. Simple, yet complex.

You see, this prayer shows clearly our inter-dependence on God’s providence to achieve a true independence from the trials and evils of this world. Reliance on God provides the strength to work together to achieve freedom like no other.

And working together means working with all people. Not just the ones we choose. We will never have true freedom until all people are given their daily bread.

As we celebrate our freedoms in this great experiment called America, let us become even more aware of our dependence on one another and the positive results that occur when we work together in faith!

God Bless America!
Praying for you!

Pastor Lou

Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash

 Mom’s Prove Humankind is Wonderfully Made by God

So God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis [1:27]

Listen before reading; It’s a wonderful world, By Louis Armstrong

I recently had a difficult discussion with a very good friend about the state of goodness in humankind. One which I have frequently with others as well. The discussion always starts with people telling me; I have way too rosy a view on the condition of humankind. In these discussions, I am told about the Doctrine of Original Sin and the state of the world today. Some will say that humankind is thoroughly and totally depraved. I always disagree. It is not that I don’t think we all sin and do things not pleasing to Jesus, but it is the severity of the state of humankind with which I disagree. Rather than thinking of us as totally depraved, I see humankind as mostly good with a tendency to sin.

Sometimes I  am told, my viewpoint is not Biblical. However, when I read the description of how humankind was created in the Bible, I read; God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, this makes me feel correct in my viewpoint. This verse is important;  the verse is in the first chapter of the first book in the Bible, Genesis 1:1. For me this means something. Being one of the first proclamations in the Bible, for me, it is the basis and start of a discussion about our state of goodness. It convinces me that we are all made in the image of God. Where we go from there is our free will, but it still remains we are at least made in the image of God.

Next, let’s go to the Doctrine of Original Sin. By the way, this is not a Doctrine created by God, rather it was thought up by Saint Augustine. To validate this, type into Google; who created the Doctrine of Original Sin, the first thing you will see is Saint Augustine. Some have interpreted this doctrine as proof of the total depravity of humankind. However, when I read the arguments by scholars, I find a range from a tendency to sin to all the way to total depravity.

The source of this thought on the Doctrine of Sin by Augustine is from Romans [5:12]-21. But nowhere in these verses do we see the words, total depravity. Rather in verse eighteen, we see, Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people. This is my point, even one act of bad behavior means we have sinned and are sinners. But it doesn’t mean we are all totally depraved.

This is where I think people have taken this to far. Augustine himself was no angel. In fact, one of his most famous quotes is, “Give me chastity, but not yet.” We should also remember before Augustine came to Christ, he led a life far more depraved than many. Making me think about one of the things I have noticed in life, that you see the world as you see yourself. My thesis here is that Augustine assigned to humankind a condition that existed within himself, but not all of humankind.

So it isn’t Biblical that we are all totally depraved. Our own experiences in life can affect how we think about sin. Our guide should be what it actually says in the Bible and our own thinking derived from our life experiences. Our life experiences when connected with the Bible; are real and should be considered.

Now before we go too far, it doesn’t mean I don’t think we all have sinned and need the cross for our redemption.  I certainly do! But I don’t believe in total depravity for all humankind.

For instance, when I think of my mom, I don’t see total depravity. I see someone who raised, as my father would say, five only children. Each and every one of her children she doted on and looked out for. Always putting her kids and my father ahead of herself. Each child thought they were the favorite, only to discover in later life, we all thought the same way.

On summer days, she would drive all five of us children to Sebago lake for a day in the sun and swimming. Not just one day a week, most days! Everything about the day was for us. She prepared everything, and sat and watched her children play and swim.

During the school year, she became our personal taxi cab driver. Driving us to our athletic visits or music lessons. Most days there wasn’t much time for herself. She did the groceries, always with the thought of what her family liked. Today, these same meals are legendary. Even at the age of sixty-six, I crave these meals.

On my last visit to see her, I watched silently as she was making brownies. I saw her patience and thoughtfulness in making these delights from my past. There was total concentration on her part, and I could feel the worry about whether these brownies would be good enough for her family.

Now I know many others have moms like my mom, and some don’t. But from what I have seen, most do. The reason for pointing this out is that even if one person, like my mom, isn’t totally depraved, than people who interpret Augustine’s argument about all are totally depraved are wrong.

Likewise, I see this same goodness in my brothers and sisters. As well as, with the very many people that I worked within my career and my friends. Likewise, with the family I married into, all my brothers and sister-in-law’s have hearts of gold. Carolyn, my wife’s mom, is so very similar to my mom with her own goodness. Connie’s dad, Bill, has always been more concerned about his children and their spouses than himself.

So I am sorry, I can’t join the totally depraved crew and their thoughts. And this isn’t because I don’t know there is evil in this world. Or that I haven’t seen flaws in those around me. And certainly, I myself, many times should have and could have been better.

And this doesn’t mean that I don’t see the need for Jesus and the cross to redeem us, it is just simply, I don’t see this much evil in the world.

By the way, as soon as the news, as it always does, gets too negative, my mom changes the channel. She knows the world as it really is, filled with wonderful things and God’s love.

Listen to this song by Louis Armstrong and you will see what my mom sees, It’s a Wonderful World.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

Our Hearts Are Connected to God

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you in profess your faith and are saved….”

Romans [10:10]

What do you believe in your heart?  Can you easily differentiate right from wrong, or has society or social media changed the way you look at things?  Tough questions that require deep thought and honest answers.

It is our hearts, that when inflamed by the Holy Spirit, give us our faith and truth. Through our hearts, God speaks to us.

As I search my own heart and rely more on God’s message, I  hope to be more tolerant and accepting as I search for the goodness in others and myself.

My prayer today is for us all to discern the message we receive from God through self-reflection and compassion. And if we all search deeply;

“What a wonderful world it could be..”

Praying For You

Pastor Lou

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Jesus’s Lesson About Freedom Through Prayer

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil..”

Jesus of Nazareth

Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus’ followers had a simple request, and from that request, we have a prayer that has lasted centuries all over the earth. Simple, yet complex.

You see, this prayer shows clearly our inter-dependence on God’s providence to achieve true independence from the trials and evils of this world. Reliance on God provides the strength to work together to achieve freedom like no other.

And working together means working with all people. Not just the ones we choose. We will never have true freedom until all people are given their daily bread.

As we celebrate our freedoms in this great experiment called America, let us become even more aware of our dependence on one another and the positive results that occur when we work together in faith!

God Bless America!
Praying for you!
Pastor Lou

Photo by Sarah Mason on Unsplash

Jesus is True Reality

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

As our country has become embroiled in the search for racial justice, reality has become extraordinarily elusive. As I watched the Ulysses S Grant’s statue pulled down by a mob out to destroy all symbols of racial injustice, I wondered what was the purpose behind pulling down this particular statue. Did pulling this statue down move our country closer to racial equality? Especially when you consider Grant’s involvement in emancipation and reconstruction efforts.

No individual during and after the Civil War did more for the cause of freedom for slaves than Grant, except Lincoln. A fierce advocator for the right to vote for all people and a demander of equal treatment for black soldiers. As our president, he staunchly remained committed to ensuring that former slaves be allowed to benefit from the rights we all enjoy through the constitution. His record on ending slavery and trying to create equal opportunity Post-Civil War was admirable.

However, Grant and his wife, both had slaves prior to the Civil War, only to release them from bondage just before the Civil War. His record for dealing with Native Americans was suspect. He forced many Native Americans to live on reservations and instigated an illegal war against the Lakota nation.

So as we look at Grant’s history, we find an extremely complicated situation of good and bad. Some will say, because of his efforts to free the slaves and provide an equal future, his statue should stand. While others can point to his treatment of native American’s and say it should be toppled. Raising the question, are we to judge other people based only on their mistakes? And are any of us completely free from poor life decisions?

Does honoring or dishonoring Grant help create a world of equal rights for all people? Does this debate around Grant move us forward in complying with Jesus’s command of love for all people?

Around dinner tables, bars, and gatherings; there are so many opinions about so many things from our historical past. Feelings get hurt and others seeking personal relevancy push their cause. And from where I sit, I see the good and bad in all these arguments.

History has always benefited from the point of view of the victor. They are the ones that write history. Making history always somewhat suspect. Human history itself is always inherently flawed. And so are all of our opinions. Finding and grasping the completeness of history is a daunting task, with none of us, are ever truly have all the facts.

It seems to me that the debate about what is real history is a distraction to helping us live up to our responsibilities to serve Jesus and love our neighbor. History is elusive and often bent to support a particular point of view, making it unreliable in dictating our conduct.

Debating history won’t always help the need to feed the poor. History will not always salve the wounds of modern-day injustices. History will not always help us do that which we ought to do. It is not that history isn’t important, rather history is elusive and if our desire is to be a good world citizen, than history is a somewhat unreliable compass.

I know for the great teachers and students of history, this is a difficult message. And my point isn’t to discredit their efforts, it is more to refocus how we let history affect our behavior. If we want to know the history and its lessons, it has to be studied without prejudice. And we have to be willing to discover the real truth. This in itself is a difficult task and can be distracting to our goals of helping make the world a place of equality.

What single mother of three, living just below the poverty line is helped because Grant’s statue was torn down? How does arguing about an obscure figure in history like Francis Scott Key protect youths from being accidentally shot walking home from school? How does a teen learn about and have access to the bounty of America through mobs burning buildings and toppling statues?

If we want to fix what is wrong and help those underserved, it is our uplifting actions that will provide a lasting solution, not toppling statues because of our view of history. By staying riveted to the lessons of Jesus we can make real change.

Through following Jesus, we can be certain of our path and what is a true reality. In the Gospel of John, we get a quote from Jesus that gives us this direction, where it says; Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” A clear and simple message of what should occupy our minds. Not that of pursing frail and fragile human truth, rather a life that focuses on a sacred truth by following Jesus.

This path is very hard to follow. And on many days we will fall short of truly living this way. We will all become desirous of giving our opinions or become overly bothered by the headlines of the day. Jesus asks us to follow him and through this activity, we become much more productive in helping out in an unequal world. Over time we will discover a more soothing path. A path that removes us from what falsely seems permanent to a sacred purpose.

The world is filled with glimmering nuggets that attract us, only to be disappointed when we grab a hold of them. History is filled with them, never satisfying, and always attracting our thoughts. Following Jesus is quite different, all that He said is true and beneficial.

Today, spend time with Jesus and ask for His insight, what seems illusive will become real.

 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

All of Us Can Make A Difference

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone upon the waters to create many ripples….”

Mother Teresa

When I was a young man, I was under the impression that wisdom came from status, title or other tangible factors. Over the years I’ve learned that wisdom, true wisdom, comes from the simplest and most basic sources. You see, I’ve learned that true wisdom originates in the heart.

Think of Mother Teresa’s statement. None of us can change the entire world; but all of us, with God’s help can make a positive difference. We all can help to change something; which will change someone, who in turn will change someone else: and eventually, the whole world can change.

Go ahead and say a prayer as you drop your pebble in the pool of humanity. You CAN make a difference for the good of all….

I’ll be praying with you…
Pastor Lou Strugala

Pastor Lou has a wonderfully deep background in ministry and I have had the good fortune to call him my friend for almost ten years. Lou is more of a “Street preacher” and has dedicated his life to helping Jesus and those in need.

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash