book of romans

The Book of Romans; The Original Diversity Document

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

Romans [10:13]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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romans

Galatians: We Are All Equal In Christ!

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

Galatians [3:28]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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elevator of faith

The Elevator of Faith is Boring

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, Megan, your faith isn’t boring!

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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old man

“Don’t Let The Old Man In!”

But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the LORD’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.

Psalm [92:12]-14

A good friend of mine was discussing his weekly workout routine and why he works outs even though he has no upcoming athletic event. He told me; I don’t want to let the old man in. It wasn’t that he was angry at some old person but more that he didn’t want to give in to old age. He didn’t want anyone telling him he was old, even though he is getting older. He felt that if he gave in to being old it would be giving in to not living a productive life.

My friend knows he will age and knows there are somethings he cannot do athletically anymore. He will never swim an under 1 minute 100-meter butterfly again. But he can still swim a mile every day. This is what my friend was getting at. Sure those of us who are aging know our chances of competing in the Olympics are gone, but it doesn’t mean we should give up and let the old man in.

As I have gotten older, I see the slow creeping of aging. The unrelenting enemy of all is lurking to slow us down farther than we want or should. I myself know that my ability to retain information and then retrieve it isn’t as good as my younger self. But I have learned how to compensate, by writing more down and by using word association to retrieve important information. Each day, something new is lost, but each day a new way is found.

That is what my friend was saying when he says don’t let the old man in. Not a voice against the aged, but a personal life plan to stay as vital as he can be.

C.S. Lewis said; You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream. He is right. Tomorrow will always be a time to do something better than you did yesterday. Tomorrow will always be a time to love your children and spouse better than you did yesterday. Tomorrow will always be a time to dream or have a new goal, more than you did yesterday.

Aging is never going to give up in its relentless pursuit to slow us down. Though in Psalms we hear the writer’s voice sayEven in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. God doesn’t want us to give up or give in. God wants us to produce fruit and dream.

Because we are older it doesn’t mean we still can’t do great things. My friend Larry is a soccer referee and weekly he logs over 70 miles as a referee. He is over 60. Another friend, Peter, became an ordained minister after the age of 60. Still another, Walter, has written three books after he retired.

Mother Teresa still helped the poor of the world when she was 87. Wilbur Wilberforce was 73 when he was still fighting to end slavery in the United Kingdom. Jimmy Carter still works building houses for the poor. He is 95. I am sure you know people well past 60 who are vital. There is always some way we can make the world better no matter how old we become.

Aging will continue to erode who we are but never can erode our desire to be better tomorrow. Age is our enemy, but God is our friend.

We can give in or turn to God for guidance. Our love for and desire to know God, doesn’t age. In fact, as we age God becomes clearer. God doesn’t want us to sit on the couch and wait. God was us to be vital and green. God still wants us to produce fruit. God wants us to be like the cedars of Lebanon that the Psalmist wrote about.

I don’t think I will ever forget this message from my friend, don’t let the old man in. Aging is just another one of those things that lurks to slow us down. A marauding force that seeks to destroy; like drug addiction or any other temptations. For those of us aging, it is just a new enemy to battle and with God’s help, we can still be vital.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Don’t Let the Old Man In

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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do unto others

Businesses that “Do Good Unto Others” Have the Best Results

Do to others as you would have them do to you

Luke [6:31]

When I had just released my first book; Jesus & Co, I received some interesting criticism. At one church I visited, the senior minister stated what I had done was wrong. He explained that mixing business and Jesus was sinful. Never one short for words, I tried valiantly to explain to him that the book was about the Golden Rule and that businesses that follow the Golden Rule are the best places to work. He politely said I see and quickly sent me on my way.

Well, now I have proof. There is a new category to measure a business’s commitment to environmental, social and governance. In other words how to measure how well a company treats others and the environment. It is called the ESG measure. In fact, the very best companies can now receive an award called The Seal Awards.

For years people thought that being nice to your customers, employees, shareholders and the environment was something you waved your hands at and delegated to someone deep in the Human Resources department to say you had an ESG program.

Well, that’s no longer true, companies that take this effort seriously are far outperforming their competitors. And results don’t lie, companies that are socially and environmentally responsible have stock prices that have risen ten percent higher over the last three years than those that don’t. Yes, ten percent higher! I recently told this to a business friend, who expected that I would say they were down. When I gave her the number, she exclaimed that’s amazing! While also asking, How can that be possible?

Actually, there are four practical and tangible reasons why doing good unto others and the environment is a great business model. Simple and easy reasons!

The first and simplest is that your costs are lower. Especially energy costs. The worst-performing stocks over the last three years are any that produce or move fossil fuels. Being environmentally friendly moves you to less expensive methods and away from fossil fuels. For instance, when I was at Yankee Candle to rid the environment of excess fragrance, instead of using a fossil fuel-based method, we actually used a Biomass diffuser. Sorry for the technical word, actually a Biomass diffuser is just a bunch of bugs who eat environmentally unfriendly emissions. Why did we do this? Because it was cheaper and better for the environment.

The second reason is that employee turnover is far less. Companies that treat the environment well,  usually treat their employees well. And the statistics prove themselves out. Employees are happier at these companies. They stay longer and feel more committed to helping their company. And more experienced employees produce the best results. High turnover in any business destroys profits.

The third reason is that customers prefer and are more loyal to responsible companies. Companies like REI and L.L. Bean have extraordinarily high customer loyalty. One of the big reasons is they are both very environmentally and socially responsible. In general, these companies average almost ten percent higher sales than their competitors.

The fourth is that the millennials are now are a major economic force. They buy fifty percent of products and are forty percent of the workforce. The biggest issue with them is; you guessed it; environmental and social responsibility.  They shop and work where they know that the business cares about the environment and people.

Jesus was right, when he said, Do to others as you would have them do to you. When I talk to business owners and they ask me, what’s the best way to improve business results. I always say; be positive and fair with customers and employees; be trustworthy and try to be your best all the time. While this statement isn’t nearly as concise as Jesus’s simple message, it makes the point. Personally, if I was a business owner, I wouldn’t work on any other business issue until you have happy customers and employees.

Too often I meet business people that are worried about the pennies and get caught up with schemes to get more. Sure being responsible with the pennies is good, but not at the expense of the dollars. The dollars are found in how your customers and customers view of the business.

So with all due respect to the clergy I meet, who don’t believe Jesus and business mix, and get very offended when I bring this up; they are wrong. Treating your business, customers, and employees the way Jesus would; is good for business and the world!

I know this next one is radical, but I think on Sundays more should be preached in the pulpit to help people for eight AM on Monday morning. Help people learn how to be better bosses and employees. After all, almost half of their waking hours are spent working!

It’s time we bring Christianity back into the business world and for business people to accept the values of Christianity. The Golden Rule is the best business strategy I know. Those who have figured this out are better off spiritually and financially.

Making money without environmental and social responsibility is nowhere as effective or profitable as those who use the Golden Rule. And I have the facts to prove it!

Listen to the Full Podcast – Businesses that “Do Good Unto Others”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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