“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Acts 2:42

YOUNG PEOPLE AREN’T GOING TO CHURCH, ARE THEY THE CANARY IN THE MINE?

While at Theological school, one of the hottest debates was around why young people are leaving the church. Statistically, four times as many young people do not have a church affiliation or attend church today versus a few decades ago. I would listen to hours of debate as to why this has occurred. Never getting the real reasons, just thoughts that while were earnest in their expression, were never associated with facts.

Sometimes the explanation was an accusation about this young demographic group as being too selfish. Sometimes it was an overly involved theory about the way young people’s minds developed.

But the explanation is simpler than extensive theory or carefully thought out theorems. It is more about how we include all people in the fellowship of church. It is more about changing the church to match the natural occurrence of changing demographics.

As society evolves and receives the influence of younger voices, the church should change in a manner that the rest of society  changes. Just wanting young people to attend church isn’t enough. Changing to match changing needs is the answer. Tradition isn’t a strong enough pull for groups that didn’t create the current tradition.

Young people don’t want to sit in lengthy meetings to discuss mission statements, value statements and financial reports. They think “how we treat the least of us” is a better use of their time. In other words, “Do the Gospel, not talk about Gospel.”

Not only does our current group of young people want to help those not as fortunate,  most generations want to help. Most generations don’t like hearing, they like doing.

If we want young people in our churches, they should participate in the actual worship service. Why can’t a teen read the verse or say a  prayer? Why can’t they pick the music? Many churches send them off to separate rooms. If we want them to attend they should be allowed to participate. If we want them to attend, we should ask them “What do you think?” and then actually hear by responding.

Young people don’t want to hear about the “End times” or some other overly analyzed religious theorems. They don’t want to hear about religion that has become politically associated. They want to help out in their community. They want to be involved in something that makes the world better.

Young people don’t want to see church as a place of power wielded by a few. They want their church to allow all people to have a say and not be driven by “That’s the way we always have done things.”

Young people don’t want traditions that came from years gone by and were created by a previous generation that didn’t like the tradition that existed when they were young. Tradition is the great enemy of change.

Young people don’t want their donations to go to overly expensive church buildings and facilities. They want to see their donations helping the world. They would be okay with meeting in a school or some other rented facility, especially if it meant more money went to help the world.

No generation wants to be preached to when they are young. They want to be mentored by people who hear them. They want to know about the pitfalls of life, without being preached to. They want people who authentically invest in a relationship with them. This generation is not that different than past generations, relationships are far more important to them than authority driven commands.

Young people want to be heard! They want to explore their new world. Not much different than when I was young and rallying against the plight of the poor or why are we in Vietnam. They see things differently than we do, like we did.

They don’t want to be abandoned when they move on from high school. They have newer and different issues that the church can help with. Like relationships that can become permanent. Or how to find a job or a school. Or how to survive on their own.

Young people want the perception of the church to be different. They want the church to be involved in issues that make the world better and not embroiled in a controversy that is political and not faith based. They want the local church to help those in need locally, nationally and throughout the world. They don’t want conservativism or liberalism.

If we want them to stay, then we have to include them in all discussions. They want us focused on serving the world, especially the needy. They don’t want us to be overly connected to traditions that no longer make sense. The same with buildings that absorb too many resources.

Come to think about it, I want the same things.

The church is in a very prolonged state of decline, since 1967 membership has dropped 1-3% a year. Many denominations, according to surveys, will be in grave shape over the next decade or so. Perhaps even disappear.

Perhaps this new generation is the “canary in the mine” warning us, that unless change occurs the organized church will no longer exist.

God and love for Jesus will exist, in some new form, but not in the existing church. All surveys show that the belief in God hasn’t declined over the last decades, in fact there is an upswing. Worship will happen, just not in the same form. Perhaps like the first church, which met in homes or street corners. Perhaps like the second century church that had to meet in the underground passages of Rome.

God will not go away and this is the God, this new generation wants. Heck, this is the God all generations want.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

John 4:37

FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE CREATOR OF MODERN NURSING

Florence Nightingale was born into a wealthy English family in the early part of the 19th century. She lived a life funded by prosperity and in her youth met many of the upper class of English society. Her parents took her and her two sisters on many trips throughout Europe.

Her early life was not the one she wanted as she grew into young adulthood. She wanted to serve and she did. First going to Crimea to help minister to British soldiers during the Crimea war.

When she arrived at the battlefront hospital she noticed a startling lack of sanitation and hygiene for the soldiers. In fact, most soldiers didn’t die from battle wounds, but from the horrid conditions of the medical facilities and lack of medical attention.

She immediately spoke out for better conditions and implored the English officials to provide more staff. During this period she implemented a procedure for nurses of washing their hands before they helped a patient. She developed better sanitation systems in the hospitals. She focused on cleaning wounds and improving wound drainage. The result, after one year the death rate for soldiers was reduced from 42% TO 2 %!

Accomplished through compassion, added attention and Nightingale’s unwillingness to give in to accepting the horrid conditions of the hospitals.

She immediately became a national media sensation, not that this was her goal. Her reputation of kindness, compassion and toughness spread throughout the British empire.

The famous Kings College of London, today has a school named the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery. The very school she herself established and led in the 19th century. Many of today’s standards for nursing came from this school and its practices.

Before there were Power Point slides and Excel, Nightingale developed a process of statistical gathering and presentation called Graphical Statistical Presentation. Instead of presenting raw numbers to make her point, Nightingale used pie charts and other forms of graphics to highlight the results.

Florence Nightingale received many honors throughout her life. Even today she is still receiving honors. The annual National Nursing day is celebrated on her birthday. The medical plans used by our country’s armed forces are named after her. Battleships in both the British and American navies were named after her.

While honors were received, it was not her life goal. Her goal was to make nursing a profession and to make nursing the frontline of care with patients.

Nightingale was also a strong Christian, who believed she was living out her life to serve God. She once told her sister, “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”  A commitment she held for the balance of her life.

Her view of God was far different that that which existed in the Victorian age of the 19th century. When many viewed God as a stern judge of behavior, she viewed God as merciful and not condemning. She was strongly opposed to the thought of a God who would banish people to hell. She thought of God as one who believed in and cared for humankind, all humankind!

During her final years she was bedridden, but still worked. On August 13th, 1910 the “Angel of ministering”  died leaving a legacy of caring. A great Christian woman leader, who went where others wouldn’t go. She answered a call that others wouldn’t answer. Her braveness and compassion saved many lives. She was a humble leader.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Matthew 5:8

OUR HEARTS HELP US TO SEE GOD

Our hearts are the seat of our desires and thoughts. It is this place that we decide what we follow. A hopeful heart in Jesus leads us to a faith filled heart, which in turn creates a purity of intent. It is through this direction that our inner motivations are cleansed and refined. We emerge with a direction that is not self-interested or full of envy. With a pure heart we are desirous of peace and goodwill. We become joyful at what we have gained in Jesus and with our own actions. We are quieted and humbly seek the ways of God. Our hearts will break at the sight of injustice and rejoice at the sight of kindness. Each day we will search for God’s direction and rebel against selfish thoughts. Our hearts become purified by our hopes and faith in Jesus.Points of Reflection

  • How often do we pray in the morning to find our direction?
  • What thoughts do we have to rid ourselves of to have a purified heart?
  • What do we desire or envy that isn’t healthy?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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“Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.”

Proverbs 31:31

FRANCIS WILLARD STANDING UP FOR WOMEN

Francis Willard was one of the first women to stand up for her gender. Trained as a school teacher, her natural leadership skills led her to become the first female dean of women at Northwestern University. She was eventually fired by her former fiancé, the president of Northwestern.

For this point she moved on to a role that she is more well known, as the long serving president and founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WTCU). She served dutifully in this post for nearly a quarter of a century.

Modern critics will sometimes look harshly at her work to end alcohol consumption in America. Complaining that this eventually led to the infamous period of prohibition in America, which directly gave  rise to organized crime. Perhaps, but there is more to this story about her fight against alcoholism and her life’s work.

When we look at alcohol consumption just from the 21st century perspective, we lose the historical perspective of earlier centuries and why this was an extraordinarily important issue in the late 19th century. In the 19th century, alcoholism heavily affected women and children.

Some interesting facts about alcohol consumption in America from periods gone by. The ships that carried over the first settlers carried far more beer than water. Clean drinkable water in Europe and for the first settlers was scarce. Alcohol, because it was brewed was sanitary and as such was used as a substitute for water. While boiling water for coffee and tea where also alternatives, alcohol was far more available.

It wasn’t uncommon for a farmer to drink the equivalent of a six pack while he worked in the fields of the farm. Drinking on the job was common and acceptable.  In fact, during the late 19th century the average daily consumption was three times that of modern times. Leading to a rate of alcoholism that is far greater than in our contemporary times.

The high rate of alcoholism led to a disruption of home life. Rates of spousal abuse were significantly higher in the 19th century. Farms and businesses were lost. Families became disrupted. The majority of the victims were women and children.

The family and more specifically women and children were Willard’s interest. Her fight to eliminate alcohol was to protect families. Many historian’s miss this point when evaluating Willard’s role. Willard’s main rallying cry was for home protection.

Willard traveled thousands of miles and gave over 400 speeches every year fighting for families to have safe and secure home lives. She met with members of congress and powerful business moguls to pursue her cause. During her time the WCTU grew to be a nationwide organization.

The offshoots of the WTCU had a profound impact on American society. It was the forerunner to suffrage. It helped legislate the eight hour workday. The WCTU was against racism, ageism and gender bias.

Willard insisted that women must forgo the notion that they were the “weaker” sex. She encouraged women to join the movement to improve society. She was an early women’s right proponent that resonated with the average American woman in the late 19th century.

But she also fought for other’s rights as well. She was outspoken about the practice of lynching African American’s. Any cause that affected the powerless she became a proponent.

In the book of Proverbs is a little known reference that connects wisdom with women. The book of Proverbs is considered one of the “books of wisdom.” Biblical scholars will tell us that when we read proverbs and see female references, they are metaphorical references to wisdom. Particularly in chapter 31 of Proverbs.

Throughout the Bible, references to wisdom are commonly associated with women.

Willard demonstrated throughout her life, uncommon wisdom. While many will associate her life to the long fight to ban alcohol, her fight was more accurately for the home and women’s rights.

She died young at the age of fifty-eight from influenza in New York. Leaving a legacy that had many offshoots to modern society. She was a great leader because she saw a wrong and bravely answered the call, when others couldn’t.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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“Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.”

Ruth 2:13

RUTH: AN UNUSUAL JOURNEY

There are only two books of the Bible named after women, Ruth and Esther. Both in the Old Testament, the book of Ruth is one of the shortest books in the Bible. Ruth, the character is one of undying loyalty and portrays leadership through with humble braveness.

Her story starts with her marriage to Chilion. The son of Naomi and Elimelech. Naomi and Elimelech had left Bethlehem with their two sons, Chilion and Mahlon, because of a severe famine and journeyed to Moab. Both sons married Moab women, Chilion marrying Ruth.

After a few years Naomi’s husband died, leaving her two sons and daughters-in-law to support her. Then a final tragedy, a few years later both of the sons died. Leaving Naomi and her daughter-in-laws destitute and alone.

Naomi then decided to go back to Bethlehem, where she would have relatives and knowing the famine had abated. One daughter-in-law Orpah decided to stay in Moab. Naomi told Ruth she was also free to stay.

Ruth suffering from the grief of her own loss, pondered her choices. Should she stay in her home country or follow Naomi to a foreign land. Through her marriage and Naomi, she had also become connected with God and felt the love of a family.

Ruth decided that staying in her homeland was not the course she wanted to choose, she told Naomi, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

A remarkable statement of loyalty.

They both returned to Bethlehem and Naomi’s land. The fields of Naomi’s farm had not been tilled for ten years and there was no food or a visible way to support both of them. Until the farm was restored they had to find food.

In ancient Israel, it was the custom that the far edges of planted fields could be harvested by the poor. Essentially, landowners of that time left ten percent of the fields for the poor. Around the edges of the fields, the poor would take grain or vegetables to help fend off hunger.

A nearby wealthy man, Boaz, had fields of grain. Ruth, to support herself and Naomi, took grain from the edges of Boaz’s field. Each day Ruth would visit and harvest from Boaz’s field. Eventually, Boaz noticed Ruth and began to show interest in her.

From this point the story takes the turn of a familiar path of girl meets boy, she and Boaz get married. A happy ending from a tale of tragic deaths and the loyalty shown by Ruth through a pilgrimage to a foreign land to help Naomi had given her a bounty.

But there is more to this tale of a happy ending. Boaz and Ruth have a child named, Obed. Who became the father of Jesse and who in turn was the father of King David. In Matthew, Ruth is one of five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Ruth became part of the royal lineage of Jesus.

The book of Ruth is also placed in the history chapters of the Bible between Judges and Samuel 1, suggesting that its inclusion means something to the history of the Israelites and Christianity.

Ruth’s inclusion in both the genealogy and her book placement in the Bible, is a statement about inclusiveness. Ruth’s story and its placement means the Bible isn’t just a collection of stories about wealthy men, but also includes great women. Ruth was also a woman from an alien world, which speaks to the importance of all people in God’s eyes, regardless of gender or national origin. Ruth’s story directly relates back to Genesis 1:27, where it states. God created all humankind in God’s image, man and woman.

While society from the ancient periods was heavily tilted towards men, the Bible itself did not ignore women. Besides Ruth, we have the book of Esther. We also have Rahab, the protector of the Israelites. Tamar is another forgotten heroine, her story is just as riveting. Mother Mary certainly can’t be overlooked. The Bible has many of these stories involving faithful women, hidden by patriarchal societies, but not hidden in the Bible.

Over the next few weeks we will explore more of these great Biblical women.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4

GRANDMA GATEWOOD’S WALK

In 1955, Emma Gatewood told her children she was going for a walk and left her small community in rural Ohio. She would return six months later a national hero whom was followed by most major newspapers, the Today show and many radio stations. Why? She was the first woman to solo hike the Appalachian trail.

Far more remarkable, was this 67 year old grandmother of thirty grandchildren, walked the trail in a pair of Ked’s high tops and a minor amount of equipment. Poor and living on $54 a month of social security, she made her own back pack stuffed with a few clothes, a shower curtain to protect her from the rain and her favorite food, Vienna sausages.

For much of her journey she relied on the generous gifts of housing and food from “trail angels” she met along the way. Though she still spent many nights in the woods, sleeping under trees and picnic benches. Frequently she would make a fire to protect herself from bears and wild dogs.

Along the way, she forded swollen streams, hand over hand climbed rock faces and spent some nights sleeping in below freezing weather. Nothing could stop her, even the great hurricane Diane. She was a real life Forrest Gump.

During her hike on the Appalachian trail in 1955, the trail was rough and had little maintenance. Very few people hiked the trail as thru-hikers in her day. In fact for many years there were no attempts.

The trail is over 2000 miles in length. Thanks to pioneers like Gatewood, today 31 different organization maintain the trail. Each year, thousands attempt the thru-hike with thousands of dollars spent on gear. Over several years, less than 25% finish the trail. The trail starts on a remote mountain top in Georgia and ends with a extraordinarily steep climb to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Along the way, hikers suffer blisters, sprained ankles and have to climb peaks 5000 feet or more above sea level. Many hikers can only walk 10 or so miles a day. Grandma Gatewood would frequently walk over twenty! She finished the trail in 146 six days, when the average is just short of 180 days.

Today over a million people visit the trail, with most being single day hikers. Some just hike sections of the trail for a week or so. The much smaller group of hikers, called thru hikers, are mostly in their twenties looking for a lifetime adventure before they start their lives.

You can ask any thru-hiker about Grandma Gatewood and they will know her legacy. For many she is the inspiration to continue. “If Grandma Gatewood could do it, so can I!” is a consistent refrain by these hikers.

Where did she get her energy and strength? She was a hardworking farmer most her life, working many days for 12 or more hours. She had eleven children to raise and a farm to attend to.

But she also had an abusive husband. She endured many beatings. Some so severe that they almost ended her life. She had false teeth, because her husband had knocked most out. She was constantly bruised and had the scars.

One day she punched back and ended up getting arrested for battery. After spending a night in jail, the local mayor found out and demanded she be released. He took her in for a while and not long after the courts finally granted her a divorce.

She hung on to the farm after her husband left and made a meager living during the Great Depression. Her children grew into adults and left the house. Leaving her the opportunity to walk the great trail she had read about in the National geographic.

She was a kind woman, who never turned away any that came to her house looking for food during the depression and the war years. She didn’t have much, but she shared.

There are few clues about her faith. But in her letters she would refer to God as the great “I Am.” A reference to God’s describing himself to Moses. An interesting reference that showed her Biblical knowledge and respect for God.

Her fame grew as she walked. At first a local newspaper ran a small story. Then more as she passed through the trail towns. Then the national press picked her up and daily the nation watched her walk. As she neared the end of her hike, at each trail head she would be met by reporters, including Sports Illustrated.

She never could understand why the nation took an interest in her. She was just out for a walk. A walk to cleanse a difficult life.

Later, she would hike the trail two more times, the last time when she was 75. She hiked the Oregon trail from St. Louis to Oregon, all 2500 miles. She became the first female extreme sport hiker in America, well past the age of 65. Many that walked with her, where many decades younger and couldn’t keep her pace.

Today, she is an icon for the small group who hike long distances. If she could do it, so can’t they. She is in the museum for the Appalachian trail, listed as one of the ten most influential hikers. After a lifetime of turmoil, she lived her final years fully. She died at the age of 85 in 1973. Leaving a legacy for us and a brood of offspring that still discuss her today. In fact a great grand-nephew wrote a book about her called Grandma Gatewood’s walk.

Grandma Gatewood showed the world, that you are never too old and disabled to live life. Living life fully to her meant one step at a time, with a riveted focus on not being defeated.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Matthew 4:18-20

FOLLOWING JESUS

When Jesus calls us to follow him, it means a giving up of those illusionary things that we believe gives us a purposeful life. However, in following Jesus we begin to a create a purposeful life that is not illusionary. We give up things that bind us and create a false want. We give up a chasing of material things that only temporarily soothe us. We acquire a different perspective of what is important. When we follow Jesus the ways of the world dim, replaced by the truer life of being a disciple. Fear of scarcity is replaced with hope, love and faith.Points of Reflection

  • What limits us from following Jesus completely?
  • What changes could we make in our lives that free us to follow?
  • What is our most important possession?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben White

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“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 8:31-32

WHAT DOES A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN REALLY COST?

I recently went through a security checkpoint at an airport in Dallas Texas, where the TSA agents were working processing us through the various security procedures to allow us to fly. Each TSA agent I encountered, I thanked them for working without pay. They all appreciated the simple gesture.

It made me wonder what is the government shutdown really costing us? The shutdown has been caused by a president who wants to build a very large wall and the ruling Democrats are opposed to putting in the budget, close to six billion dollars to build this wall.

Eight hundred thousand government employees have been denied pay and over four million government contractors are out of work. The average government employee, with benefits makes one hundred and nineteen thousand dollars. If that is the case; then not paying the employees would pay for the wall in five weeks.

The math here is simple, but the issues are far more complicated. The real reason for the shutdown isn’t about saving money, but about a power struggle that is unaware of the impact on the humans involved.

The president has made a campaign promise to build a wall to prevent illegal aliens, drugs and criminals from entering our country. His constituency is pressing him very hard to fulfill his campaign commitment. He has been firm and unbending in his position.

The democrats know this is a big political issue and have been equally unbending in allowing the wall to be built. Firm that the president won’t get his way and be able to declare victory.

The issue has become like watching two petulant children fighting in a school playground over a slight. As time wears on the issue becomes less what the fight is about and more about getting their way. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people do not have a paycheck to pay their bills. Lines are growing long at airport checkpoints, as more TSA agents call in sick to do a job without pay. Garbage is piling up in our national parks. Lost in all this squabbling are the real facts.

First, very little of the drugs come from illegals crossing outside the official “Points of Entry” into the United States. The vast majority comes through the “Points of Entry.” The logistics of dispersing tons of drugs among those entering the US through the desert are overwhelming for the drug dealers. As such, drugs come hidden in large  containers in our ports. They come through the official land POE’s hidden in forty foot trailers. They come through our airports hidden in cargo bays.

Building the wall will not prevent this, better technology at our POE’s will. But this wall is a campaign promise made to appease those who rightly want the flow of heroin and cocaine to end, but are misguided by how the scourge called drugs really flow into our country.

Nor are the Democrats being truthful with Americans, they are not proposing an alternative, they fight so the president will be embarrassed. Leaving hundreds of thousands without paychecks.

Which raises another question, why do government workers on average make one hundred and nineteen thousand dollars a year, or almost 78% higher than the average American and double that of the people who teach our children. Consider that the average American who works in retail makes a third of this amount or the average family of four brings in just under seventy thousand a year. Sure, some of the cost is from our government employees cost of living in the greater Washington D.C. area, but not this much!

The issue here isn’t that government employees shouldn’t be paid properly for a day’s work, but the disparity between the voters and government pay is out of sync.

Our legislative leaders and our president and his staff still get paid during the shutdown. While trash builds up in our national parks and travelers wait in long lines at airports. The same people who created the shutdown are being paid, while not doing their job. Engaged in a stare down not designed to work on facts, but one of personal power control.

Missing is a real discussion and a path forward to resolution. How do we slow the flow of drugs into our country that ends lives and disrupts families? How do we stop criminals from other lands without impeding the inclusion of immigrants who can help our country continue to be the worlds great melting pot? These are the real issues with the wall, ones that all Americans would like resolved.

Trust in our government since 1960 has dropped from a near 80% to 18%. While the Democrats will blame the Republicans, the same is true with Republicans. Lost in this debate is what Americans desire, the truth.

Some of us identify with traditional views of smaller government and less taxes. While others of us want the protection of the poor and the average working person. We all want to end the epidemic of drugs. We all want those who desire to be American’s not to be criminals from far-away places. These are honest debates and productive when done with searching for the truth. This debate seems lost amongst the acrimony that exists today.

The shutdown isn’t about the issues, but about power. Lost in this power struggle are the TSA workers who work without pay. Lost is the average American who makes significantly less than the government employee. Lost are the individuals who will become snared in the desperate cycle of drug addiction. Lost are the individuals who desire to come to our great country, to enjoy freedom and be productive citizens.

Lost, while our politicians grandstand for personal glory. Lost by people whose behavior doesn’t represent the values of most American’s.

Jesus would have one simple request; search for the truth through him and we will all be set free.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ramon Kagie

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“But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 4:43

GEORGE WHITFIELD AN ORIGINAL AMERICAN CELEBRITY

During the 18th century in America, there was no NFL or Major league baseball. Hollywood didn’t exist. The great celebrities of that era were politicians and traveling preachers. Certainly, people like George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were the mega stars of that era. But traveling preachers also became celebrities. People like Johnathon Edwards and George Whitfield.

Preachers that weren’t of the Puritan or Anglican church belief where in high demand. They would move from town to town and preach at parks, under trees or in town squares. During this period, religious freedom of expression became an important concept.

In the 17th century, if you lived in New England your church was likely the off shoot of the Puritan’s, now called the Congregational church. If you lived in the south, likely your church was the Anglican church or what is now called the Episcopal church. The mid Atlantic colonies were more diverse, but still very severe in their application of religious beliefs.

If you went to the Puritan church your life was controlled by Puritan beliefs. If you didn’t show up to church on Sunday, the local constable would visit you during the week and suggest you don’t miss church next week.

Many of the pastors of these two denominations were paid directly by the government. If you were a pastor of the Congregational church in Massachusetts bay colony you received your pay from the colony and local city.

Both the Methodist and Baptist denominations were in their infancy and not approved of by the ruling bodies of the colonies. Catholicism was very small and it wouldn’t become a religious force until the late 19th century.

It was not uncommon on Sunday for Methodist or Baptist preachers to speak under trees or anywhere they could get an audience. As the people of the colonies began to desire a different church experience, crowds would form to hear these new age preachers give sermons. Men like Johnathon Edwards and George Whitfield.

This period in the American colonies was called the First Great Awakening. A period where people desired a more religious experience than the functionality of their existing church.

George Whitfield was a particularly strong preacher and would draw crowds of tens of thousands. It was always a big event, like a Bruce Springsteen or Beyoncé Concert. Whitfield preached almost any day of the week and soon became a sought after speaker. He was invited to Harvard and famous halls in Rhode Island. It is estimated that Whitfield spoke 18,000 times and had over 10 million listeners during that time.

In Philadelphia, thirty thousand people gathered to hear him speak. This would be comparable to today’s crowd at a Super Bowl game. In the audience was a skeptical Benjamin Franklin. Who became inspired by Whitfield and became a life long friend.

Later Benjamin Franklin created the original colleges that went on to form the University of Pennsylvania and installed a statue of George Whitfield in its center court.

Whitfield became popular, not just because of his strong oratory skills, but because he preached about religious experience that was personal to the listener. Not a formulaic, must do set of rules. But to the individual’s personal desire to have their own relationship with God.

Whitfield was also successful because of his unusual promotional methods. Pamphlets and newspapers had just begun in America. Similar to today’s version of social media. Whitfield hired an influential publicist, who worked with the creators of the pamphlets and newspapers to give them news stories about Whitfield. Very quickly, Whitfield went viral, using today’s vernacular.

Whitfield was way ahead of his time in preaching and publication, ignoring the traditional and tapping into the new media of his age.

As you would guess the established church was very opposed to this new way of communicating theology and the message of God. They disagreed with his message and methods of promotion. But Whitfield’s goal was not to go along to get along. His goal was to bring the message of the Gospel to the people and not to be conformed. Essentially creating a new form of preaching and using the new communication vehicles of the press.

Whitfield preached to the slaves of the south. Creating encouraging messages and speaking out against slavery.

Whitfield died young, at the age of 55. While in poor health and encouraged to take life easier, Whitfield replied, “I would rather wear out, then rust out!” After his death, both the Methodist and Baptist preachers used Whitfield’s methods and created churches that by the middle of the 19th century represented over 50 percent of the population of America.

While not well known outside of theological scholars of today, he was one of America’s first celebrities. He led not by doing what others had done, but by doing what he thought should be done. He didn’t follow the temporary values of the day, that each era contains, but he followed his responsibilities to others. A responsibility to explore a relationship with Christ and a responsibility to preach as often as he could to as many as he could.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben White

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“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

Philippians 2:3

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM HUMBLE PEOPLE

Brian Flores is not well known and humbly does his job every day. He is the son of Honduran immigrants and grew up in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn. Protected from the wrong path in life, by his hardworking parents and uncles, he became a scholarship athlete that played college football at Boston College. Where he was known for his quiet leadership style and team first attitude.

Brian had an injury while at Boston College and his chances for playing in the NFL where eliminated. Instead he chose to become a coach. His first stop was as an assistant in scouting for the New England Patriots. Essentially, his job was that of fetching. Getting coffee or delivering important papers to the scouts were his primary responsibilities. Nothing remarkable and mostly his days were spent getting things for others.

Brian stayed loyal to this job and eventually became recognized for his quiet, but effective execution of his job. He rose up the ranks from his mid-twenties to mid-thirties to becoming the de facto defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.

His biggest claim to fame was being the person who sent Malcolm Butler on the field in the final minutes of the Super Bowl, that won the Super Bowl for the Patriots in 2014. He recognized an unusual formation by the Seattle Seahawks as they were posed to score and win the game. Immediately the coaches changed the defense and Brian said, “Go Malcolm Go.” Malcolm had been told about the play and proceeded to intercept the pass that saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots.

He has since been promoted a few more times and this year was given the chance to be the lead defensive coach for the Patriots, a remarkable climb for the son of hardworking immigrants.

This year, no less than four NFL teams have asked him to interview to be their Head Coach. Yet Brian is little known outside of New England and likes it that way.

He was recently asked where he discovered his quiet but effective leadership  style. His reply, “The Bible. There’s plenty there as far as how to lead and how to forgive and how to love. I think that’s all qualities of a great leader.”

Wow! What a remarkable quote that is so different in our age of bombastic leadership impressions. Leadership through the Bible that is focused on forgiveness and love. A humble expressions of leadership as a servant.

While I was at Theological school for seven years, I would often hear other students complain that the great leaders of the Bible were flawed and were not great leaders.

In many cases my fellow students were right in describing the flaws of the great leaders of the Bible. Certainly there is Abraham who many times lost faith in God and went his own way, even lying to Pharaoh that Sarah wasn’t his wife. There is David who committed adultery. Or Rahab the prostitute. How many times did the great Peter ignore Jesus? Or Moses who refused and pushed back with God about his leadership role.

The Bible is littered with stories about leaders who failed at one point. God’s response was one of forgiveness and love. It is God’s response that we find the leadership lessons of the Bible. God loved and forgave these great people in the Bible.

The great stories of the Bible wouldn’t have existed without these two important Christian qualities. Moses never would have led the Israelites to the promised land. Abraham would never have become the father of three great world religions. Rahab would never have become the person who saved the Israelites. Peter would never have become the founder of the church.

God leadership lesson is that of forgiveness and love. The knowledge that we are human and we all will at times become victims of our own human frailties. The lesson Brian refers to in the Bible is not about the frailties of our human nature, but God’s appealing to the better nature of our humanity. Appealing to our role as forgivers and our responsibility to love our neighbor.

Sure myself and other future theologians missed this point at times. Victims of our frailty, but recovered through our better nature. God waited for us and never let go.

Maybe this year a Brian will become a head coach in the NFL. A remarkable climb from a meager start as a son of immigrants from a tough neighborhood. If not Brian will still be a humble servant leader for God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Timothy Eberly

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.