Blessed Assurance

Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

FANNY CROSBY, A BLIND SERVANT OF GOD

The song Blessed Assurance is one of the most popular songs in  Christian Hymnals. Written in 1873 and first sung in churches the same year. The hymn was inspired by the life of the Apostle Paul and his steady faith and his work. The hymn was written by Fanny Crosby, the world’s most published hymn writer and who was blind.

Shortly after birth, Fanny caught a cold that settled in her eyes. Her parents took her to a doctor, who applied a mustard base ointment. It did not cure the affliction, but damaged Fanny’s optic nerve, leaving her blind. Later the doctor was discovered to be a quack and was banished from practicing medicine.

However, her blindness did not leave her helpless. She went on to become the most prolific hymn writer in America and the world. She wrote over 9,000 hymns. The most famous being “Blessed Assurance.”

She lived from 1820 to 1915. From the age of 23 to her death, she knew and spoke with every American president. She spoke in front of congress numerous times, urging for the support of the blind. In fact, she became the first woman to speak in front of the U.S. Senate, at the age of 23.

Crosby wrote over 9,000 hymns during her lifetime. Her publishers paid her $1 to $2 a song. While her publishers only requested 3 to 4 songs a week, Fanny wrote 6 or 7 a day. She was so prolific some denominations asked her to use a pseudo name, to ensure their hymnals didn’t appear to be written by one composer.

Fanny’s songs are in every denominations hymnal’s. While a life-long member of the 6th Avenue Bible Baptist church in Brooklyn, she also attended many different denominations. Believing she was a Christian first and not denominationally directed.

When Fanny began any hymn composition, she prayed for direction. She was also inspired by people she met during her day. For example, she came across a prisoner being sent to jail and heard him say, “O Lord, don’t pass me by.” This meeting created the song, Pass me not, O gentle Savior.

Today, Fanny isn’t a household name, but in her day she was one of the America’s most influential people. She openly communicated with presidents and members of Congress.

Many times people expressed sympathy for her blindness. Her response was, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind?” When asked why she would say this her reply was, “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

Fanny memorized the entire Bible. As a child she learned five chapters a week. As a child she could recite, Proverbs, the Psalms and the entire Gospel. Every day of every week, she made the study of the Bible her goal.

As an adult she taught at the New York Institute for the Blind. She spent 11 years teaching, only to leave to pursue her writing career. But remained a lifelong benefactor of the school.

Fanny died in 1915 at the age of 95. She left a legacy of Christian commitment and service. “You will reach the river brink, some sweet day, bye and bye,” was her last written stanza.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by ANDI WHISKEY

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THE MYTH OF SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

The first amendment reads as follows, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;.” But many think this line in the first amendment says there shall be, “A separation of church and state.”

What it says is that congress shall make no law establishing a state religion, but all citizens can practice religion freely. So where did this myth of separation of church and state come from?

The term, separation of church and state, goes back to a misinterpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s letter from 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association. Jefferson specifically stated in this letter, Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God,.”  In other words, the government will not stand between a person and their faith in God.

Jefferson also stated in this letter the following; “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Again, Jefferson’s interpretation is that the state cannot impose its will as it relates to religion.

While this document is the one most used to declare a separation of church and state, we must also be aware of the subject it addressed for a complete interpretation.

The Danbury Baptist Association wrote to Jefferson as the president in 1802, because as a minority religious denomination it was fearful that the Connecticut legislature would pass a law banning the Baptist or establish an approved denomination by law.

Jefferson response was not to create a separation of church and state, but one of a protective nature. Jefferson was well aware of the Roger William’s issue that help create this statement in the constitution.

Williams had been thrown out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony because he did not believe as required by the Colony. Thus settling in and creating the Rhode Island Colony. The founding fathers sought to protect its citizens from this in the future and this was one of the driving forces in the creation of the first amendment.

Also, our founding fathers were well aware of the many issues in Europe where religious persecution was a significant life event in the 16th and 17th century. They knew kings were beheaded and citizens were arrested during this time because of their religious beliefs.

They knew that the great religious war, called the Thirty Years War saw Germany have 25% of its citizens killed. Our founding fathers were well aware of the rancor religious debate would create, thus taking the position that the state would not decide religious arguments and religion was between the individual and God.

So when we fast forward to today, we hear more about separation of state and religion. When it is actually an issue about the individual’s right to practice their religious beliefs.

When we consider the following we get a different point of view;

  • Above the Speaker of The House title in Congress, it says, “In God We trust.”
  • Each President at their inauguration has said, “So help me God.”
  • Every Inaugural address has included the word God.
  • Christmas is a national holiday.
  • Our national anthem includes God.
  • The Declaration of Independence mentions God four times.
  • Chaplains have been on the public payroll since the beginning.
  • A Bible verse is engraved on the Liberty Bell.
  • Oaths in the courtroom have always included a mention of God since the beginning.
  • The dollar bill includes the term “In God we trust.”
  • The Supreme Court building has carvings of Moses and the Ten Commandments.

This list is only a few on the inclusions of God that exist in conjunction with our government and its documents or buildings.

In the modern age we hear a lot about separation of church  and state. But when we consider the facts, the actual wording and the intent, we find it is a myth. We are a country that believes in God and the importance of religion. We are also a country where we have the right to decide how we will believe.

The first amendment is about protecting this right to believe and the government’s inability to tell us what to believe. Even those who don’t believe in God are protected. Throughout the year’s discussions ebb and flow about what the constitution says. And there will be those who try to tell us what it means, while avoiding what it says. The first amendment is the latest to be under attack by modern day revisionist. But it is only one side of the debate. Ninety five percent of the original signers of the Constitution were Christian. Their goal wasn’t to tell us how to believe, but to protect our right to decide for ourselves without government interference.

 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by chuttersnap

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CHRISTIANITY VERSUS SECULARISM, WHICH SIDE WILL PREVAIL?

 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits.”

Matthew 7:15-16

Secularism seems to winning every battle these days. Christianity appears to be losing ground. In recent years, the Supreme Court has made rulings that seem to support secularism, none more famous than eliminating prayer in our schools. Our theological schools appear to be more interested in politics than the application of the Bible.

Corporations limit religious expression to being a private matter. Chick-Fil-A is harassed by the national media for its conservative Christian views. It appears where ever we turn Christianity must take a back seat to identity politics.

So is Christianity in decline because of secularism? Is this battle against secularism a new battle? Is secularism a real danger to Christianity?

Throughout our world, Christianity is growing and by 2050 the number of Christians will rise from 2.19 billion to close to 3 billion. However, most of that growth will occur in the southern hemisphere. More Christians are added every year, which has been a worldwide trend.

The places of decline are in the North Atlantic countries, like Europe and North America. A decline that started in the 60’s. Prompted by the elimination of the Blue laws in the United States, logistically challenged family lives and the recent scandals within the organized church.

However, at the time of the signing of the Constitution in America, church attendance was roughly 20% of the population, similar to today. While this is a decline from the 1950’s, it shows that our change in church attendance is very recent.

Yet Pew Research studies show no decline in religious thought. Today, 90% of all Americans believe in God. Similar to that of past decades. Two thirds of identified Christians pray on a regular basis. All this despite the drop in church attendance since 1960.

Many will blame this on the rise of secularism in our current society. However, when we look at the history of the fight between secularism and Christianity we will see this battle has been in existence since the start of Christianity.

Looking back at Christianity at the start of the 4th century, there were 6 million Christians in the Roman Empire, 10% of its population. While this may seem like a small number, consider what Christians encountered on a daily basis around 300 AD.

Christian’s were subject to periods of persecution. When a Roman Emperor needed to make an example, Christians were persecuted. Not only in their daily restrictions, but in a more violent form of being killed in coliseums. Early Christians that would not renounce God in favor of the Roman Gods were made an example of in the form spectacles like being thrown to the lions. Forcing Christians to worship under the city of Rome, in the catacombs.

However, over time Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. In large part due to the conversion of the emperor Constantine. In fact, throughout the middle ages most of Europe was part of the Holy Roman Empire or called Christendom.

Fast forwarding to the 13th century, when Christianity had become deeply entrenched in everyday life. We still see the threat of Secularism. Religious expressions of this period are overstated. Far less people attended church on a regular basis. Many of the priests of that time had little knowledge of Latin that was used in the Sunday mass.

Bishops complained that the great cathedrals were often used as market places instead of church. To raise money the church sold indulgences to the rich to assure them of going to heaven.

Many will blame this on the Catholic church, but the reality is that secularism existed in both the Protestant and Catholic centers. Martin Luther himself was successful because of the support he received from the secular world. In the form of the German prince’s support, who were seeking to gain power using religion.

Throughout history, what we see today in the tug of war of secularism and Christianity has existed for many centuries.

Sure there are those who will say that Christmas shouldn’t be a national holiday. Sure there are those that believe in only the 1st part of the 1st amendment where there is a myth that there should be a separation of church and state, ignoring the second part of this statement, that all will have religious freedom. Including being able to pray and practice religious beliefs without recourse.

Today many church sponsored food pantries for the poor can not express Christian thought in their mission if they want to receive government assistance. A silly rule when you consider the constitution as a whole and the good that these organizations provide.

But Christianity will march forward as it has in the past. It will overcome the loud organized voices of a few. Christianity will always be tested, probably not as severely as the past, but it will be tested.

A new church is emerging in America. One that is not denominational, but independent. Non-affiliated church membership is growing. In the back seats of our country a new revolution is occurring. The growing lists of those who feel that they aren’t being heard are silently fighting back.

They want to practice their faith without fear of secularism, whose main weapon is political correctness. They don’t want to harm their neighbor, they want to say Merry Christmas without being scolded. They want to spend time helping their neighbor without becoming embroiled in political debate. We may not always agree with each other’s views, nor should we. But Christians will always move forward. For in Christ they find their relevance and purpose.

 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Tim Wright

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VALLEY FORGE AND THE CREATION OF DUE PROCESS

From December 19th to June 1778, the Continental Army of 12,500 soldiers settled into Valley Forge. The army headed by George Washington that had been traveling for many months to stay just ahead of the pursuing British Army. Tired of travelling, Valley Forge was going to be the army’s winter quarters.

This small band of soldiers, a minor amount of the 2.5 million people who lived in the American colonies during this time, had suffered a lot. Over the previous months many had left the army, discouraged by enduring long days of travel and few victories. All that was left were these loyal patriots. As Thomas Paine said many years ago, they weren’t Summer Soldiers.

One in three had usable shoes and they were poorly fed. During the coming winter 2,500 would die. They lived in 2000 huts hastily built. Many days they only ate “firecakes”, made out water, flour and small amount of meat. Barely enough to keep them alive.

Local farmers wouldn’t accept the currency of the colonies and would not supply food to the army. The only valid currency was the British currency.

All that stood between a lost cause and the creation of a nation, was this small band of poorly fed and ill-equipped men.

Many of us know the end of this story. Washington would lead this band of men across the Delaware and win a victory against the Hessians. France would decide to help later that Spring, adding more soldiers to fight. 500 women would join this band to sew new clothes and improve camp conditions. By June 1778 the army was on its way to be righted.

Over the next few years, with the help of France, success started to come. Combined with a discouraged British population, tired of being taxed to fight a war they didn’t see a benefit, the Revolutionary war would end. The American’s won a final victory at Yorktown and the Revolutionary War was over.

What did this small band accomplish that difficult winter in Valley Forge? They held on despite overwhelming odds to keep the dream of creating a new democracy alive.

According to the website, www.ourworldindata.org/democracy, no democracy existed in 1784. Today, four billion people throughout our globe live in a democracy. The cry for freedom has been the largest political movement over the last two centuries. These 12,500 soldiers were catalyst of this great movement.

They held on to create what would become today the world’s longest surviving democracy. They fought for the rights of citizens to have Due Process and a voice.

They fought to create a environment where free people would no longer be tried as if guilty, but as innocent. No longer could the whims of a faraway ruler dictate the legal system. No longer would the court of public opinion dictate guilt or innocence. Every person would have the right to due process.

While we are not a perfect country, we are more perfect than most thanks to this small band of soldiers.

It dismays me today to see people found guilty in the media without a fair trial. It dismays me today when I see people blamed without a full airing of the facts. All that the soldiers fought for over 2 centuries ago is put a risk when this happens.

I know that the media has to raise up important issues. But they shouldn’t be trying people in the court of public opinion, all to generate more ad revenue to keep their enterprise afloat. True Journalism reports facts and expresses informed opinions. When we use journalism to promote or take sides, it will diminish the importance journalism has on maintaining freedom.

Each person should be tried fairly in the court of law. Those who file claims falsely should also be part of our judicial system based on Due Process.

I think of the destitute conditions of Valley Forge and how a few held on to give us a free place to live. A place where we all have Due Process, both for the accused and the accuser. Valley Forge wasn’t a simple sacrifice of endurance. It was a heroic stand by those who came before us that believed in a dream of freedom. A dream that prevented maddening crowds from avoiding the facts. A dream that created a fair playing field for all. A dream to create the inalienable rights deserved by all citizens of our world.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Marko Horvat

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“For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Luke 17:21

THERE ARE NO WALLS BUILT AROUND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

The issue of immigration is complicated and controversial. There are many sides to a discussion about immigration that require deep critical thinking. Some will stop when they find a point of view they agree with and others will press forward. The issue separates families and can be the cause of the end of lifelong relationships.

As a Christian writer my first place to stop on any issue is the Gospel. Where would be Jesus be on this issue? Would Jesus build walls? Would Jesus let anybody cross a defined border? A place to start is with the Samaritans.

Jesus’s social and national group was with the people of Judah as stated in Matthew 1:1-6. But many of his teachings lift up the people of Samaria. People like the Good Samaritan, the Woman at the Well or the Lepers he cured. The Samaritans were foreigners or aliens of the tribe of Judah.

The Samaritans at one point had been united with the people of Judah, but after the death of King Solomon they split from the people of Judah. Many years later at the time of Jesus walking the earth the people of Judah and Samaria no longer knew the exact reasons for the split, just that the Samaritans were despised by the people of Judah. Yet Jesus continued to reach out to them and praise them in his words, Parables and sayings. Essentially, Jesus took each individual from both groups on a case by case basis. Jesus knew no boundaries in his mission to the world, just that he was the Son of man and he came to serve. Nor did Jesus define the Kingdom of Heaven as only for his tribe, but for all humankind.

We can receive no more important evidence than today, there are 2.19 billion Christians spread throughout the world. Some from the North Atlantic countries, others from South America and Africa. There are Christians in Australia and many parts of Asia. Christians come in all forms; by gender, by socioeconomic circumstances, race and geography.

In our current period, immigration has become an important issue of debate. There are those that say, immigrants commit less crime than native born. Well that’s not exactly correct. A study of 6 major cities in America where immigrants represented almost 20% of the population committed 19% of the crime. Equal to that of native born.

Sure we can come up with one off examples of heinous crimes committed by aliens, we can also do the same for native born.

There are some that will say that immigrants take up more resources then they contribute. Similar to crime statistics, both immigrants and native born citizens can over tax the system unfairly. But there are places like Lewiston Maine, where the city is almost destitute because of immigrants and their overburdening the available resources. But there are other places where that is not true.

There are some who will say that immigrants don’t want our culture and want to impose their cultural norms. This is true in some cases. In some cases immigrants believe religious beliefs should be the rule of law, which is directly opposed to the 1st amendment. Certainly, assimilation in the existing cultural and legal norms is a critical issue.

There are some that will say illegal immigrants go against the “Rule of Law” when they enter illegally. That is true they are violating the law. However, becoming a legal immigrant is costly. It requires hiring an attorney to navigate the very complicated process and can cost $5,000 to $15,000 to comply. For many this financial cost is a lifetime of earnings. Many that come want a better and brighter future for their children and are willing to risk breaking the law because they don’t have the resources to navigate a complicated immigration structure.

These are complicated issues and our opinions are developed based on our own life experiences, which vary from person to person.

Certainly we can all agree that criminals should not be allowed to cross our borders. Certainly we can all agree that all, both native born and immigrants need to pay their way. Certainly all that come should comply with the laws of our nation.

But there are many great immigrants who have come to our country and made it a better place. In the world of medicine or science immigrants have made our country greater. There are some who have come to find our country as a place of refuge, to be protected against tyrants that exist in other lands.

The two periods of our greatest economic growth, both in the 1890’s and 1990’s saw the greatest influx of immigrants.

Taking one side or the other will certainly solve some of the problems, but not all. This issue is too complicated for a simple answer.

What I do know is that Jesus would encourage us to treat each individual as unique and not pre-judge based on our individual life experiences. He would implore us to give every citizen of the world a fair chance and not judge others based on race, gender, country of origin or socioeconomic position. He would ask us to value each person as a child of God and not judge. There is a reason Jesus lifted up the Samaritans, despite his own tribal affiliation. And there is a reason Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is among you.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Conor Luddy

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“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:17

DO JESUS AND BUSINESS BELONG TOGETHER?

When I am on the radio doing interviews, almost every time I am asked, how can you mix Jesus and business?  Or when I give a presentation and clergy are in the crowd, I am cautioned about mixing Jesus and business. Even in one case I was told that mixing Jesus and business was sinful.

My reply is always, why not?  In this age of political correctness, Jesus is avoided in conversations, despite 75% of all Americans identifying themselves as Christian. The misconception isn’t really about mixing Jesus and business, it’s more about how do we mix Jesus and business.

My friend William Cunningham, states, “We should be the Gospel and not just say the Gospel.”  Will, has lived this life for many years and today is an author of Where I belong  and a Christian Counselor in Asheville, North Carolina. In his previous life he was involved in military intelligence throughout the Middle East, where he lived this life of  Jesus being with him where ever he went. Including praying in dark prisons of Afghanistan.

Was he uncomfortable during these times, sometimes. But Jesus was always with him.

Will’s point is that we first live out our faith wherever we are. Through our actions we become recognized as Christian’s. Merely stating to others that they should believe in our professional or work lives isn’t enough and frankly can be detrimental.

Bringing Jesus to work through proclamation isn’t enough or effective. Bringing Jesus to work through our actions is the most powerful form of mixing Jesus and our careers. It is human nature to become more empowered by what people do versus what people say. This is Will’s point.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  In other words, in all that we do, we should do it as if serving the Lord. The Apostle Paul in this statement includes our work lives.

We don’t have to go to work and declare we are Christians, but our various actions will declare us as Christians. Words are hollow, actions are real. It is in our actions that we proclaim our faith and in our actions we are judged.

The clergy I meet are right that business can create temptation, but business itself is not sinful. It is more about how we act in business than whether business is sinful. But all of life, has inherent temptation to be sinful, not just when we are at work.

Being bold in our faith isn’t what repels people about our belief, it’s when we don’t live the Gospel that repels people. How could any person not agree with the Golden Rule, “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” Certainly we want to be and surrounded by people that live their lives with this foremost in their minds. Doing what is right is consistent with our Christian faith.

When we sell to our customers, should we think about ourselves first or the customers needs? The latter should be our focus. Not only is this a Christian value, but it is good for the long term health of any company.

Lets consider the Wells Fargo scandal, where millions of credit cards were issued without the customer knowing they had been opened in their name. This scandal eventually cost the CEO his job. What if the bank had used Jesus’ Golden rule? Would there have been a scandal? Probably not if it had been part of the employee’s code of conduct. Or consider the number of sexual abuse cases against women by men in power, would they have occurred if there was an adherence to the values of Jesus? Again probably not.

Christianity is good for business. The businesses that are run with principles of fair play and equal treatment for all, are strongly aligned with Christian values.

Companies like Chick-Fil-A thrive and are Christian based. While we might not all agree with some of their thoughts about Christianity, we can all agree they live into their principles. They believe in giving Sunday off as a Sabbath or day of rest. This year the Super Bowl was played in Atlanta and in that stadium exists a Chick-Fil-A. They were still closed, despite the monetary losses of not being open on Super Bowl Sunday.

But Chick-Fil-A still is the strongest of all Fast Food outlets in terms of customer loyalty and finances. Go there for lunch someday and you will see long lines of loyal customers and friendly employees. Their Christian based model works.

Some will say Christians are intolerant as a reason for not mixing Jesus with our work lives. Being a Christian based person or business doesn’t mean we are exclusive or rejecting of people who don’t share our faith. It means being open and courteous to all.

Jesus himself used those outside his religious affiliation to portray acts of openness and kindness. The story of the Good Samaritan is about a person who was outside of Jesus’ faith. The Samaritan’s of the first century were consider outcasts by the dominant Jewish faith. Yet Jesus uses them in one of the preeminent examples of kindness to all. Part of being Christian is being tolerant.

Yes, we can bring Jesus to work! It is okay for the one hundred and twenty million Christians who will go to work tomorrow to be and practice the values of Christianity. We should be the Gospel in all that we do. It isn’t politically incorrect and only is if we don’t live the Gospel in all that we do.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Herrmann Stamm

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“Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, utter a song!

Judge 5:12

DEBORAH, A SYMBOL OF GOD’S EQUALITY

After the Israelites had entered the promised land and Moses had died, they were ruled by Joshua. Joshua had been loyal to the mission of the great Exodus out of Israel and when others grumbled, Joshua maintained his faith. He led the Israelites for the balance of his life, fairly and justly.

Upon his death, the Israelites became leaderless and slowly drifted into being a loose confederation that slowly slipped into a complacent life. Their faith lives dimmed and slowly drifted away from the values of God.

To help reverse this trend a new group of leaders emerged, called Judges. These were people assigned to rule and lead Israel. To bring the Israelites back into alignment with God.

The book of Judges contains many great Biblical stories, like Samson and Delilah; and Gideon. The book of Judges contains the stories of the early leaders of Israel before the kings of Israel, like King Davis. Judges contains the story of Deborah, the first female leader of the Israelites.

Deborah, was a woman with a rock solid faith and trust in God. In the turbulent times of her life, she turned to God. Where she gave advice it contained wise solutions that were based on the values of God. It was for this reason she was raised up to be a Judge.

Deborah was the fourth Judge or go between for God and his people of Israel. Deborah’s reign started with the people once again turning away from God and then asking God to save them. This was a repeating pattern that occurred with Joshua and the three previous Judges. Now it was Deborah’s turn.

Deborah, spent most of her days sitting under a palm tree and was visited by many for her advice. For the previous twenty years the Israelites were under the rule of King Jabin of Canaan, who was a harsh and oppressive ruler. The Israelites called out to God to be freed. Deborah became God’s choice to once again lead Israel out of bondage.

As the new leader of the Israelites, God asked Deborah to act to save her people, by saying, “Awake, awake, Deborah.” Hearing this call, Deborah called on the military leader, Barak to move his armies against King Jabin.

Lacking in faith, Barak was not convinced that he could succeed, even with God’s help. He was sure he would be doomed and to test Deborah, he said, “I will go, if you will go with me.”  With absolute certainty that arose from her faith in God, she agreed. But also told Barak, that this victory would not be credited to him, and that a woman would be credited with the victory. Still doubting, Barak accepted the task.

Sure enough the Israelites won the battle, but the leader of the opposing army escaped. Only to be discovered by a woman named Jael. Who dispatched the general of the opposing army and was credited with the victory.

Barak, had been cagey in his dealings with Deborah and tried to avoid a fight to free the Israelites. But Deborah did not take the bait, instead relied on her faith to fight a stronger opposing force. In turn, God prevented Barak from receiving the glory of a victory and gave it to another, a woman.

What is important about this story,  is it is one of the first times in the Bible that women are raised up as being wiser, more faithful and stronger than man. It is a story that has been subdued for many years, not because God didn’t see women as equals, but that those who tell the story of the Bible have ignored the great stories of women that exist in numerous examples in the Bible.

In Genesis, God made all humankind in the image of God. For added emphasis, God states, “ both man and woman” in Genesis 1:27. Deborah was an example of this equality and proved equal to her male predecessors.

Like her male counterparts in earlier stories, she corrected the pattern of disobedience to God in her people. This story, while an exciting war story, is more about the equality of gender. We shouldn’t look past her gender as an important statement by God. That all people, regardless of gender, race or national origin are made in the image of God.

The stories of the Bible have been told many times over the last four thousand years. In these stories are a history of God’s relationship and saving of God’s people. But these stories have many sub-plots and this story’s subplot is about equality of the genders.

For a different view of the Bible, Google great women of the Bible. You will receive a long list of women who have made significant contributions to the ways of God and in the story of the Bible. From Ruth to Esther to Rahab to Tamar to Mary and so forth. A legacy of the value of woman in God’s eyes.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Daniel Buckle

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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A BIBLICAL LEADER?

Moses met God at a burning bush in the wilderness. God had picked Moses to lead the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt and wanted to give Moses instructions for accomplishing this task. Moses, the leader God had hand picked was reluctant and tried many times to have God look for someone else. Moses complained that Pharaoh was too powerful. Moses minimized his own ability by stating he was a bad speaker. Moses didn’t want the task, but God wanted Moses.

God persisted and pressed on with Moses. God showed Moses that he wouldn’t be alone, that God would be with him every step. At one point God asked Moses to take his staff and throw it on the ground. When Moses dropped his staff, it turned into a serpent. When Moses was instructed to pick up the serpent it turned back into a staff. This was God’s way to show Moses God would be with him. All Moses had to do was believe that God was with him.

Imagine ourselves in this situation. Imagine strolling through a park and having a tree talk to us. What we have done? Likely, assumed it was a prank and moved on. It is easy to judge Moses, but we all are similar. When God visits us and he does, are we ready?

There was something deeper in Moses, despite his reluctance. God knew Moses wouldn’t walk away. Why else did God choose such a reluctant leader. A leader who didn’t want to lead. God saw something different, he saw a person with a heart for others and a respect for God. God chose Moses, not because of worldly stature, but because of his heart.

Moses didn’t know it at the time, but this future life meant leading a reluctant nation through the wilderness, across rivers and mountains for forty years. There would be times of scarcity with food and water. There would be grumbling by his nation and disobedience.

Through all of this Moses would have to lead by being obedient to his boss, God. While continuing to offer hope for the people of Israel. Many times Moses would be alone in these tough moments, no place to turn other than God.

God chose Moses, not because he was reluctant, but because he had a heart for his nation of Israel and a commitment to God. His reluctance wasn’t out of not believing in God, but believing in himself. He didn’t see in himself what God saw in him.

Moses would have to face the mighty Pharaoh to convince him to release the Israelites. Not once but ten times.

This still wasn’t his greatest feat. Consider the actual crossing over event at the Red Sea. The Israelites approached the Red Sea to become freed, they then noticed the Egyptians were pursuing them with a vast army. In front of them was the Red Sea and an unknown life. Behind them was a menacing army determined to slay them. They cried out to Moses, asking him why he had led them to a certain death. Even the severe bondage they lived in seemed like a better choice than their current state.

By now they had seen God’s great miracles and the powerful relationship Moses had with God. Even with God preceding them on their journey, as a pillar of clouds during the day and as fire at night. They still doubted and cried out to be saved. Not out of lack of confidence in God or Moses, but out of fear for their lives. Fear that overcame their faith. A fear we also sometimes let erode our own faith.

At God’s request Moses raised his staff to part the Red Sea. The sea parted, but the Israelites were still reluctant to go. Not trusting that the seas would hold back. Finally, Moses convinced this large nation to proceed. They crossed over saved by a miraculous intervention of God, through Moses.

For forty more years Moses led this reluctant group through the wilderness. A group who despite all they had seen from God through Moses still didn’t believe. But Moses led them and advocated for them.

How many times in our own lives have we witnessed the bounty of God, only to turn away in periods of stress?

After a generation had passed, they finally entered the promised land. Moses was old by then and did not enter the land promised by God. Dying on top of a mountain that overlooked the promised land.

Moses created this story in the book of Exodus through his obedience to God. After a reluctant start, he continued as a leader who was a go-between with God and the Israelites.

Over time when his people wouldn’t believe, Moses believed. Moses was many things, a judge, a counselor and provider. He kept his passion to lead despite seemingly overwhelming odds. His greatest leadership quality was his relationship with God. Instead of turning to human thoughts he maintained a rock steady faith that God would answer.

He climbed mountain tops through dense clouds to see God. He led his people through a vast desert sure of his direction with God, but never sure where the end would be. He created water out of stones and bread in the morning.

Moses led through his faith in God and compassion for his people. Moses led not out of self-interest or personal power. He believed in the higher good of serving God and humankind.

The first five books of the Bible are called the books of Moses. From Genesis to Numbers, they contain the law of God and the great history of Israel. The oral tradition of the first believers. A story that is real in that it is metamorphically connected to the lives of an ancient people with our own faith lives today.

The story of Moses is about leadership with the heart. Leadership that is not self-interested, but committed to a common good. Leadership inspired by a relationship with God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Kalen Emsley

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“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

Photo by Karl Fredrickson

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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

Photo by rawpixel

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