Beyond Basketball on a Navajo Reservation

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

Josiah Tsosie couldn’t believe the words he’d just read. For four years, he had kept his head down and thought of only two things: playing basketball and studying hard in high school. He was a quiet person whose face showed quiet determination. He was unwilling to give up when things were tough and was unbending in his resolve to be the best person he could be. But now, in this moment, four years of stoic determination had been rewarded.

Josiah is a Navajo American who went to high school in Chinle Arizona, an extraordinarily poor Native American reservation. Most homes do not have plumbing, and many families go to the local wells to get water for the day. There are only two paved roads in this town of 4,500 people. When Josiah shoots hoops with his friends, he does it on a dirt basketball court.

Josiah’s father died when he was young, creating a large hole in his heart. Josiah thought of his father constantly, and his spirit was with Josiah daily.

Chinle is located in the center of a massive reservation that is part of three states—Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The reservation is larger than ten of the fifty states. The 300,000 Navajos who reside there are the second largest of Native American nations.

The Navajo were fierce warriors and skilled horsemen. However, they were no match for the United States Army and, in the late nineteenth century, they were imprisoned on the land that is currently part of their reservation. 9,000 Navajo were forced to march 300 hundred miles. Many died. The Navajo call this journey the Long Walk.

A proud history

The Navajo people are proud of their history and have worked hard to assimilate into our larger society. They were critical participants during World War II, many performing the role of “code talkers.” Despite efforts to segregate the Navajo, they were fully integrated into the armed forces. In fact, the Navajo have the highest percentage of people who serve in our armed services.

The Navajo story today is one of poverty and limited resources. They have won some money in the form of repayment for the land that was taken from them, but the general populace earns below minimum wage. Forty percent live below the poverty level.

Medically, they are four times more likely to have diabetes and are highly susceptible to alcoholism. Unregulated uranium mining has increased the risk of cancer.

The future for their youth is dim. However, the Navajo nation has invested heavily in education, and their high school facilities are equal to those in other parts of the United States. In fact, the basketball facility in Josiah’s high school rivals that of a medium-sized college.

This is Josiah’s world.

His only way out is through college. His basketball team, the Chinle Wildcats, have historically not been good. But in his senior year, they hired a new coach who had a history of success—Raul Mendoza. Mendoza is also a native, though from another tribe. Josiah’s other teammates were strong, and they could potentially now compete for a state championship.

They finished the regular season ranked eighth in the state of Arizona, with the entire community supporting and cheering them on. Many times, their away games required travel of two to three hours. In the state tournament, the team won the regional title and then it was on to the round of sixteen. The boys and town had high hopes. Was this their year?

Undersized but faster than their competitors, their style of play was one of quickness, strong defense, and great shooting. They called it “Rez Ball.” They won their next two games and were in the Final Four. However, their basketball story ends here; they lost in the semi-finals.

Josiah was disappointed and dejected.

Here was a chance for him and his nation to be on top. That chance was now gone. All that appeared to be left for Josiah was to finish high school and prepare for life on the reservation.

After the tournament, the athletic director asked him and his mother to meet him in his office. They were unsure of the purpose of the meeting. The director slowly slid a yellow envelope over to Josiah and asked him to read the material inside. Josiah pulled out the letter in the package and began to read.

In a moment of disbelief and shock, Josiah began to understand what the letter meant. His four years of hard work, strong peer leadership, and commitment had paid off. He was going to be able to go to college after all. He had been accepted on a full academic scholarship to Arizona State University. In that moment, the clouds of his life parted, showing a patch of blue.

Only time will tell

The many years of stoicism and determination had paid off. His eyes reddened and tears dripped down his nose as the reality of the moment hit him. Likewise, his mother sat stunned and weeping, finally free of worry for her son. He’d gotten a long-deserved break, he had a future beyond basketball.

The athletic director had noticed how hard Josiah worked over his four years in high school. He knew Josiah was too small to get a basketball scholarship and took it upon himself to apply for an Obama scholarship for Josiah. President Obama had set up a program for disadvantaged youth to go to college who otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Josiah was one of the recipients that year.

Josiah’s prayers had been answered—not in the way he had expected—but in God’s way. Josiah had worked hard and was a model son and brother. He was a leader in school through his high character and quiet demeanor.

God often works this way.

Our prayers are not always answered in the way we expect them. Many times, they are answered in unusual ways, intimate and very personal. That is how we know God hears us. God had heard Josiah’s prayers.

Josiah’s answer changed his future; he would now go to college and then return to Chinle to help his people with their futures.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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Stay-at-Home Parents

“They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’”

—Matthew 8:27

Faith in Jesus Means Not Being Afraid

Jesus is sleeping in the cargo hold of a boat that also contains his disciples. From seemingly nowhere, the wind picks up, and the seas begin to roil. The waves become so large that they threaten to swamp the boat. The disciples begin to panic. Trembling, they awake Jesus and with terror in their voices say, “Lord save us! We are perishing.” Jesus arises and rebukes the disciples by saying, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Immediately, Jesus stops the wind and calms the sea. Upon seeing this, the disciples say, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

An amazing part of this story is the lack of faith of the disciples. By now they had witnessed healings and other miracles performed by Jesus. They had seen demons cast out, had heard the wonderful Sermon on the Mount, and seen destitute lives changed. We can well wonder, how could they still doubt that they would be saved from the sea? How had they let their human fears override their knowledge of who Jesus was? We, in turn, can wonder, would we be different?

Jesus replies, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26) His reply contains a universal message about the difficulty of faith. Despite all they had seen from Jesus, those with him still allowed their worldly fears to swamp their faith. Just as with us, despite all we have seen from Jesus, we sometimes allow our faith to do the same. Each time Jesus visits us we are left with amazement—many times wondering why we doubted.

Also, in this story is a universal question of “What sort of man is this?” Who is Jesus that he calms the wind and seas? Who is Jesus that we can have confidence in him as our savior? While the heavenly answer to these questions exceeds humankind’s understanding, we are shown on a regular basis Jesus’s value to humankind. We are told to have faith because we should. This is easy to say, but a simple platitude is not enough. Faith, in part, is experiencing and knowing “what sort of man this is.”

Jesus is undefinable. Some will see him as a savior, others as a redeemer. Some even view him as a sage beyond any that has walked this earth. He does have the power to heal miraculously. He does make our paths straight. No one person can ever fully capture the entire essence of Jesus, but when we have faith, we only need to follow.

What sort of man is Jesus? He is many and all things. We can debate endlessly with each other and still only touch the surface. For each person, Jesus is different, just as each of us is different.

Over the next few weeks on Wednesday, we will post more about Jesus and what sort of Man he was.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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A God of Second Chances? No, Even More!

“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy seven times.”

Matthew 18:22

When I was in theological school, my classmates and I watched as our biblical heroes became ordinary people. They no longer lived perfect lives, but in some way, they all became flawed. Yes, every one of them.

In the first year of our three-year master’s degree program, we received intensive study in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. We couldn’t read what we wanted to read; we had to read every verse.

Deep within these stories, we found darker tales than those we had been taught in church or through common societal impressions. For us, it was a period of biblical deconstruction. In our first year, all of us attended classes for over forty hours and were asked to read close to 700 pages and write 30 pages every week. It was theological boot camp.

For the most part, we all survived, but in so doing, we learned to think more critically about the Bible and to form our opinions differently—to go deeper into the Bible and hear what others had to say. It was an effort to not merely believe in the saving grace of Christ but to know why we believed.

Our heroes, like Abraham, became different when viewed through this new lens. Abraham was a great man, but like the rest of us, he was flawed. When God promised Abraham and Sarah a child when they were well past their childbearing ages, Abraham and Sarah didn’t fully believe. Instead, they asked Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar, to have a baby for them. They named this son Ismael.

Much to their surprise, they later did have a baby—Isaac—as God had promised. Abraham’s doubt made us question whether he should be considered the father of three religions.

Or Moses, who murdered an Egyptian in his youth. When God first came to Moses, he doubted God’s voice. Moses needed many signs before he believed.

Consider David, the person whom God praised by calling him “a man after God’s own heart.” This same man would later have the husband of a woman he desired murdered.

Rahab, who is listed in Jesus’s genealogy, was a prostitute.

Jonah, the person who survived being consumed by a whale, needed three lessons from God.

Paul, the great communicator of the Good News of the Gospel, had previously chased down Christians to have them arrested.

And certainly Peter, who denied the Lord three times on Good Friday.

There are many more stories of people from the Bible whom we loved, but all were flawed.

Initially, all of us in the first year missed the point of these stories and at times questioned what we believed. Why did these superheroes have flaws?

But it is not so much about their flaws as much as it is about God. Our God is not a condemning God but a God of second chances and love for humankind. Everything God does is born of love.

All these flawed people of the Bible got second and third and fourth chances. In each of their hearts, God saw greatness when humankind saw only weakness. Our God is a forgiving God, as Jesus pointed out to Peter when he asked Jesus if he should stop forgiving after seven times. Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  In biblical terms, this meant always.

It is hard to forgive, and for some, it is even harder to forgive themselves. No life can go even a day without some trespass. This isn’t to say that making mistakes is good, but rather it is how we handle and learn from our mistakes. We always get to choose whether we have a hardened heart or a forgiving one.

After the first year of survival and deconstruction, we began to reframe how we thought through exploring Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, and many more. We learned how to think differently and interpret what we read.

At the beginning of my third year, I watched the bouncy and enthusiastic first-year students walk the halls. Much like any seasoned veteran, I knew what lay ahead for them and wanted to tell them what they would discover. But I knew they would have to go through the same things that I and my fifty other compatriots had endured to reach the same conclusions.

I found a new way to look at our forgiving and loving God. The stories of the Bible are to be idolized but also wondered about.

It isn’t people God hates; it is the sin God hates.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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Stay-at-Home Parents

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14

Recently, when playing golf, I spontaneously made the sign of the cross. My playing partner saw me make this simple gesture and said, “I thought you were a Methodist; are you Catholic?” He had assumed because I made the sign of the cross that I had changed denominations.

No, I hadn’t, but I sometimes feel compelled when I feel the presence of God to outwardly thank God for existing and being in my life. Long ago, a friend of mine, Joe Bongiorno, explained to me what the sign of the cross meant to him. And I thought to myself, What a magnificent way to show my love for God. For me, it became a simple and personal way to recognize God and the importance of God in my life. A simple gesture to recognize the driving force of creation and all that is born of love.

Admittedly, while a stronger believer in the Methodist way, I admire the Catholic Church. Yes, I just said that. It doesn’t mean I am disloyal to my tribe, the Methodists; it means that I am a Christian first and admire any and all that is good from other denominations.

Some will criticize the Catholic Church.

There are things that the denomination has done to engender this criticism. Certainly, the child abuse debacle is one of those things. It is a horrific stain on the denomination.

There are also the indulgences that were sold in the Middle Ages and the Spanish Inquisition. The burnings at the stake for those who were considered heretics. And let us not forget about the scandals of the popes during the Holy Roman Empire. Yes, there are many horrific things that we can choose to judge the Catholic Church by.

But all denominations have had their problems.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist religion wasn’t always the righteous man of legend. He reneged on a marriage proposal and was thrown out of the United States in the eighteenth century. Martin Luther’s writings late in life contained anti-Semitic views that were later used to justify the massacre of six million Jewish people.

The Thirty Years War saw both the Catholics and Protestants fighting one another, leaving one quarter of Germany dead.

These acts, whether done by both Catholics and Protestant humans and are not acts of God. They are flawed and misguided acts of evil enacted by humans. Similar to humankind, all religious denominations have skeletons in their closets.

We always have the choice to focus on the good or bad in people and their beliefs. I choose to focus on the good. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the bad, but we should also not forget the many great contributions.

It was the Catholics who died bravely in the Coliseum.

It was Peter, the first Catholic, who nursed a backwater belief structure into becoming a powerful voice for Christ. And let us not forget Paul, who roamed the known world preaching the good news of Christ, despite many beatings and personal suffering.

Sure, we Protestants could take a position of judging the Catholic Church. But without the brave Catholics, there is much we would miss.

The Nicene Creed—a powerful statement of all Christian beliefs—was created by 150 Catholic bishops in a remote corner of Greece. Mother Teresa tended to the “untouchables.” Catholic charities here in the United States feed the poor, act as advocates for social justice, and are always one of the first to lend a hand during natural disasters.

It is more about how we look at and judge life. We always have the opportunity to either light a candle or curse the darkness. To only focus on the bad would mean missing the noble acts of millions of pious Catholics. It would mean missing the fact that Catholicism is growing worldwide. Since 1965, Catholicism has grown 70 percent and is expected to continue its growth. Not here in the United States, but in other parts of the world. Its message and ways are still bringing people to Christ, just like it did 2,000 years ago.

I can make the sign of the cross and still be a Methodist. But I am a Christian first and remain an admirer of the Catholic Church. I don’t ignore the harm done by some of the humans in the church, but I do want to remember the legacy of the many Catholics who have made the world better.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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Stay-at-Home Parents

Train up a child in the way they should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

On a sunny Tuesday, I took the afternoon off to pick up my two youngest at school, mostly to get an idea of what their day was like. I met my friend Rick at the school, who was a stay-at-home father. Upon arriving, I noticed a large group of other stay-at-home parents waiting for their children as well. We were fortunate to live in a town where the elementary schools were close enough that many of the children could walk home, but most parents chose to walk home with their kids.

I asked Rick why.

He explained to me that their days didn’t end with school. Many of the children had after-school activities, doctor or dentist office visits, or even tutoring. Rick’s job was to shuttle his kids off to their various post-school activities. He commented that he was “just” a bus driver for his kids every afternoon.

Rick’s wife was a very successful corporate executive and they had long ago decided Rick would be the stay-at-home parent. Each day, Rick had three children to nurture, drive, and help with homework. And, I must say, he was great at his assignment. Affable, always smiling, and very encouraging. He was this way with his kids and friends. He always had a pleasant smile and a wonderful joke to tell.

Family flexibility

Rick would introduce himself to new people as “just” a stay-at-home parent. Rick was unusual in that, even in today’s world, most stay-at-home parents are women. Today 27 percent of women are stay-at-home parents and 7 percent of dads stay at home. These are far smaller numbers than in 1967 when, during the “Leave it to Beaver” generation, 50 percent of all households had a stay-at-home parent. Today, the blended number, including dads, has dropped to 20 percent.

The primary reason stay-at-home parents exist is for “family flexibility.” In other words, to raise the children and run the house. 90 percent of stay-at-home parents cite this as their reason.

But the words “I am ‘just’ a stay-at-home parent,” aren’t really accurate.

They are extraordinarily productive people whose workday can be fifteen hours long: rising at 6:00 am to get the family ready for their days; running errands in the morning after everyone has left; tending to the house or the family financials; being a family “bus driver” after school, and then meal preparation.

Their daily to-do list is long.

I have been lucky to know many wonderful stay-at-home parents: my mom, Connie, Rick, Emily, Amy, and Ken. In my eyes, they are more than “just” stay-at-home parents. They are kind, smart, and caring people. They are like those of us who work outside the home.

The virtual worker is on the rise as well, and since 2000 there has been a 20 percent increase in stay-at-home parents. This is a trend that is good for the family.

We have many days to honor various segments of our society. There are Mother’s, Father’s, Nurse’s, and even President’s days. I think it would be nice if we had a “Stay-at-Home Parent’s day for the invisible people who “just” stay at home.

Creating our future

These are the people who raise children who will create our future. They are the people that hear and share the joys and fears of our kids. They are financial engineers, part-time therapists, chefs, house cleaners, bus drivers, and fix-it people. There is no training for this large segment of our population—it is real on-the-job training. They are the ones who have to wait in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles or at the doctor’s office. They do their jobs invisibly and silently and they raise our children.

Proverbs 22:6 is a great verse about the importance of stay-at-home parents: “Train up a child in the way they should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it.” How true this is! My children still repeat the words, my wife, Connie, told them many years ago. Like their mother, they are filled with grace. They admire their mother, just as I am sure Rick’s kids admire him.

There are no statistics to tell us the emotional value a stay-at-home parent has to their children, but it is large. They are the unsung heroes of our society. The wheels of life turn because of them.

Today, reach out and thank a stay-at-home parent. Perhaps send a note or flowers to thank those who gave up their careers for their children.

They are not a “just.” They all work incredibly hard for their family.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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Taking Responsibility and Being Accountable

“Each of us must take responsibility for doing the creative best we can with our own life.”

Galatians 6:5

I love the movie, Pursuit of Happyness. It reminds me about taking personal responsibility for my life. Sometimes I am good at it and sometimes not as good as I would like. Movies like this remind me of how I should be and what I ought to do.

If you aren’t familiar with the movie, it is a true story about a single father who has to care for a two-year-old boy without money or a job. For one year, Chris Gardner struggled mightily. He was an unpaid intern for a large brokerage firm, pursuing his life’s dream of becoming a stockbroker. He was forced into homelessness because of a bad business deal he had made. His wife left him and their son. While some of his problems were of his own making, many were not.

He never gave in to feeling sorry for himself

He accepted his lot and worked hard to correct his life. While at his internship he acquired many new customers for his firm. His personal style of friendly collegiality was critical to new customers. They knew they could trust Chris. While trouble swirled around him for that difficult year, he kept an attitude of taking responsibility for himself—no excuses or self-pity, just hard work.

Fast-forwarding to today, Chris is wealthy and gives graciously of his time and money. He did land a job with the brokerage firm where he served as an intern. He became the first African American to start a large brokerage firm, selling it twenty-five years later for a large amount of money. Today, he speaks around the country about faith and accepting personal responsibility. Not from the eyes of someone who hasn’t been there, but from the dark moments of his early life.

I am fortunate to know other people in similar situations.

Not necessarily as dire as Chris’s, but tough. Like Rich, who created his own mess and fixed his problem. Or Bill, who keeps helping the world when it doesn’t always help him back.

I marvel at these people. Life hasn’t always been fair to them, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t fair back. They quietly accept that it is their problem to fix. You help them when they are down, and they take your help with grace, then pay you back many times over. Not with words, but with deeds.

One man whom I know well hit hard times.

His son had just died, and his wife had left him. On top of that, he had been let go from his job. He was also an alcoholic. In a matter of a year, he went from having a good life to one of trouble. Like Chris, he didn’t make excuses. He knew he’d screwed up and checked himself into rehab, spending eight months away from his life in a place far from home.

He is in recovery today and has been for a few years. He’s since started his own business, which is thriving. I had loaned him a small amount of money to get started and helped him think about how to run his new business. He paid me back on time. He fixed his problem and moved forward.

Today’s verse, written by the apostle Paul, describes who is responsible for our lives. It is us. Some will have big problems and some small. But ultimately it is our life to lead, and our problems are ours to solve.

There are three sources of help—God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Some will see God as more than just a “genie” and will work with God. This is the way God works. God helps those who help themselves.

All of what God does is done with love. Enabling isn’t something God will do. Sometimes love is not giving what shouldn’t be given.

It is the same with friends—only we can create the action our friends suggest. Only we can stop the behavior that got us in trouble in the first place. We have to be standing beside our friends and shoveling our way out of our ditches.

Otherwise, we wear people out.

When we only have our hand out, our friends grow weary trying to find a way to get us to see that we hold the solution. Eventually, they may tire and move on.

People like helping people those who work with them. This is the greatness I see in humanity. People love helping people who creatively, and with ingenuity, work their way out of problems. Those that act get more.

We all have come upon desperation or tough times. Times we have to be creative and work hard. If we haven’t, we are way past due. Our character is improved and strengthened when we fight back against tough times.

What I have observed about successful people is that they take responsibility and are accountable in all things. They do what they ought to do, not what they want to do. They see failures as chances to learn and grow.

I love the movie, Pursuit of Happyness because it reminds me of I what I ought to do. Or as the Apostle Paul says in the book of Romans, “Each of us must take responsibility for doing the creative best we can with our own life.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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How Going to Church Can Help the Exhausted Majority

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Matthew 18:20

We travel a lot and oftentimes find ourselves in a different city on Sunday. Not wanting to miss church, we attend a local service. Sometimes it is a Catholic Mass or a Protestant church. Though we are Methodists, we are Christians first and enjoy the variety of the various denominations we encounter.

On a recent Sunday, we attended a Catholic Mass. From the moment we walked in, we felt a wave of hope and genuine Christian goodwill. The congregation was varied and represented all ages.

A skillful service

Upon reflection, I noticed the priest was unusually inviting. It was evident in his manner of talking and the way he recognized people in the pews. It was his flock to serve, and he took this responsibility full fold. He smiled and was humble in how he spoke. His message about the Gospel wasn’t diluted but was delivered in a hopeful and encouraging manner. He cared, and the people in attendance cared as well. If only every service was as skillfully and joyously delivered as this one, perhaps more people would attend church.

Today, only 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. And each year, fewer and fewer attend. Since 1967, church attendance has fallen by 1 to 3 percent every year, leaving many churches out of money and unable to survive. In fact, some of our existing denominations may no longer exist by 2030.

Amazing statistics, when you think that just a few decades ago, going to church was part of most family rituals. It makes us wonder if the exhaustion and frustration the majority of Americans feel today is correlated with this lack of church attendance.

The exhausted majority

As I discovered, most Americans claim they are tired of gun deaths, mean-spirited politicians, and a lack of quality news outlets. Fully 70 percent of Americans describe themselves as exhausted, resulting in a new American phenomenon called the “Exhausted Majority.”

I think going to church could help.

According to Pew Research, 80 percent who attend church on a regular basis claim they feel closer to God when they attend.

Remarkably, even with this low attendance, 90 percent of Americans believe in a higher power, and 70 percent profess to be Christian, according to Pew Research. These statement of faith are not much different then what existed in 1967. So why the decline, when churches make us feel better by bringing us closer to God and help our children develop a faith life?

Pew Research states that 44 percent of those who don’t attend church find a connection with God in other ways, like through social media, books, church at home, or daily Bible readings. Another group doesn’t attend because they feel the message is diluted or because they see the church as not living up to its values.

However, I feel that going to church on a regular basis will dim the effect that crazy headlines have upon us. We will move from being discouraged to hopeful. No longer will our dinner discussions focus on the inane ways of the world but will instead center on the ways of God.

So how do we find a church?

It will probably require a visit to a few churches to find one that speaks to you. Here are some helpful tips to know if you were in the right place:

  • Did you feel closer to God after attending?
  • Was there a mix of people of all ages and backgrounds?
  • Do they have small group Bible studies?
  • Do they have outreach programs?
  • Was the pastor inviting and caring?

If you can answer yes to all these questions, then you might have found a church to attend.

Denominational affiliation

Many people pick their church based on their past denominational affiliation. That may be a tough way to find a church. Denominational selection should be a secondary consideration, as all churches that strive to be a wonderful place of worship believe and support Jesus’s two commandments: “Love thy God and love thy Neighbor.”

Church is a wonderful place to reconnect with God. To sustain this relationship, there are other things we can do, such as:

  • Read the Bible daily. This will help draw you to the ways of God and away from the ways of the world. Heck, if you read the Bible just fifteen minutes a day, you can complete the Bible in a year.
  • Pray continuously. Every morning, speak to God about your day. Express your dreams and worries. Then patiently watch the answers you get throughout the day and into the coming week. God will answer.
  • Serve Others. Make helping others a priority. Perhaps through your church or a non-profit. You will feel better when you have helped others. It is part of the human condition—when we enact goodwill toward others, we feel better about ourselves.
  • Read about other Christians. There is no better way to change from despair to hope than spending time discovering positive people who have been great Christian leaders. Change how you spend your leisure time, and make it a time of discovery.

In my book, Your Faith Has Made You Well, I talk about moving away from the lure of dramatic headlines to developing a strong faith. When we begin focusing on our relationship with God and our neighbors, we develop an improved sense of well-being. We move our focus to what we can control and to God.

Our world brightens, and we begin to feel more fulfilled.

Sure, many are exhausted, but they don’t have to be. We can only change what we spend our time on. And perhaps focusing on God will become a ripple that makes the world a better place. When we come closer to God, we become optimistic and unburdened.

Maybe today is the day we leave the world behind. Attending church is a good start.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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Saint Francis of Assisi: a Saint Who Moved to a Life of Purpose

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28

Saint Francis once said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” It is a simple statement about how to move to a life of purpose. Certainly, Saint Francis embodied this life, and this statement is a reflection of how he created the Franciscan order for the Catholic Church—one of the Church’s two most important group of monks.

What many don’t know about this famous pillar of Christianity is that, as a young adult, he was very far away from being a model Christian. He was born in 1181 in Italy into a wealthy family, and his father was a well-traveled merchant. He had all the things in life that provided for his comfort and a life without want.

Francis as a young man

As a young adult, Francis worked in his father’s business and hung out with other young men of means. He was considered handsome and dressed in colorful clothes. With his friends, he got into the normal trouble of youths. His future was going to be one of luxury and was well-planned out. But Francis was unsettled about this life of luxury.

One day while he was manning his father’s shop, a beggar arrived asking for a handout. Francis rejected the man’s request and sent him on his way. Later, Francis had misgivings, and in a remarkable act of charity, took everything the business had earned that day and proceeded to find the beggar. Eventually, he found the man and gave all he had in his pockets to the man.

Naturally, when his father found out, Francis was severely punished. Despite this, he later did something similar at a nearby church.

The priest stated the coins had come from ill-gotten gains and rejected his offering. This, despite the fact that the church was in disrepair. Francis just wanted to give the coins to help. In an act of anger, he threw the coins on the floor and left.

Later, his father went to retrieve the coins and again severely punished Francis. This eventually led Francis to disown his father and leave his life of wealth. On his own, he began to preach on the streets and, in the first year, eleven others joined him.

With a great deal of zeal and belief in this new direction, Francis went to see the pope to ask that he be allowed to establish a new order. Remarkably, the pope gave him an audience and listened intently to Francis. While the pope did not think that this band of twelve was big enough to form their own order, he gave Francis unofficial approval to continue. He was told to come back when he had more followers.

Converting the Sultan

Over the next few years, Francis’s small tribe grew very quickly, and the Franciscan order was approved by the pope. Francis’s order grew throughout Europe, and Francis himself went with a group of crusaders to visit the Holy Land. His goal wasn’t to attack the Muslims like his fellow travelers wished to, but to convert the sultan.

He didn’t convert the sultan, but he was so impressed with Francis’s piety, he allowed him to visit the holy sites of Christianity in Jerusalem.

Today, there are 290 houses and 5,000 friars worldwide, as well as the Order of Saint Claire which Francis helped form. From his meager beginnings, and with few to help at first, Francis created a legacy and organization that exists today to do good for the world.

There is so much more to the story of this devoted and colorful early Christian. Going back to Francis’s quote, we can see why he said what he did. Creating great faith or organizations doesn’t happen in a moment. It doesn’t happen just because we want it to happen. It happens because we start with the basics, building a foundation to do the impossible. With a persistent, but sometimes uneven effort, we build the foundation—one that with the help of God and our neighbors grows into the impossible.

Francis lived his life with purpose.

At first, he had to rid himself of a life forced upon him through his birth into wealth. It was a path he didn’t at first know was not his own, but gradually over time, he threw off the shackles that bound him and made him uncomfortable. Bravely, he let go of these binds and pursued the life which God intended for him.

There are people in my life, like my wife, sister-in-law Penny, and brother-in-law Ken whose compass was already directed to a life of faith. Most of us aren’t like this. There are bindings that hold us back—shackles that misinform us about our true purpose. Some, like myself, spend years resisting while the compelling force of God pushes.

Eventually and slowly, the walls crumble, and we take the necessary steps toward our faith. Billy Graham explains this by saying, “Conversion isn’t instantaneous, but a daily effort to become like Christ.” The path is rarely even, and many times it is bumpy, but by doing the necessary, we smooth out our course and begin to arrive where God wants us.

Saint Francis is a model of where we should go and who we should be. His example teaches us to leave behind those things that prevent us from fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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Corrie Ten Boom: Doing God’s Work by Hiding

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

Romans 15:1

A woman with a suitcase and in desperate need knocked on Corrie Ten Boom’s door. It was 1942 in the Netherlands, and the Gestapo were close to finding the woman. The previous day, the Gestapo had gone to her apartment looking for her. The woman knew she could no longer go home; she was Jewish, and the Germans had begun the process of rounding up Jews in the Netherlands.

Corrie answered the knock and invited the woman into her house. She told Corrie about her trouble. When Corrie asked why she had come to her house, the woman replied, “I heard from a member of the Dutch resistance that you could help.”

Corrie lived with her father and sister Betsie in Amsterdam. Trained by her father, Casper, Corrie had become the first female watchmaker in the Netherlands in 1922. They agreed to allow the woman to stay with them despite the potential danger she posed.

The Hiding Place

As time wore on, more Jewish people came to their house, and the Ten Booms continued to conceal their visitors. Over time, the Dutch resistance helped build a concealed safe room to hide these visitors. Her house became known as the “Hiding Place.”

As the group of hidden Jews grew in size, feeding them became a problem. The Dutch people had been put on food rationing and were issued ration cards to buy food. Corrie went to a friend who was in charge of the ration cards. She had entered his office thinking she would ask for five books but instead blurted out, “Can I have one hundred?” Stunningly, the man agreed and gave her one hundred ration books.

Over time, the Ten Boom’s secret could no longer be kept. An informant told the Gestapo, who raided the house. The Ten Booms were arrested on February 1944.

Corrie, Betsie, and Casper were sent to concentration camps. While in prison, Corrie received a note that cryptically said, “All your watches are safe.” The Jews she had been hiding had all escaped. Sadly, her father, Casper, died six days after arriving in the camps.

Corrie and Betsie established a Bible study while in the concentration camp, using a concealed Bible that they’d hidden from their captors. Late at night, the group met, read the Bible and prayed. They were never discovered.

Betsie later became ill.

Before she died, she told Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that God isn’t deeper still.” These words of encouragement comforted Corrie through her nightmare.

Shortly afterward, Corrie was released from prison—the result of a clerical error. The following week, all the people in the concentration camp her age or older were sent to gas chambers.

Corrie returned home and set up the house to take in the mentally disabled, who were also being rounded up for execution. Mercifully, the war ended soon after, and the Dutch were free.

During the period immediately after the war, Corrie set up a refuge center to help those who had survived the concentration camps. Later, she went to Germany to meet with two prison guards who were particularly harsh towards Betsie. She forgave them for what they had done. Over the span of her life, she also wrote many books and became an international speaker. One of the books she wrote, called The Hiding Place, can be found on Amazon by clicking the blue link above.

Corrie lived a life of purpose.

From that first arrival at her doorstep in 1942, she directed herself to helping others. She was a forceful and persuasive person who engendered a large following. She endured much during the war years but never gave in to the terror of living in an occupied country or the horror of being in a concentration camp. Corrie faced up to the evil that abounded in her life and, despite efforts to contain her, she never gave in or gave up.

Corrie died in 1983 at the age of 91.

I admire people like Corrie, not just because they are inspirational, but because they are committed to the Good News of the Gospel, regardless of the potential price. They make me question myself: What would I have done in that situation? Would I have been as brave? Would I love my neighbor at the risk of my own life?

I can only hope I would!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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Angels Abound

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality as angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:1-2

We have all had those moments when we meet someone who is despairing. They’re trapped by their circumstances and have nowhere to turn. Their hope has been beaten down. For that individual, it seems they’ve reached a dead-end in life.

Making a difference

But there are wonderful stories of people who happen to be there when these moments arrive. They see the despair and act, knowing they can make a difference. They put aside their appointed rounds at these times and help. In these moments they become angels.

I read recently about a man from California whose car was sputtering on the highway.  Fortunately, he was able to coast into a nearby gas station and avoided blocking traffic. He called a tow truck company and waited.

As he was waiting, he saw a woman collapse to the ground. Without thinking, he went to her aid. Nothing seemed physically wrong with her, but she was sobbing and obviously distressed. She was driving an old Suburban, filled with clothes and three young children. Then everything came into focus for him—she wasn’t hurt; she was overcome.

He helped her up and began to ask her questions.

Over a few moments, he pieced together what had brought her to this point of despair. Her boyfriend had left her and the three children two months earlier. He had left her no money and no way to be contacted. She had no job and the rent was due.

For five years, she had not spoken to her parents. She had taken up with this man despite their disapproval and separated herself from her family. Now, five years and three children later, she had no place to turn.

She had called her parents and told them what happened. They told her to come home. She had left and began to drive back to her parents’ home, many miles away. But she had miscalculated the cost and was left at this gas station with no money, only a few hundred miles from her destination.

She had walked into the gas station office and asked if they would provide her with gas for the final miles she had to drive. They said no. She was so close to safety but had no way to get there. In that moment the events of her life had overwhelmed her, and she collapsed.

This was the man’s decision point: was he being conned, or was her story sincere? He chose to believe her. The old car, the pile of belongings, and the three young children were clues that she was being truthful.

The Decision

The man reached into his wallet and filled her tank. At a nearby McDonald’s he bought a couple bags of food for her and the children. Overcome with gratitude she asked, “Are you an angel or something?” Not knowing how to answer, he replied, “I’m not sure, maybe the regular angels are busy today and needed a stand-in.”

He had a lot to process in those few moments before deciding to act. Was she trying to scam him? What about his own problems? These were his thoughts. Deciding whether he was an angel never entered his mind.

But perhaps he was an angel in this moment.

Perhaps this was his day to be a tool for God. In my own life, I have had similar moments. Some I responded to and some I didn’t. There was the time in Disney World when I saw a man collapse and hit his head. Without any real thought, I found myself sitting next to him and comforting him as he emerged from a sleepy state of unconsciousness. When real medical help arrived, I made my way through the gathered crowd and silently went away.

But there have been other times when I did not act, only to feel sheepish as the hours passed. I found myself feeling sad that I hadn’t helped. Those moments built up my resolve to help the next time.

We all have these moments

We all have these moments; they are part of our individual journeys in life. They are personal and very intimate. These are moments of becoming an angel—moments when we are immediately thrust into God’s plans for us to help others.

Fortunately, I have had many people in my life whose good character has shown me how it’s done. People like EMTs. Or my friends Geoff, Lou, or Paul. They act quickly and care. These individuals are able to step away from their intended paths and move compassionately to aid others. They are angels offering a helping hand.

I never did find out the name of the man who wrote this story. He simply signed it “Anonymous.” But I can answer the woman’s question: He was a regular angel, not a stand in. I believe this is how God works. He uses us to help those in desperate need of help.

At some point, each of us will have to decide if we will help someone in need and momentarily become one of God’s angels.

How will we choose?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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