Saturday, December 30, 2006

Churches for the Weak and Needy

"Occasionally I am asked by young men seeking a church to pastor if I know of a church without any problems. My response to them is, 'If I did, I wouldn't tell you; you'd go there and spoil it.' The point is that there are no perfect churches. Churches struggle because all are made up of imperfect sinning people. The church is not a place for people with no weaknesses; it is a fellowship of those who are aware of their weaknesses and long for the strength and grace of God to fill their lives. It is a kind of hospital for those who know they are sick and needy."

John MacArthur, Revelation: The Christians Ultimate Victory Bible Study

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My Career as a Financier to the Developing World

If you happened to read my previous post Make a Loan and Change a Life you learned that I made a small loan to an entrepreneur in Ecuador that sold Bibles and other retail items. I am happy to report that Ariola has made her first payment of $42 out of $250 or 16.8%. Since I was one of ten different lenders lending $25, my portion of her repayment was $4.20. Here's more about Ariola and her business.

Location: Guayaquil, Ecuador
Activity: Retail
Loan Amount: $250.00
Loan Use: Buy bibles, clothing and other miscellaneous products to sell
Loan Repayment Term Range: 6-10 months
Start Date: Nov 25, 2006
Amount Repaid: $42
Partner Rep: Luis Crespo, Esther Vasquez
Partner: MIFEX

Ariola is a saleswoman in her neighborhood. Primarily she sells bibles to the people from her church and her community. She started off with $50 of investment capital and has slowly expanded her businesses. She also sells clothing and other products targeted towards women. In order to make her products affordable to her clients she takes half of the payment at the time of purchase and charges the rest on a weekly or bi-weekly rate. She is eager to receive a loan in order to buy more products for her clients like more bibles, CDs and clothing. She hopes that she can receive the loan before the busy Christmas season begins. This business is a complementary source of income in her household of 6 children. Her husband works as a bricklayer but he does not make enough money to provide for his family on his own.

Go visit if you want to help a developing world entrepreneur.

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I Closed My Business. Was I Correct in Discerning God's Will?

In the spring and early summer of 2005, I began wondering if God was asking me to take my interest in spiritual journaling and writing about my faith to a higher level. At the time, I was also very concerned about the impact of globalization on my career designing business software. I began to wonder if God was leading me to start a business "on the side" to both develop my spiritual gift of writing and provide for the financial needs of my family.

In July of 2005, I believed God wanted me to do it. I felt even if my business venture was not a financial success there must be something God wants me to learn from the process. My plan was to provide some inspirational material "for free" but also offer some Christian material available for sale as eBooks for a very nominal fee (eg. $2.95) and take payments using PayPal. I wasn't expecting to make a lot of money but I wasn't risking a lot of money either. I decided I'd rather try and fail than not try and wonder for the rest of my life whether I had missed out on serving God's purpose or missed out on some blessing He had in store for me.

I took a long lunch from work one day and drove down to the county clerk's office and for $20 took out a business license for Caleb's Publishing. The name is a reference to the Old Testament character Caleb who was one of the twelve spies Moses dispatch to scope out the promised land.
Here's what I wrote back then. (Click here for the original.)

About Caleb's Publishing™

Caleb's Publishing™ was founded by Philip Hartman in July 2005 as a "leap of faith." Like many men in their mid-40's I had achieved some success in my profession but began wondering if God had something else in mind. This then became a frequent topic in my prayer life for approximately 1.5 years. Along the way, I was introduced to the idea of combining a business with a personal ministry. I also began regularly keeping a spiritual journal and discovered I really enjoyed writing about matters of faith. What you see is the result of this spiritual journey so far. I don't know where this journey is going to take me, but that is part of the fun!

Incidentally, I highly recommend the book Halftime by Bob Buford to any man who is feeling the same way. Also, visit the website.

I hope to serve the community by:

  • Providing original and thought-provoking material to assist Sunday School teachers, small group discussion leaders, pastors, and anyone seeking a closer relationship with God
  • Giving you the benefit of the many hours I have spent in research over the last several years reading various books, articles, and websites. If something was thought-provoking or convicted me, then I suspect it may have the same impact on you.
  • Encouraging "regular Christians" who feel God may have chosen to use them for His purposes thru their gift of writing.
  • Providing a wider, Internet audience for anyone who has a message or story to tell. I want to publish both unique Christian works and original secular works in fields such as history.

Where did the name of the company and website come from?

I devoted a lot of my spare time in the evenings over the coming months to creating a website, writing, editing some sermon materials I inherited from my father and grandfather, trying to figure out how to show up in search engines like Google, and more. I did learn a lot. I felt good about sharing my faith in this way. I was amazed to find from my website statistics that my little website got visitors from far away places like the UK, Australia, Canada, India, Finland, and more.

However, one thing I was not doing was making money. In hindsight, I have come to understand how much free Christian material is available over the Internet. (Like this blog.)

Without any real fanfare, I officially closed Caleb’s Publishing today as a business entity. The ISP still hasn’t shut the site down even though I never renewed the hosting contract.

Now I must wrestle with whether I was correct in how I discerned God’s will 1.5 years ago. Was he leading me to start the business as I thought? Does it even matter if I didn't make money (espcially if I didn't risk much money)? Was it vanity on my part? Was I right about developing my own writing but wrong about the publishing other people’s writing? Was God trying to teach me something that did not depend on whether the business made money? I guess I’ll never know for sure until I’m in heaven some day. For the moment, I'd like to think I did what He wanted. I took a chance for Him. I got out of my comfort zone. People on the other side of the world did read some of what I wrote. I might have had a positive impact.

God, have I learned the lesson about writing and publishing You wanted to teach me thru Caleb’s Publishing? Did I discern Your will correctly? If not, then I pray that You correct my ways and help me discern Your will properly. If I did, then I pray that You reveal to me what You would have me do to serve You next. Amen.

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Prayer for Michael and the Lost Boys of Sudan

I took my daughter's car to the dealer this morning to get it looked at. Then engine wasn't running quite right and it needed an oil change. I didn't have to work today so I just waited on the repairs in the dealer's customer waiting area. At one point it was just me and a young black man waiting on our vehicles. I remember noticing he was wearing a name tag that said "Michael". I was getting a little bored and I made some lame remark about "I hate waiting like this more than almost anything." He smiled and replied back to me in an accent that sounded foreign and I deduced that he might be here from Africa.

I always like talking to people from other countries an inquired with him "Where are you from?" He replied that he was from Sudan and I suspected immediately he was a refugee from the war there in which Muslims from northern Sudan have been attacking the Christians in southern Sudan. On talking to me a little more he described himself as one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan." (See also the Red Cross article on the Lost Boys of Sudan.)

I didn't know what that meant but I learned that when he was about four years old, his parents sent him away to Kenya where they hoped he'd be safe from the fighting in his own country. I think he said his mother was too sick at the time to travel with him. I didn't learn any details about his father other than he had learned later that his father had been killed in the war. He told me he spent 8 years as a refugee in Kenya before coming to the United States. His last contact with his mother was by telephone from Kenya two years ago.

I felt a little uneasy because I knew my life had been so easy compared to his. Whatever problems I have seemed small in comparison to his.

He told me he is now living in the US under a refugee visa which allows him to work here on a green card. He told me after working here five years, he hopes to apply for US citizenship. He's going to school at a local university to become a nurse.

The customer service representative from the car dealer arrived about that time and he had to go pay for his repairs and I never saw him after that.

God, I want to lift up Michael in prayer tonight. I pray for all the refugees of Sudan and especially for the "Lost Boys of Sudan". Bless them and show them Your provision for their needs. I pray that he will reunited with his mother soon or at least be able to contact her to know how she is and where she is. I pray for an end to the bloodshed in Sudan. I pray that we here never forget the bloodshed and suffering in that part of the world that seems so remote to us. I know that somebody's mothers and fathers and children are fighting just to survive while I am so comfortable. Forgive me when I am too complacent about the needs of my brothers and sisters. Amen.
(March 11, 2008) see the followup at Lost Boy of Sudan to Graduate

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

Will Your Blog Be a Legacy to Future Generations?

We all have trials and tribulations in life. Like most of you I suspect, I have often wondered why God allows the bad things to happen to us. As I have matured in my faith I have tried to replace “God, why did you let this happen to me?” with something more like “God, what are you trying to teach me?” and when I’m feeling particularly strong “God, help me serve Your purposes in this rough time even if I don’t understand what that is right now.”

Back in October I was channel surfing and landed upon the History Channel and a show called 'Skeletons on the Sahara'. (Based on the book of the same name.) The show told the story of James Riley, the captain of the merchant ship Commerce which was ship wrecked off the western coast of Africa in 1815.

“In 1815, a Connecticut merchant ship runs aground off the west coast of Africa. Captured by Arab nomads, Captain James Riley and his crew are sold into brutal slavery and marched across the Sahara Desert, where skin boils, lips blacken and men shrivel to less than 90 pounds. Along the way the Americans will encounter everything that could possibly test them, but Riley and his men will also discover ancient cities, secret oases and a culture largely unknown to the modern world.”

I came into the documentary in the middle of the show but I saw a compelling story of how he and his desperate crew surrendered to Muslim desert dwellers who made them slaves. Captain Riley persuades his new slavemaster that he could make a healthy profit if he would only transport them safely to the nearest major city. There a wealthy American or English businessman or diplomat would buy their freedom back. Depending on your point of view this was either a huge gamble or a leap of faith. He had no way to know if this was really true but he staked his life on it. His master told him if it was not true, the slavemaster would slit his throat. When they arrived at their destination, the slavemaster required him to write a note in his own handwriting that he could give to the wealthy Englishman or American he found in the town. The note was full of prayerful references to God and the compassion of the reader.

The story has a happy ending. The Muslim slavemaster finds an English businessman who does indeed purchase the freedom of the Americans, by now only sunburned skeletons of men. Captain Riley made it home to his family.

I’m sure Captain Riley wondered “Why did God let this happen to me?” and his ordeal was certainly worse than anything that you or I are likely to face. What purpose might the suffering of James Riley and his crewman served? Could God have had a greater purpose that they knew nothing about?

You may have never heard of Captain Riley or his ordeal before, but let me give you the name of one person who did. You see Captain Riley wrote a book about his ordeal that was published in 1817. (Click here to see an historic reproduction.) According to one of the historians interviewed in the television documentary, Abraham Lincoln read the book and listed it as one of the most influential books in his life. The harsh description of how theses white men were treated as slaves in the Sahara is credited by some leading Abraham Lincoln to vigorously oppose the slavery of blacks in America.... and Abraham Lincoln was eventually elected President of the Unites States and served during the American Civil War.

Very few of us who try to honor God when things are not going well will eventually influence future Presidents. But.. you just never know. I offer this story also as encouragement to my fellow writers and bloggers. It is unlikely that Captain Riley would have influenced Abraham Lincoln if he had not taken the time to record his ordeal in his book. I hope and pray that the record of my Christian walk that I leave behind will have some positive effect long after my time on this earth is done. You have a story to tell too.

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved