Monday, May 29, 2006

Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!

When was the last time you sang or heard The Star-Spangled Banner? When was the last time you sang or heard verses 2, 3, or 4 of The Star Spangled Banner? On this Memorial Day, I think all people of faith should be reminded of how Francis Scott Key ended The Star-Spangled Banner with thanks and praise to God for rescuing and preserving our nation.

Verse 4 of The Star-Spangled Banner

O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand

Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;

Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land

Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

For the complete lyrics of all four verses, see

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Devil's in the Details-Scratch that-Weeds

Let me start by saying I am not really the “fire and brimestone” type. My nature really is to focus on forgiveness and grace and trying to discern God’s will for my life and act upon it. However, I was reading in Matthew 13 tonight and felt my eyes had been opened to Matthew in a fresh way. For some reason, I haven’t read the Parable of the Weeds or heard it preached from the pulpit in a long while.

What really jumped out at me is how it clearly refutes the notion of universal salvation that is so popular in these modern times. Too many people, in my opinion, have selectively read the Bible and concluded that there is no Devil and that God loves us all so much that He would never actually condemn anybody to hell. I will admit I have always preferred to look at salvation from the point of view of loving God so much that I want to spend eternity with Him. After tonight's Bible reading, I felt convicted to remind the readers of my humble blog that there really are dire consequences for not having a saving knowlege of Jesus. Here are the verses which contain Jesus’ own words.

Matthew 13:24-48 (New International Version)

The Parable of the Weeds

24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'

28 " 'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

29 " 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

...... I skip the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast in verses 31-35.

The Parable of the Weeds Explained

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."

37 He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Note the sentence “The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.” Doesn’t the phrase “at the end of the age” sound a lot like a reference to the end of the world as we know it as revealed to us in the Book of Revelations? Is there any ambiguity in Jesus’ use of the phrase “weed out”? What word picture comes to mind with the phrase “fiery furnace”?

I was then reminded of another parable Jesus told, The Rich Man and Lazarus. Once again, the words of Jesus himself.

Luke 16:19-31 (New International Version)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell,[a] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

I don’t know about you, but the use of the word “torment” seems pretty clear. It also seems clear from “a great chasm has been fixed” and “nor can anyone cross over from there to us” that once we reach our time of judgement, if we have not already accepted a pardon from Jesus in this life it is then too late.

For those of you who have already accepted Jesus, you may want to check out False Humility and False Love for encouragement to share your faith when the Holy Spirit presents the opportunity to you.

If you stumble upon this post and have not yet accepted Jesus into your life, I pray that the Holy Spirit will work in a mighty way in your life. I pray that you will be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life. I want to tell you that God’s grace is truly free. None of us are “good enough” to earn it. It is simply a gift to all who admit they are sinners, truly repent of their sin, and accept Jesus as Lord of their life. Jesus has already paid your price when He suffered on the cross.

And remember this (my favorite Bible verse)

Romans 10:13 (New International Version)

13 for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Copyright © 2005 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Changing Neighborhoods: The Holy Spirit vs. Demographics ?

My church is facing changing demographics in our neighborhood and declining membership. My church is on the northern side of a major city and up until a few years ago things seemed to be going pretty well, we were growing, and the church was even considering adding on another building.

At some point, the church began losing members. I'm sure we dropped the ball in some areas (shame on us) but we were also fighting an uphill battle against demographic trends beyond our control. Next thing I know, the preacher left for another church and the church began a serious self-examination to address the drop in membership and think about what kind of pulpit leadership our church needed. One step the church took was to hire a statistician from our denomination.

One of the things he did was look at the addresses of our "active" membership and plot them on a map. The results startled me a little. I knew that a lot of people had bought houses north and northeast of the church but I had no idea how pronounced the trend was. He presented some charts similar to the ones below.

On the left is how I theorize the chart would have looked maybe 40 years ago. On the right is a chart roughly representing the current situation. The congregation over the years has moved north and particularly northeast of the church. Only a small percentage live south of the church now.

The statistician went back into the computer databases of addresses looking to see what the geographic spread of addresses was like only 3 years ago and determined that in 3 years there had been a loss of 12% in the members of the congregation living south of the church.

He gave some other comments that really ruined my day. This is not to say I disagree with the data or facts, maybe I just didn't want to hear the message.
  • The people moving into the neighborhoods close to and south of the church are from other socio-economic groups (I assume black and hispanic).
  • What has likely happend to our community is that the children of our "blue hair" members bought homes north and northeast of us. For a while, they drove back to their home church in the old neighborhood.
  • Members who live that far away have a hard time convincing their new neighbors to drive back towards the old neighborhood to go to church.
  • When young adult members' kids get to be school age, their school friends go to a church close by in the new neighborhood .
  • Eventually, the parents join a church closer to their house so their kids can go to church with their school friends.
  • The most promising "thinking outside the box" approach for us to take today is to open a "satelitte" church maybe 20 or 30 miles away to the northeast and link the two locations by video. He cautioned us not to build a new location too close. The unstated assumption was that the satellite would eventually grow into the primary location and we would perhaps abandon the current location.
My reaction was something along the lines "Shouldn't we embrace the new residents and reach out to them in Christian love?"

What do the statistics say?
  • The socio-economic groups moving into our area don't want to come to church with us. They go back to their old neighborhoods to go to church with people like them. Or.. they build their own churches in their new neighborhoods.
  • Only 1 church in 20 that tries to reach out to the new socio-economic group moving into their area is successful getting the new socio-economic group to embrace their church.
Upon this news, I must admit I got knots in my stomach. Could it possibly be God's will that we abandon our neighborhood over the next few years? Could it possibly be God's will that we not try very hard to reach out to the new residents who are different from us? Is it true that we are "gifted" by the Holy Spirit to reach the needs of the people who are moving north and northeast and we should follow the demographic group we are gifted to serve? Am I really as open to new people in my church as I think I am? Or.. would God have us take the 1 out of 20 odds on faith? Am I ready and willing to accept the inevitable changes? Am I as ready to welcome other socio-economic groups as I think I am?

I don't profess to know the answer but I guess I still hold out hope we can reach out to the new residents. The pastor search committe took a survey of what characteristics we thought they should look for in our next pastor. I found myself writing that our next pastor should be bilingual. I hope I really meant it.

God, I lift up my church situation to You in prayer. I pray that You will lead us and help us discern Your will for us. If it is Your will that we reach out to the new residents, I pray that You will enable us to serve You in this way. If it is Your will that we follow our traditional constituency, I pray that You will enable this also. Prepare our hearts in either case to serve You and follow Your will. I pray also for our pastor search committe. I pray that You help them discern Your plan for our church and that You would guide them to recommend the person who would align our church with Your will. Lord, search my soul and show me where I need to grow. Help me align myself with Your will no matter where I am. Bless my community, no matter where they came from or where they're going. Draw them all close to You. Amen.

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

What the Bible Says About Priorities in Life

I've struggled several time in life with what my priorities should be in life and how close my priorities are to God's priorities. There was a verse in today’s Sunday School lesson that really struck a chord with me around this very issue.

Philippians 1:9-11 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

9 And I pray this: that your love (A) will keep on growing (B) in knowledge and every kind of discernment, (C) 10 so that you can determine what really matters (D) and can be pure (E) and blameless (F) in [a] the day of Christ, (G) 11 filled with the fruit (H) of righteousness (I) that [comes] through Jesus Christ, to the glory (J) and praise of God.

This translation uses the phrase “so that you can determine what really matters” and I found myself feeling encouraged to continue to seek God’s priorities. I checked out some other translations as well.

The NIV translates the phrase determine what really matters as “discern what is best”

The NASB translates the same phrase as “approve the things that are excellent”

The Amplified Bible translates this as

“So that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value [recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences]”

The Message gives verses 9-11 as

“So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. “

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Prayers from the Depths

When we are in prosperity, our prayers come from our lips. But when we are in the depths, our prayers come from our heart. Those that are farthest cast down are not farthest from God but are nearest to Him.

Archibald Simpson, Puritan Preacher

Psalm 130:1-5 New American Standard Bible

Hope in the LORD'S Forgiving Love.

A Song of Ascents.

1Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD.
2Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications.
3If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
4But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.
5I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope.

Monday, May 01, 2006

US Naval Academy Chapel Altar, Stained Glass, and Pipe Organ

Your ancestor's tax dollars at work, befor the politically correct culture of today.

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Sanctuary of the US Naval Academy Chapel

A view from inside the US Naval Academy Chapel showing the light coming in from the huge dome over the sanctuary.
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US Naval Academy Chapel Dome

The dome of the US Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland as viewed from the side.
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US Naval Academy Chapel

The entrance to the United State Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland. Picture taken in April 2006.

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