Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Glimpse at What Heaven Must Be Like

I had an absolutely wonderful Sunday morning. A friend-of-a-friend had recommended a church in town so I got up at a normal time for a Sunday morning and took a 100 Yuan taxis ride down to the Beijing Christian International Fellowship to attend church. This is a church which serves Beijing’s international community and it meets in the auditorium at the 21st Century Hotel. Church services are only open to foreign passport holders, however.

I struck up a conversation with the lady next to me. She made a comment that “this is what heaven will be like.” I immediately found myself in total agreement with her. Here were many people with many skin colors, many foreign accents, many native tougnes (though this was an English language service), and they all forgot their differences to come and worship.

Then the beautiful singing started. I looked around the auditorium again and as I listened I was reminded of Don Piper’s description of the music in heaven in his moving book 90 Minutes in Heaven . There were no clashing sounds. Each sound blended together in joyous praise despite all the differences in the singers. Students. kids, teenagers, Moms, construction workers, factory owners, secretaries, bankers, and goverment officials were all united in praise.

I felt like I’d been given a precious gift. A glimpse into what heaven must be like.

Copyright © 2007 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 15, 2007

I Made it to China

I left for China from Nashville yesterday and blew to Detroit and then to Tokyo and then to Beijin. Below is a shot of the Loong Palace Hotel where I'm staying. Its nice to have a client that picks such nice hotels!

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

Confessions of an Amateur Believer

Have you ever wondered if being a Christian meant you had to stop using your God-given brain and blindly follow something you didn’t understand without questioning? Have you come to consider thoughtful self examination of your beliefs something to be avoided? Think it is something you shouldn’t want to do? Is it somehow a sin to have doubts about matters of faith? Have I got a book recommendation for you! Check out Confessions of an Amateur Believer by Patty Kirk and see that you're not alone.

Patty Kirk gives us some revealing insight into her life from which we can all benefit. She grew up in the faith and had that beautiful child-like complete trust that there is indeed a God and that God is good. Then because of family problems and some traumatic experiences she came to leave the faith and doubt the existence of God. After years of persuing more and more education and life overseas, she came home and found her faith again. Even those of us who never left the faith of our childhood can still glean insight into the bumps in the road which may have driven our friends, family, or co-workers away from belief in God.

The book is basically a collection of essays about her doubts and how that God dealt with her doubts through the people around her and her experiences in life. Most of the time, a Bible verse (maybe even one she’d read many times before) struck a nerve. The Holy Spirit spoke to her and and put a bright spotlight on a particular passage and related it to some event or worry or hurt.

In one chapter entitled “On Barns” she tells of how the she and her husband have six barns on their farm in Oklahoma but they don’t really farm much any more. When beef prices fell in the 90’s he became a CPA and she became an English teacher. They were “barn rich and money poor.” While reading the parable in Luke 12 about the prosperous farmer who contemplates tearing down his barns to build bigger ones so he can store up enough to stop working and life the easy life, she took hard the fact that God chose that time to say “You fool! This very night you will die!” He hadn’t actually torn a barn down yet. He was making plans for his own future to be self sufficient without needing God anymore.

“I got to thinking about the fact that this rich guy hadn’t even carried out his plans yet when God told him he was about to die that very night. He was just thinking about it. And it occurred to me, suddenly, that this parable was not about storing wealth but about making plans and to-do lists, about living in the future tense instead of now.....

My barns, I got to thinking, are unpublished books, further academic degrees, things to write in future resumes or please for salary increases, courses yet to come, a clean house, a pretty yard, a place to rest. And my sin is not these things, many of which I already enjoy, but thinking about them, my secret yearning

for more job security and professional acclaim and some sort of future leisure in which to garden, read novels, and throw big dinner parties.

I have thought the rich guy’s thoughts....I work long hours, pour my energy and enthusiasm into my students and writing, and then snap at my husband and children when I get home and dream about a future in which this isn’t so.

Today I wish to consider the barns I am tearing down; my marriage, my two children, my faith in God to take care of my wants and desires. Jesus began his parable with a strange statement. He says: “The ground of certain rich man produced a good crop.” The story is about the certain rich man, his schemes and impending death, but the subject of the opening sentence is not the man but the ground – the land, the earth, the very dirt of which the man himself was made.....

Planning to build bigger barns is cherishing the future of our own creation rather than the good barns full of what we’ve already been given.”

She has this to say about the story in which Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat when a horrible storm comes up and the Disciples are terrified. They wake Jesus up as if to say “Why are you doing nothing to help us? We’re all going to drown!”

“Where is your faith?” He asked them, and suddenly I realized that shrieking to Jesus to help me and having faith that He would help take care of me were not the same thing. Faith, that elusive gift that I could not earn, did nevertheless require doing something, something very specific. I had to calm myself with the certainty that I was loved and would be taken care of. ‘Like a weaned child with its mother,’ I had to calm myself enough to let my Master sleep.

“Calm down,” I used to tell my little daughters when they were unreasonably upset or over tired. I reminded them that I was in charge but that I knew they had the power to calm themselves. I made them sit in my lap and take deep breaths. I stroked their hair. After a while, their tight little rebellious bodies would soften and lean into me.

Think of it! Jesus slept in that little boat while the dangerous storm raged. Giving my problems to Jesus is to let him sleep – and to sleep myself.

The Psalmist knew this: it is in vain that we ‘rise early and stay up late,’ he tells us in Psalms 127, “toiling for food to eat” – for the Lord “grants sleep to those he loves.”

There is a similarly wonderful chapter on that perpetual brunt of all kinds of jokes – the mother-in-law. Only this hits hard deep inside because it is based on scripture. Patty Kirk describes how she felt a sense of resentment against her mother-in-law despite all the free baby sitting, meals, and cars she let them buy from her at below market prices. She resented her because she wanted a more independent life for her and her husband and her mother-in-law’s constant “help” was a constant reminder of how interconnected they were.

“Eating a Mamaw’s meant surrendering one of my most precious retreats from the difficulties of life, my escape and solitude, my self-made and hard won identity as the provider of food for my family.”

Then she read the story of Naomi and Ruth with fresh eyes. Ruth’s words to Naomi:

Wherever you go, I shall go.
Wherever you live, I shall live.
Your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God, too.

Today regarding her mother-in-law:

“Hers is the fiber from which whole cloth is made, an inspiration for any would-be Ruth or striving Christian, a model of selfless love of herself, others, and life itself. As I get older and more sure of the choices Ihave made, for better or worse, I begin to see how one might come to cling to such a pillar in time of need. I already cling to her, in fact. More and more, when time is short and stressful, I seek her ease, her meals, her love for my children and attention to their demands.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I received a free review copy of this book in the hopes that I would say something nice about the book. My first reaction was selfish I admit. I was glad that a real book marketing professional thought my humble blog would make good publicity for the book and that some of you might take my recommendation and pick up your own copy.

In hindsight, I must say that I was the one blessed in this process and I’m sure glad that I was given this opportunity because I’m not one to go to bookstores and pickup books from authors I’d never heard of before. But I have my own aspirations of writing a Christian book some day and I hope I can write something that will touch your soul down deep inside like this one touched me – and I exercised my God-given brain, too! I encourage you to go pick up your own copy of Confessions of an Amateur Believer by Patty Kirk.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Leaving the Comfort Zone to Experience God's Provision

Back in October I had a post Could This Be God's Provision? in which I described a quandary related to how I support my family. I was good at my work as a consultant designing software. Unlike most of my consultant co-workers, I actually had a local client and did not have to travel on business very much.

Then it happened. My boss' boss told me she wanted me to sell more consulting services vs. actually be the one to do the work. This began a couple of months of introspection about my career and God's provision. I was comfortable where I was and what I was doing. But was I too comfortable? In the last few years I have been trying to be alert to the leading of the Holy Spirit and I really wondered "Was I supposed to say 'yes' to this career change? Was there a reason this opportunity presented itself? Was this an accident? Is this a door of opportunity that has opened for a short time and I'm supposed to walk thru the door... without having to know the final outcome?"

In the previous post I told of several friends from church who found themselves no longer being able to remain employees and actually had to take a financial risk and make a leap of faith to buy out the boss and become business owners. I had every reason to believe they became closer to God and God's will in the process. I began comparing my situation to theirs and wondering if this was my time in life that God wanted me to get out of my comfort zone and take a leap of faith and trust in His provision.

Well... guess what happened?

Since October I talked to many different people. I made a point to talk to some self employed Christian men who had taken some risk in their work lives. I talked to trusted co-workers. I would say about 90% of the advise I got was to "go for it" (the change to marketing that is). I prayed for wisdom and discernment. I asked God to help me honor Him in whatever I was supposed to do as His provision for my family.

I work in a very matrixed organization so I have a lot of different managers and told them all I thought I wanted to make a switch to do more selling even if that meant I had to leave my comfortable, no-travel technical position. All were supportive. I had only one final phone call with the "big boss" who started the whole process by telling me to worry more about selling and less about delivery (doing it myself). I scheduled the call about two weeks in advance where I expected to give her my "Yes I'd like to do this. I'd like to change my job title. I'm willing to take on a sales quota."

Two days before my call, everything changed. I found out the very same boss who had told me to sell more only two months earlier had suggested my name to take a technical leadership role on a project with a major electronics company. I must admit my first reaction was that this was a very bad sign. She must have reconsidered and decided I couldn't sell.

Then I started to get more information. She didn't suggest my name to keep me from changing to a marketing post. She suggested my name to take a leadership position at one of her most important accounts. It turns out this client was not just any client but a client doing a huge amount of business with my employer. I wouldn't just be consulting. I would be working directly for an influential technology executive at this firm. I wouldn't just be working a couple of hours away from home. There was a very real possibility of a trip to China and Toronto, Canada. This "delivery" position had a huge amount of impact and visibility.

So now you know. I sought counsel from many Christian men I trusted. I prayed for discernment. I prayed for God to show me His will. I didn't switch job titles to go into marketing. I am genuinely excited about my new challenge and the many different people I will meet from many different cultures. I now look at the whole exercise about going into marketing to have been more about "am I willing to leave what is comfortable if that is what God wants me to do?" And.. I now leave Sunday morning for China. Ain't God good!

Copyright © 2007 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Words of Encouragement

God placed a new person in my path recently to encourage me and bless me. A good Sunday School friend of mine invited a young pastor named Brian (the pastor of another church nearby) I had never met to say a few words at my Sunday School class party. From my Sunday School friend I learned that this young man once had a promising career in business but walked away from it all when he felt God's call into the ministry.

When Brian got up to speak, he read some of his own inspirational Christian writing. My antenna started twitching because I realized "here is another person right here in my neighbor hood who takes his Christian writing seriously!" After Brian spoke, I was able to find out that he was once a management consultant in the healthcare industry. Now I am a consultant myself as well (I help corporations design their business software and websites) so we even had that in common.

I also learned that Brian had been writing the really wonderful Christian poetry and weekly email newsletters to his congregation and friends and had been doing this for a while. He told me he probably had 140 or more Microsoft Word documents of his own inspirational writing that he had been distributing by email. I told him he should start posting some of his writing in a blog for the whole world to see (and find via Google and other search engines)!

I encourage all my readers to visit Brian Johnson's new Blog Words of Encouragement. I just read his most recent post "$2 worth of gas" in which he tells a story of rushing off to do ministry at a prison without any cash or his debit card and desperately running out of gas. He stopped at the first gas station he came to after his visit to the prison and found they did not take checks. When he tried to buy $1.14 worth of gas he scrounged out of his ashtray, the lady behind the cash register offerred to let him have $5 if he'd pay her back. His pride kept him from accepting her generosity (she had no way to know if she'd ever see him again) but later he began to wonder if he should have accepted her offer. Had he selfishly stolen her opportunity to do a good deed? Was refusing her gift like refusing God's grace in some way. Its a great story. You won't be disappointed.

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Hartman - All Rights Reserved