“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companions of fools suffer harm.”

– Proverbs 13:20

OLD, BUT WISE FRIENDS

I met Tony Marone very early in my career. While only a year older than me, he possessed the wisdom of someone decades older. At the company where we worked, he was considered a rock star and was often promoted by leadership. Everybody liked Tony, myself included. I worked hard to gain his friendship and over time we became very good friends.

At a casual lunch, I once told him how impressed I was by the fact he had so many people that liked and respected him. He stunned me by replying, “Bruce, I have a lot of acquaintances, but few friends.” I was quick to refute, “It’s not true, everyone wants to know you.” He went on to explain, “Sure they do, but as soon as a cold wind blows most will be gone. If you can count on one hand the friends who will be with you in tough times and give you honest advice, consider yourself lucky.”

Tony’s words seemed dire. I was still young and impressionable. I thought to myself, How can this be true?

Tony was a street wise Catholic from a tough neighborhood. Most of what he got in life he earned on his own. He didn’t go to a top college or have great mentors. His lessons came directly from the streets of New York City. He learned how to survive in a tough environment, quickly figuring out who to trust and who not to trust. He also learned how to influence others. He was always positive and avoided making enemies. But most importantly, he learned to sift through advice and only follow the words of wise people.

THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

The book of Proverbs is one of the “Wisdom Books” in the Bible. It contains the words of advice that God wants us to hear. The thirty-one chapters take only an hour or so to read and are void of long discourses and extensive theology. They contain simple lessons with simple words. Proverbs 13:20 is an example of the practical lessons hidden away in this Old Testament book.

Eventually, we all learn to better discern between the ill-advised and wise counsel we receive. When we need counsel from a wise friend like Tony, we can look to Proverbs. When we read the verses openly and have a desire to learn, they become our friend and trusted advisor. Memorizing Bible verses allows the words to become our anchor during life’s most ferocious winds.

“Memorizing Bible verses allows the words to become our anchor during life’s most ferocious winds.”

ADVICE FROM AN OLD AND WISE FRIEND WHO CARED

Tony went on to have a successful life. He became a CEO of a regional retailer and later started his own business. When the cold November winds of my life blew, I could always call Tony to get his kind and honest advice. It was not always what I hoped to hear; but it was always what I needed to hear.

I learned what Tony meant about good friends as my life unfolded. I would get a lot of advice—some was well-intentioned but lacked candor. Others advice was self-serving and not in my best interest. Then there was other advice that was simply off the mark completely. Tony was a wise friend, whose counsel always demonstrated that he cared about my well-being. I miss Tony, he died a few years ago. But I will always remember his words.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we know whether a person’s advice is good?

How often do we read the wisdom book called Proverbs?

How many friends do we have that will tell us the truth?

More importantly, who can consider us as among that list – their wise friend, the ‘Tony’ of their life?

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

– Matthew 5:4

MOURNING

Loss is a part of life, and sadly, the older we get, the more loss we have to endure. Whether through the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job, the process of grieving and recovering is difficult and very personal. Psychologists have identified that mourning individuals experience grief in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A person must pass through each stage in his or her own time on the road to recovery.

But Jesus wants us to remember his promise that all who grieve will be comforted. Through both our physical and spiritual baptisms, we become part of this blessing. He walks beside us in our grief, and through his promise, he gives us reason to hope we will recover.

In addition to loss due to death, many of us also feel a profound sense of loss when faced with disability or severe illness. An elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may grieve the loss of her fading memory, and her spouse may later mourn the loss of the woman he married, even when she’s still physically present.

Loss can have far-reaching repercussions. Individuals facing illness, disability, or even the loss of a job may also suffer from intense anxiety and fear about whether they will continue to be able to provide for themselves and their families. And many who have lost a spouse may likewise struggle with how to provide for their families and parent their grieving children while they mourn. No matter the type of loss, the experience can be intensely painful, complicated, and difficult to navigate.

“Jesus wants us to remember his promise that all who grieve will be comforted…He walks beside us in our grief, and through his promise, he gives us reason to hope we will recover.”

I have counseled many individuals who have lost a job, and as I guide them through their losses, I can see the process of grief at work. During the journey to recovery, individuals work through anxiety and fear as well as feelings of inadequacy and defeat. My assurances that there is a light at the end of the tunnel are no more than a temporary salve. Each person simply has to work through the emotional process of mourning. It can’t be hurried or prescriptive—it is a very personal process. During therapy, those in mourning will come upon roads they have to walk down in order to continue on their journeys. They will make discoveries and connections that are important and sometimes very surprising.

As we engage with those who have endured loss or are dealing with the process of grief, it’s important to be empathetic. We should avoid offering platitudes, such as “It will be okay,” or “Just keep a stiff upper lip,” as these can feel dismissive. Acknowledge and validate the feelings of those in mourning, and allow them to share their thoughts and express their emotions. They are traveling difficult and unfamiliar roads, and their emotions will fluctuate often throughout each day and week. As they proceed through the five stages, we can become their biggest allies simply by loving them and listening to them. This journey can be incredibly difficult, and for those who are in this process, time grinds on slowly.

In today’s verse, Jesus says that mourners will be comforted. The word “will” gives us hope for the future. Through baptism, we belong to a faith that gives us the assurance that the valleys of life are temporary. While our losses will never be recovered, we never lose the love of God. The gift of God’s love doesn’t just occur because of our physical baptism; it occurs through our spiritual acceptance of God’s promises. The promise in today’s verse encourages us to keep our faith, even during the darkest moments in our lives. Jesus promises us we will be comforted.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanDo we always accept that through our baptism we belong to a loving God, and thus will be comforted?

Can we listen to those in mourning?

Are we willing to go through the valley?

How do we affirm others?

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.”

– Psalms 73:25

NEW ORIENTATION

In life, it isn’t a question of whether we will become disoriented, but when. We will lose our sense of stability at some point. The world will become confusing, and we’ll struggle to stay remained on our intended path. We will scramble for a purpose, and search for firmer ground. The Book of Psalms can help us regain our footing. The Book of Psalms describes the human condition in a remarkably intimate yet universally relatable way. It is the largest book in the Bible, and took over a thousand years to complete. Famed Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann views the Psalms as each being centered around one of three states of being: orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Orientation occurs when our world is in harmony. Disorientation occurs when we encounter obstacles and lose our way. New orientation occurs when God reveals to us the mystery of faith and answers our prayers. We always exist in one of these three states.

In Psalm 8 (NRSV), King David asks, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

While this is a statement of praise, it also shows that David is in a state of contentment or orientation.

But in Psalm 13, King David asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

David is clearly in distress at this point, and feels abandoned by God. This is the state of disorientation, the state of a lost soul, overwhelmed by life and circumstances.

Later, though, in the same Psalm, we see a new orientation when David declares, “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

“In life, it isn’t a question of whether we will become disoriented, but when..The Book of Psalms can help us regain our footing”

Circumstances have changed and David has newly oriented himself. His path—and his world—have been corrected.

Our lives are often disrupted, whether by circumstance or by our own doing. When this happens, we pray. We search. We feel empty and abandoned. Then, suddenly, we find that our prayers have answers. Life makes sense again—we are back on course. The Psalms offer us comfort, reminding us that we are not alone, offering us encouragement and giving us the courage to newly orient ourselves. We are comforted by the intimacy with which we explore our soul’s journey, and we are reminded that God is always with us, speaking to us through the verses of the Psalms.Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanDo we include Psalms in our daily prayers?

Can we feel how God reaches directly into our hearts through the Psalms?

“And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.”

– Matthew 9:10

THE COMMON PERSON IS LOVED

I was asked once to help a dying church grow. Over the years, its membership had declined from three hundred congregants to just fifteen. The neighborhood in which the church was located had changed, and down the street, a homeless shelter had popped up. Half of the children in the town went to school hungry. Transients and young thugs appeared on the street corners. The church had begun to lock its doors to prevent theft or vandalism. Its circle of leaders had grown smaller, and those who remained were resistant to change. Slowly, the church had collapsed in on itself.

By the time I arrived to help revive the church, money was low and its leaders and congregants were worn out from their efforts to save their place of worship. I recruited some friends and a recent graduate of divinity school to help out with the cause. As a group, we felt that the mission of the church needed to be to address the needs of the neighborhood’s new population. We collected clothing donations and distributed them through the church.

We began preparing a free breakfast on Sunday mornings and eventually established a soup kitchen that provided free meals throughout each week. My friends prepared the meals in their homes early each morning, and I visited local restaurants to request food donations.

Soon, the pews were filling up each Sunday. Homeless moms with children would come to eat, then stay to attend church. Homeless men with significant substance abuse problems came as well. We became a haven for people who had nowhere else to turn.

Many old parishioners didn’t embrace the change and left, claiming their church had been ruined. They refused to break bread with the new members. Nevertheless, the new congregants loved the new pastor, who made an immediate positive impact on her parishioners.

Those who shunned the church’s new reality would not have met with Jesus’s approval. In fact, Jesus commonly dined with “sinners,” even tax collectors, who were among the most deeply and widely maligned of people. Sinners would approach Jesus to receive guidance and instruction—they desired a different path, but knew not how to find or travel it. They wanted to know how to live up to God’s values. Despite the fact that the religious elite openly criticized Jesus for his behavior, he was steadfast in his love for and acceptance of everyone, no matter the individual’s sins or occupation.

“Jesus didn’t give up on people who wanted a new life. He saw holiness in everyone, regardless of social status, race, or gender”

In reading today’s verse, in the first century, a “sinner” was considered to be anyone who was different from the religious elite. These sinners may have moved away from the values of God, but they might also have just been “common folk” who struggled and toiled to feed, clothe, and care for their families. Because they were perceived to be inferior by the elite, they were viewed as sinners. But, as we know, we are all sinners, even the highest in the social strata. The sinners Jesus broke bread with were just regular people who faced difficult circumstances.

Jesus didn’t give up on people who wanted a new life. He saw holiness in everyone, regardless of social status, race, or gender. He helped all those who wanted to be helped. While many of those he helped had self-inflicted wounds, many simply had challenging lives. But they all shared a common desire—a better life.

Today, the common folk, who are holy in Jesus’s eyes, work in mailrooms, serve food, deliver the paper early in the morning, wash floors late at night, and do what many others won’t. They might not wear the bright new clothes or have the latest iPhones, but are made in the image of God and are holy.Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanHow do we treat the “common” person?

Do we see what God sees or do we see what society tells us to see?

Can we look all people in the eye and show them care and compassion?

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”

– Matthew 4:23

A LIFE-AFFIRMING ELIXIR

We sometimes spend too much time in our inner castles. Many times in my counseling work, I will confront despair. A client will say, “Why don’t they want me?” or “I had a bad week.” When I probe why people feel this way, I often detect that they have spent most of the week by themselves, reflecting or doing self-analysis. It is hard to be alone, and sometimes we are alone even when we are with people. My clients will confess that they didn’t get much done on their “to do” list, which drove them further into themselves, over analyzing and being overly self-critical.

Jesus would sometimes go off to silent places to pray and meditate. Away from everyone. However, he preferred to be among the people. His ministry was dining with other people, walking to distant towns, curing the sick, or helping an individual with insight. It is moments like these moments that remind us most of Jesus. His ministry was an outward expression to others.

“When we walk among people, we receive an elixir.”

When we walk among people, we receive an elixir. An affirmation of ourselves. When we look someone in the eye and ask “How is your day?” we are affirming that person. An inner moment of joy occurs that tells the person he or she is good and worthy. When we ask and then listen, we hear stories about life. We get to know other people. They can share their dreams and worries with us. They are affirmed because we listened. For a moment they have a voice. We gave them a voice. And the sense of our own joy increases also. Our outward interest in other people provides us energy for our own tasks. When we are with others and listen, we receive.

“God wants us among the people, and we are created to interact with one another.”

People like people who like people. I often say this in my sessions. At first it may appear to be self-serving. But if we are sincere about it, we can create a mutual bond. When Jesus walked among humankind, he knew his mission. To heal, and proclaim the good news, but also simply to be with humankind. Our inner castles are good places to rest and pray, but we can only stay for a while. God wants us among the people, and we are created to interact with one another. Through outward expressions we find healing. Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanAre we sincere when we say good morning?

Do we ask or do we state?

What is the value of questions?

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

– Luke 11:9

ASKING WITH FAITH

I remember sitting at my desk waiting for an answer. A few hours earlier, our chief accounting officer had told us that we were just hundreds of thousands of dollars from breaking our debt agreements. In effect, our $8 billion company was on the precipice of financial disaster. Six months earlier, I had been made the CFO of Foot Locker, inheriting responsibility for a company that was deeply in debt. Earlier in the day, I had called all our staff in for a meeting and asked if they could stay late that day, until we found a way to keep our company afloat. Not finding the means to do so would put the company into a cataclysmic spiral that would cost thousands their jobs and potentially result in a bankruptcy. We agreed that no one would go home until we came up with a solution.

It took hours, but finally, at 8:30 p.m. that night, our assistant treasurer and the chief accounting officer walked into my office, looking visibly relieved.

“We don’t know what you were so worried about,” they joked weakly. “We found some money in a long-forgotten utility deposit account.”

It was just enough to buy us another ninety days. But that was enough time to avoid the crisis, and we managed to use it to turn the company around. Two years later, we were praised in a Forbes magazine article for managing to make such a tremendous save.

JESUS AND ASKING

Jesus says all we have to do is ask. But there is more to it than just asking. We need to consider, Is what we are asking for the right thing? Are we willing to be patient and wait for God? Are we willing to put in the effort to search for the solution with Jesus? Jesus wants our participation. Once we ask, Jesus wants us to participate in searching for the answer, to take an active role in finding what we seek.

Often, we pray and ask for an answer. Many times, the answer doesn’t arrive on the timeline we’d like it to. Many times, the answer is different—but also better—than what we’d originally hoped for. Each time we ask for God’s help, we must be willing to work toward finding a solution by working with Jesus. This is God’s way. I remember sitting at my desk alone that evening at Foot Locker, calmly considering every possible solution. For hours, I could find no viable option. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a solution materialized.

“Each time we ask for God’s help, we must be willing to work toward finding a solution by working with Jesus.”

At times, the answer to our prayers comes through people or circumstances, but it can also come simply from a Bible verse. So, after we ask, we need to become aware of our surroundings. We need to search alongside Jesus for the answers we seek. But we also must be patient. Once we ask for God’s help, we must be willing to wait for the answer on God’s time. If our hearts are pure and we take an active role in seeking what we want or need of God, we will receive what we’ve asked for.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanCan we be patient in prayer?

Do we worry or stay calm after prayer?

How has God responded in the past?

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seeds fell on the ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

– Mark 4:3-8

WHICH SEEDS ARE WE

Those of us who work in the marketplace often have annual performance reviews, during which our superiors tell us how we did. Some years we do very well, and others, not so well. Some review recommendations we listen to; others we don’t. In the parable of the sower, Jesus gives us a performance review template to help us assess where we are with our faith. The seed that fell on the path is one that never really gave faith a chance. The seed on the rock is one that wants faith, but does little to nurture its faith. The one in the thorns, while faithful, allows the worries of the day to strangle its faith. The seed in the good soil nurtures and is patient with its faith, and allows worries to disappear.

“Our life’s goal is to continue to work at being present and mindful, so we can stay in the good soil.”

But are we just one of these seeds, or a mixture of all of these types of seeds? We are all affected by our circumstances and by situations we encounter. Our reactions to these circumstances affect our faith. Bad financial situations may cause us to worry. Our experiences with difficult people may cause us to give up our Christian values. When we reach a mental state where we feel we are in the good soil, situations inevitably arise that test our faith.

We all want to be the seed in the good soil, but in tough times we worry, become angered, or otherwise lose our composure. In doing so, we end up on the path, in the rocks, or among the thorns. Our life’s goal is to continue to work at being present and mindful, so we can stay in the good soil.

Donna, a successful business owner I know, told me once that she was prone to anger when confronted with a difficult person or situation. Over time, she learned to identify the triggers that affected her mood and her spirit. When this happened, she would mentally distance herself from the situation and tell herself to simply observe her surroundings, to take in information passively, while letting time and distance quiet her impulsive reactivity.

Peter, a former colleague, would pull me aside during difficult, high-stress situations and suggest the two of us go for a walk. We would head out to grab a snack while we talked about football. This was our way of creating space to prevent us from becoming reactive, which would ultimately move us farther from our goals.

We all want to be in the good soil, and we become frustrated that we aren’t there all the time. Learning to identify and deal with our triggers helps us stay on course. None of us is just one “seed” all the time, and when we find ourselves on the path, in the rocks, or among the thorns, Jesus can help us find our way back to the good soil.Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanWhat situations move us from good soil?

How do we react to life’s difficult circumstances?