“Pray then in this way: Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

– Matthew 6:9-13

PRAYER

While I was discussing prayer with a business friend of mine, he related to me his morning practice. Each morning on his bike ride he would recite the Lord’s Prayer. Previously he had struggled with how to pray and what to pray for. He discovered the Lord’s Prayer and noted that this was Jesus’s example of prayer. So he incorporated this prayer into his bike ride and later would also say it in other quiet times of the day. Over time he felt that he was just reciting the lines and not being sincere. He began to change the words to reflect his understanding of the prayer. For instance, instead of saying “Our father in heaven,” he would replace it with “God our creator” or something similar. Or instead of saying “Give us this day our daily bread,” he would say “Feed me your words of wisdom.” This kept the prayer fresh for my friend and helped him explore his relationship with God.

The Lord’s Prayer appears two times in the Bible, first in Matthew 6:9–13 and a shorter form in Luke 11:2–4. The version in Matthew is part of the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, Jesus uses the prayer to explain to his disciples how to pray. In both cases it contains the elements that are important in a prayer of petition. First, praising and recognizing God. Then petition. There are three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. The first is for the substance to live a godly life, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This can mean food, spiritual guidance, or personal strength. The second is asking God to “forgive our debts,” or sins and that’s followed quickly by our taking responsibility for forgiving our neighbor’s debts or sins. The third petition is for protection. Protection from evil but also from the temptations of evil. Over time the prayer has morphed into longer forms that place further emphasis on the sovereign nature of God. For instance, many endings add something along the lines of “For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever more.” The verse quoted at the top of the blog is a direct quote from the NKJV Bible.

“Jesus gives us The Lord’s Prayer as a basic prayer that will open up our prayer life.”

Many of us struggle with how, what, and when to pray. Jesus gives us The Lord’s Prayer as a basic prayer that will open up our prayer life. In the marketplace, where many are pressed for time, this prayer is easily memorized and can be said many times throughout the day. The prayer is easily adaptable to our personal circumstances. My friend learned how to say the prayer with creativity and tailor it to his day. God does not want us to just say the prayer from memory, God wants this prayer to be part of our personal relationship with him. It is okay to use the prayer as a template and expand it to fit into our own connection with God. Following the parameters of the Lord’s Prayer and remembering to say “In Jesus name I pray” at the end of every prayer were the only two things my friend needed in his prayer life.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we pray by rote or from our hearts?

Are we remembering to praise God?

Are we willing to accept God’s answer?

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the church, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

– Revelation 1:20

THE NUMBER SEVEN AND BUSINESS PLANNING

One of my favorite things in helping a business or a businessperson is to review the company’s or the individual’s strategic plan or purpose. How do they guide themselves? How do they think about their customers? What is important to them? It shows up in their strategic plan. Good businesses can articulate their mission crisply and quickly. Both their employees and their customers know the mission. Those that have a long, extensive strategic plan are usually unfocused. Those that have no plan or are unsure are rudderless. It almost always shows up in their results.

“In the Bible the number seven represents perfection and is considered divine.”

An exercise I do for businesses is to get them to write their mission in seven words. It forces them to be both concise and focused. Listing out the seven words is hard; it involves looking again at what the purpose of the business is. The next step is to list the seven actions a business needs to take to accomplish this mission. Are the seven action steps harmonious with the mission and are they consistent with how the business is being run? Would the employees and customers agree? In its simplicity, a focused approach makes us think beyond the seven words and seven actions, but it isn’t overbearing and doesn’t require massive committees. This also works for the rest of our lives. When looking for a job or trying to be more successful with your career, do we have a plan?

“In its simplicity, a focused approach makes us think…it isn’t overbearing and doesn’t require massive committees. This also works for the rest of our lives.”

In the Bible the number seven means perfection or completeness. It is tied to the creation of the world. While I am not a fan of numerology, we can see that the number seven is important to God, by the fact that throughout the Bible it is used 860 times. If we were taking a Bible test, the number seven would be on the test. The first act by God for humankind was the seven days of creation. Jesus performed seven miracles on the seventh day. In the Bible the number seven represents perfection and is considered divine.

When using the method of seven in our business or life plans, not only are we focused, but we are honoring our Christian values. In a sense we are asking God to bless our plan. The plan of seven doesn’t take long, but it requires thought and insight. It highlights where we have to get better and where we are doing well. The seven actions we need to take will awaken us to the state of our business. If we take out the business or life plan once a week, it becomes part of our daily thinking. We can hire high-priced consultants to tell us what we already know, but I am not sure it is any more effective than to follow the roadmap of God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we have a life or business plan?

How does it measure up to what our employees and customers think?

Do we have a life plan and are we following the plan?

forgiveness

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

— Luke 23:34

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT

Printed on every receipt, L.L.Bean’s return policy reads: “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory.” It’s true, this is exactly what L.L.Bean means. There are countless stories about people returning things many years later and getting their money back. No questions asked and no hassles. Live Christmas wreaths that have turned brown or slippers worn out in the sole—L.L.Bean will refund you your money.

“Successful businesses index to trust and an attitude of forgiveness.”

Sure there has been abuse. You can read about these stories on the Internet. L.L.Bean sees it differently. They see a customer they have to satisfy. Each employee knows the rules and issues a credit with no questions asked. Successful businesses index to trust and an attitude of forgiveness. They avoid judging their customers and look for ways to give their customers the benefit of the doubt. They surely know there is abuse, but they look the other way. They look to satisfy and put themselves in their customers’ shoes. They believe in their customers and have done so for over 104 years. They remain one of America’s most successful retailers.

“Forgiveness is one of the major tenets of Christian belief.”

Jesus likewise implores us to have a forgiving heart. A heart that does not judge, but searches for a different view. With this attitude we take a position that all people have value. That people make mistakes, not because of inherent evil, but because of a lack of knowledge. Jesus says, “They don’t know what they are doing.” By admitting this, we make it easier to forgive. We assign a value of humanity to the individual. We avoid the argument of telling someone he or she is wrong. Instead, we provide an example of Christian action. Forgiveness is one of the major tenets of Christian belief. It removes judgment and seeks an understanding of the offender. For L.L.Bean, the customer is always right.

“Businesses with the most lenient return policies are also the most successful.”

How many of us have been duped? We know the cost, and it is the most difficult position to be put in as a business. A position where we have to make a decision out of anger or out of kindness. But what if we knew more about the offender’s backstory? What if we knew about why the person acted that way on this day? What caused him or her to behave in a way we found offensive? Businesses that have a reputation of good customer service choose to give their customers the benefit of the doubt. They know there might be abuse, but they also know they have to forgive. Businesses with the most lenient return policies are also the most successful. Their hearts are aligned with the adage “The customer is always right.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How many chances do we give people?

How many should we?

Do we know the rest of their story?

path to spiritual freedom

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

— Luke 23:43

THE CHOICES WE MAKE

A business friend of mine, Bill,  related to me his story of accepting Christ. He had been troubled for a very long time that his life was out of control. Bill’s business gave him a lengthy “to do” list every day. He had stocks he had to keep track of weekly. He was a father and a husband. He was constantly pulled in numerous directions by outside interests. He felt he had nothing left that was worthy to give. He described this moment in his life as one of abject despair. He wasn’t sure why he felt this way. His job paid well. His financial situation was strong. But his spirit was beaten. He needed to turn in a different direction. He began reading the Bible and attending church, to look for answers. Slowly he saw a different life. A life with Christ that didn’t require a hyper-vigilant focus. A life that was more outward and less inward.

“Bill had stepped back and his vision improved.”

Bill  gave up reading newspapers. He gave up creating lengthy “to do” lists. His focus on money abated. His list of worries dwindled. He became focused on his community and family. What he discovered was that he didn’t need to read the newspaper every day. Bill discovered that his employees could do their own “to do” lists. He discovered that his excessive attention to detail wasn’t needed. Life still came at him in waves, but he was better equipped to handle the stress. His focus became that of what he could control, and he left the rest to those who were better equipped. Bill had stepped back and his vision improved.

“The one who acknowledges Christ receives the path to spiritual freedom.”

Today’s verse was directed to one of the two criminals who were dying on their crosses next to Jesus. One man mocked Jesus and implored him to prove he was God, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other man rebuked his companion by stating that they belonged on the cross, but Jesus didn’t. In turn he asked Jesus to save him and let him into the Kingdom. Jesus agreed and spoke the words in today’s verse, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” It was simple for one and impossible for the other. The one who acknowledges Christ receives the path to spiritual freedom. The other remained stuck in his past and couldn’t accept there was a different way. A way of being released. A way of spiritual freedom. A way to see life from a different perspective.

“Jesus offers us another way to live life.”

Our challenges may be not nearly as dramatic as the scene on the cross, but they can require a change in the choices we make. We all at various times have to choose what we follow. Do we continue to be slaves to a world that pushes us into deeper detail? Do we choose to try and control every facet of our lives? Do we continue to let faraway events affect our being? Jesus offers us another way to live life. Another choice versus our current life. Jesus offers paradise. A way that will still have hardships, details, and worries, but will change our perspective on what is important. We will turn away from a world that we can never satisfy, toward one that holds promise. Life will still happen regardless of our choice, but how we handle life will change. Our choice will make us more available to our neighbor, a better parent, and a better spouse. We will turn from fearing that we have missed something to an embracing of the good we can do. We all have this choice.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are the difficult choices we have to make?

How do we make these choices?

Can Jesus help?

jesus and creation

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

— John 1:1

THE WORD IS GOD AND JESUS

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Gospel explains the substance and presence of Jesus. Four critical statements are made that confirm Jesus’s presence, from creation to today. Understanding these four statements helps us understand Jesus’s mission and the substance of God. This Gospel is the last of the four Gospels and was written in the late first century or potentially early in the second century. Its original language was Greek, and in turn it expresses itself in a very philosophical manner.

Many of us have different thoughts about who Jesus is. But in the Gospel of John we find an overarching description of Jesus and the beginning of the explanation of the substance of the Trinity. In four statements at the beginning of this Gospel, the author lays out the relational substance of God and how Jesus fits into this substance. Jesus is the Word and at the same time God. Our understanding of this concept laid out at the beginning of the Gospel of John, opens up a more expansive view of who Jesus is.

“The statement “In the beginning” has a direct connection to Genesis 1:1…”

The first statement, “In the beginning was the Word,” contains two of the four points that support Jesus’s position within the Trinity. The writer uses “Word” to describe Jesus and further asserts that Jesus existed in the beginning. The statement “In the beginning” has a direct connection to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created . . .” From this statement we can conclude that Jesus existed at the beginning of creation and was the creator.

“Jesus participated in creation, not in an inferior position, but as part of creation.”

The second statement, and the Word was with God,” tells us that Jesus coexisted with God. Jesus participated in creation, not in an inferior position, but as part of creation. In the deep ocean of the divine, the substance of God is partially disclosed. A turning of the covers continues by expressing the partnership and coexistence of Jesus with God. This statement expresses the eternal communion of Jesus with God.

“Jesus is God and God is Jesus.”

The third statement, “and the Word was God,” makes the statement that Jesus was God. This final turning of the covers unveils the reality that Jesus is God and God is Jesus. A body with three substances, when we include the Holy Spirit. An eternal being that works together through creation, the past and the future. Jesus is not defined as a creature independent of God, but is God.

“Through Jesus, God is revealed to the world.”

The fact is that Jesus is God and not a missionary to mankind. Jesus was an agent of creation and the Alpha and Omega. Through Jesus, God is revealed to the world. Jesus, as son of man, both saves and reveals. This concept of revelation is critical to understanding the Word. Jesus is many things beyond just a redeemer. Jesus existed at the beginning and is God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Who is Jesus to us in our lives?

What are our descriptions of God?

Does knowing that Jesus is part of the eternal being change our thoughts?

cloud over the ocean

“Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

— Luke 22:46

STAYING AWAKE

As we passed each hurdle in our recovery at Foot Locker, I would often rest and reflect on what we had just accomplished. But as with any company in recovery, danger lurked around every corner. Inevitably, Giovanna Cipriano would come to visit and tell me about the next obstacle. I would become crestfallen and want to give up. But Giovanna was always clear that here was what we needed to do. I would eventually listen, gather up the team, and tell them about the next hurdle. They would grumble, saying things like “Here we go again.” A new goal was created and we had another trial to get through. We always grumbled and complained. But we always got through the trial.

“Her efforts to keep us awake were critical to our success.”

Giovanna was our lookout. An extraordinarily smart executive. She was promoted to being our chief accounting officer before the age of thirty. She was always on guard for danger and very adept at spotting trouble ahead of its arrival. Not only did she have my respect, but she had that of her peers and our board. She was always right. Her efforts to keep us awake were critical to our success. While I dreaded seeing her in my office, I knew after a certain amount of grumbling that I would have to respond. We survived because she kept us awake.

“Jesus tells us to get up and act. He knows danger is lurking around the corner.”

Jesus gives us very sound business advice: Stay awake, so that you don’t get into trouble. He implores us to act. Jesus tells us to get up and act. He knows danger is lurking around the corner. In warning us he gives us three directives. First, don’t fall asleep, don’t become satisfied with yesterday. Second, act, be aware of the importance of staying busy, continuing to work hard. Third, pray faithfully, petition God to protect us and guide us in our honorable activities, pray that we remain vigilant, active, and purposeful. In this remedy, we can avoid trial.

“Eventually, we were no longer financially troubled and actually thriving.”

At Foot Locker, it seemed that for three years we were always jumping to fix one crisis after another. After each of these events, there would be a period of relief, where we could take a respite. This was usually followed by Giovanna telling us about something new that threatened our existence. Eventually, we were no longer financially troubled and actually thriving. However, while our dangers became more spaced out, they still existed. Giovanna still warned us, we still acted. We thrived.

Jesus give us our remedy. To stay vigilant, to remain active, and to pray. With all of this we begin to avoid times of trial.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are our trials and how could they have been avoided?

How do we stay awake?

hot air balloons

“. . . but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

— Luke 22:32

TURNING BACK

In the early thirties of the last century, Germany was mired in fourteen years of hyperinflation, political turmoil, and poverty, as a result of World War I. What emerged was a Nazi regime that slowly gained control over their society, led by Adolf Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran theologian, stood up against this acceptance of the Nazis. He preached against them in the great Lutheran church in Berlin. Over time, the Nazis seized control of the Lutheran Church and were able to have the Catholic Church look away.  In response, Bonhoeffer helped start a new church, called the Confessing Church. He organized a clandestine seminary to train young German pastors. In time the Nazi regime then closed the seminary and tightened its grip on every aspect of German life. Fearing for Bonhoeffer’s safety, his friends encouraged him to go to New York City, were he would be safe. He went.

“Bonhoeffer could not shake the thought that he needed to turn back.”

While in New York, however, he remained unsettled. In spite of his wide acceptance and support by leading  American theologians, Bonhoeffer could not shake the thought that he needed to turn back. He returned to Germany in 1939 and continued to speak out against Hitler. He was part of one of many attempts to overthrow the Nazi regime. Captured finally, he was thrown into prison, but he continued his ministry there, with both the other prisoners and the guards. In fact, many of the guards went to Bonhoeffer for spiritual help. Two weeks before the end of the war and the elimination of Nazi rule, he was executed. His executioner described his death as one of peace. A peace the executioner had not witnessed before. Bonhoeffer had turned back.

“Giving up our safety for a noble cause is a hard decision, made easier when we follow the ways of Christ.”

Hidden in today’s verse are the words spoken to Peter by Jesus, “. . . and you, when once you have turned back . . .” Jesus knew that Peter would turn away. He was also sure Peter would turn back. He knew the crisis in faith would occur. Jesus knows that it will occur in each of us as well. Giving up our safety for a noble cause is a hard decision, made easier when we follow the ways of Christ. We want to be safe, but are left with a nagging feeling. We know we have let someone down. Our character fights with us. We are unsettled until we turn back and complete our task. When we do, we strengthen ourselves and others.

“…we all will have to turn back and confront our foe.”

Most people don’t have to confront the terror of Nazi Germany. But we will all have something we need to turn back to. A troubled friend or perhaps a difficult business situation, but we all will have to turn back and confront our foe. Jesus knew Peter would turn away and come back. Bonhoeffer also could never escape his mission. Similarly, we all have that thing that we need to turn back to. Maybe it isn’t as dramatic, but it nags us.  Our peace will only come when we turn back.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What situations do we have to turn back to?

What holds us back?

Why does going back soothe us?

helping others

“But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.”

— Luke 22:26

SERVANT LEADERSHIP

In 1978 Betty Ford’s family confronted her about her alcoholism and addiction to opiates. In her memoirs she later stated, “I liked alcohol, it made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and pain.” Here was a former first lady admitting her addiction. A person well regarded for her social activism and grace. She had been trapped. She entered rehab and emerged into recovery. Behind her life as a social activist, a recovered breast cancer survivor, and an abused wife in her first marriage, was a hidden life of booze and drugs. The pressures of her past and present had driven her into the trap.

When my daughter was in her early teens, she asked me, “How many people work for you?” I replied, “Thousands.” She replied back, “It must be fun to boss that many people around.” Little did she know, when you manage a very large organization you have to make adjustments almost hourly. Each person you meet has a different need, and no one management style works universally. You develop knowledge about the people and respond the way that is most effective for the person to get his or her job done. Sometimes it is gentle coaching. Sometimes it is frank talk. But it is always different. Leading a large organization is definitely not “one size fits all.”

“However, when you tell people where you are going, and not how they have to get there, they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

I noticed over the years that managers who require people to perform their way can be effective, but are very limited in what they can accomplish. They are good at getting very specific things done, but their style keeps them from moving beyond that. They often find themselves exhausted and frustrated. The task of getting everything done your way requires constant follow-up and a lengthy “to do” list. However, when you tell people where you are going, and not how they have to get there, they will surprise you with their ingenuity. As a manager, I always found it easier to find people their resources and give them the freedom to do their job. Sure, you will get disappointed here and there, but the breadth of what you can manage will grow.

“We get our greatest life pleasure by helping others succeed.”

Jesus stresses this in today’s verse. That we are here to serve, that rewards don’t come from being served. When we think of people we admire, we usually think of servers, like Mother Teresa or my friend Roger, who donates his dental experience, or Geoff, who started an inner city after school program. Jesus knew that the human condition is that we aren’t truly satisfied unless we are in service. We get our greatest life pleasure by helping others succeed. Our best memories are of those times we served. We cringe when we insist on our own way. We are left unsatisfied.

“In our work life we get our greatest sense of accomplishment watching others succeed.”

In our work life we get our greatest sense of accomplishment  watching others succeed. Helping others be successful gives us self-satisfaction. At the same time, it allows our organizations to grow. Servant leadership requires us to adapt. It requires us to be in the background. It requires us to leave our ego home. But the reward is a sustainable and productive workplace. Jesus asks us to not think of ourselves too highly. He knows that a controlling, do-it-my-way management style is very limited. Serving and helping people with resources is usually all we need to do.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What is our management style?

What prevents us from serving?

Do we think about serving or commanding?

ocean

“. . . and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.”

— Luke 22:11–12

AUDACIOUS REQUESTS

I remember seeing her, Beth Caulfield, in class at Drew University Theological School . I immediately knew she was from the business world. My old world. She was dutiful, serious, and committed to learning her new craft. I knew she would get an A. She did. Later, after we graduated, I received an assignment to assemble and hire the best Methodists in New Jersey for a new group being set up to help the larger church. The existing clergy gave me over fifty names to interview. I needed to hire five. I personally talked with all that were on the list and began to hire the five I thought were the best fit. Then Beth called and asked if she could interview. But she hadn’t been on the list. She persisted and I conducted one more interview.

“She wasn’t part of the crowd, but she knew that wasn’t important. What was important, she knew she could help.”

We hired Beth. But she hadn’t been recommended by the clergy, I was told. They also told me she was pushy and not part of the crowd. True she didn’t speak their language. True she was from a faraway place, called the business world. She wasn’t pushy, she was using her skills learned in another world. She wasn’t part of the crowd, but she knew that wasn’t important. What was important, she knew she could help. She wasn’t afraid of disappointment. Her past had told her to ignore rejection. Her past had told her to ask. But her past had also told her to be polite and humble. She was only following rules she had learned in a different place.

“Jesus knows that when we serve God faithfully, we are not disappointed.”

Imagine Jesus sending a few people into town to ask for a room. A room where he would meet for the last time on earth with his disciples. A request that we might view as audacious. But not to Jesus. He knew there would be no disappointment. He knew that the room was to serve God. Jesus knows that when we serve God faithfully, we are not disappointed. God emboldens us to make the request, and the request will be granted. Jesus did meet in this upper room. Beth did get her job.

“Fear of disappointment is the biggest obstacle to success.”

Fear of disappointment is the biggest obstacle to success. It is the fear of being rejected. Perhaps even humiliated. We all confront it every day. We have to ask and we get nervous. Rejection is a very high form of humiliation. Jesus modeled the ability to ask without fear. He put his purpose ahead of disappointment. His goal was divine and his request fit a practical need. In business, we don’t always have divine goals, but we always have goals. When our goals help our neighbor, our customers, or our company, we should ask. When our goals are honorable, we should ask. Our own fear of disappointment prevents us from asking, but Jesus modeled how to request, and Beth followed.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do we fear when we ask?

Is our request honorable?

How do we ask?