“My Father is still working, and I am also working.”

– John 5:17 (NRSV)/p>

THE CEREAL TYCOON

Henry Parsons Crowell, was the founder of Quaker Oats. He lost a lot in the early part of his life. His father died at thirty-six of Tuberculosis. He himself nearly died from the same disease. He wasn’t able to get a high school diploma, because of his father’s death. His first wife died after two and a half years. The first part of his life was hard. By 1885 he had started to have some success in business and bought a company called Quaker Oats. He made one small change to the company. Instead of selling his cereal in large barrels, he introduced the smaller containers we are familiar with today. Soon Quaker Oats became available in grocery stores throughout the country. During the depression of 1893, it served as a staple for many American families.

“If my life can be lived so as to please Him in every way, I’ll be supremely happy”

Soon after, Henry remarried and began to use his faith life to help others. He introduced God into the business world and others tycoons, such as John Rockefeller. He and his wife would travel the country, contributing to many organizations. In some years he would donate to  one-hundred organizations. He is famously quoted as saying, “If my life can be lived so as to please Him in every way, I’ll be supremely happy”. In the last years of his life, Henry was constantly working for the Lord.

“Every action, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, that helps God and humankind is in concert with God.”

Jesus makes a statement about working for God. The back story to the verse is that he has just healed a person on the Sabbath. The religious elite complained mightily and tried to use this activity against Jesus. Jesus’s reply speaks directly to our Christian behavior. He extends our work for God to Sunday. We have our work lives, that we use to pay our bills. From that we should have a Sabbath.  We also have the work of the Lord, which never ceases. Every action, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, that helps God and humankind is in concert with God. We need our rest and we should take it, but not be wedded to legalism, but to the spirit of God.

Henry Crowell died in 1948. He left a large trust. The trustees of this trust have a clear directive, “To carry out the Mr. Crowell’s wishes to honor the Lord who he loved and served during his life on this earth.” Over the years the trustees have kept this wish alive. Each year they issue close to one-hundred and fifty grants, totaling millions of dollars. Well past his death he is still working for the Lord. He was dubbed the Cereal tycoon. A life of riches created by one small change to his business. But also a life that worked endlessly for “the Lord he loved.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

– Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)

HOW DO WE TREAT THE LEAST OF THESE?

When my sister was in her early teens and then living with my parents in a distant and poor part of the world, discovered a stray cat. She patted the reluctant cat and earned its trust. Then brought the cat home and pleaded with my parents to keep the cat. My parents, always kind and accepting, welcomed the cat and named it Casey. My sister at this early age showed a unique compassion for the disadvantaged, which carried into her adult life. Today, as a professionally trained social worker helps children in distress. The cat that my sister brought home was no ordinary cat. After years of abuse and having to fend for itself in the streets, it was ornery! If you sat on the couch Casey was sleeping under, Casey would reach out and scratch your leg. We would howl and complain. My sister, would kindly remind us that she has had a tough life and to forgive her. A reminder of our Christian attitude.

Overtime, Casey became a legend in our house. She was known as the unsociable cat. People would come to visit and we had to caution them where to sit. Generally, Casey kept to herself unless her space was invaded. In spite of her unsavory behavior, she always found food placed for her in the morning, she had the freedom to roam the yard and a warm place to sleep every night. She also had a protector, my sister. Casey lived for another ten years, but during this time became part of the fabric of a family, whose lore is still discussed today.

“Jesus makes no distinction about a person based on race, gender, socioeconomic circumstance or locale. All are members of his family without bias in any direction.”

In today’s verse, Jesus reminds us that “all” are part of God’s family. Even the “least of these.” Jesus makes no distinction about a person based on race, gender, socioeconomic circumstance or locale. All are members of his family without bias in any direction. Jesus cares about the person and their hearts. Jesus knows our life circumstances and chooses to help us in spite of our pasts. Jesus knows our hidden terrors and past disappointments. Jesus knows our blind spots and continues to accept us. Jesus is very protective of his flock and cautions us to treat everyone, as he does, equally. He asks us to treat people, as he does, with an awareness of people’s life circumstances.

“Jesus wants us to treat people as if we are talking to Jesus, himself.”

Many times we meet people who are troubled and we turn away. Or we hear about a person from another walk of life and make our judgments without knowing the person. We see people who don’t wear the best clothes, have the latest technology or speak differently, and we judge. We see a homeless person late at night and assume danger. Hidden beneath these non-conforming images are people of Jesus’s family. Jesus wants us to treat people as if we are talking to Jesus, himself. We can do this by ridding ourselves of what we want to see and move to what is there.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

— John 3:8

WINDS OF COINCIDENCE

I met Wendy Paige at Drew Theological School, a tall and powerful black minister, with an up-front spirit. She was exceedingly friendly and enthusiastic, a powerful orator of the Christian faith. She came to me one day to ask about coincidences that were happening in her life. “Do you have them?” she asked. I said, “All the time.” We continued the conversation with her asking how I knew it was God speaking to me through those seeming coincidences. I replied, “I am a math person, so I used the laws of probability to discern. If it happens once it could be a coincidence, but when it happens many times it is the Spirit.” These moments of unusual events were common to both of us.

“The Spirit spoke with her, because she spoke with the Spirit.”

Wendy would pray frequently, and frequently she would get an answer. An answer that was always better than she’d expected. And sometimes an answer that was revealed in a way so unusual that it was startling. Many people would tell her that such an answer was just a coincidence. But the events continued and they filled her faith. Her question to me was more of confirmation; she knew the answer, it was the Spirit. The Spirit spoke with her, because she spoke with the Spirit. Her experiences over time overwhelmed the outside world’s knowledge. The physical world could not explain these events, other than to say they were coincidences.

“Jesus says that when we live with the Spirit, we see God at work.”

Jesus, near the end of the dialogue with Nicodemus, explains this phenomenon by comparing it to the wind. Jesus says that when we live with the Spirit, we see God at work. We see God’s influence in our lives. We see that the events of our lives are not just random, but are a well-crafted response to our prayers. We begin to expect them. We begin to see them not as our desired answers, but as reflecting God’s desire for us. They are always unusual and very personal. Answers that only we can recognize. Answers that are so extraordinary and intimate they defy the laws of probability.

“Wendy felt the wind. She felt it because she answered the compelling voice of the Spirit.”

Wendy felt the wind. She felt it because she answered the compelling voice of the Spirit. She prayed and engaged in a spiritual dialogue. A deep and rich dialogue with God. Her heart was ready for answers and they appeared. Maybe through a random Bible verse. Or maybe through an innocent conversation. Or even maybe by an unexpected visitor. They were always unusual, deeply personal, and responsive. They were real for Wendy. The answers connected together over time defied the laws of probability. The coincidences became overwhelmed by math.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

— Luke 23:46

COMMENDING OUR SPIRIT TO GOD

James Cash Penney, the founder of the  JCPenney stores, was nearly bankrupt as a result of the 1929 stock market crash. In fact, he had to use his own personal assets to make payroll for a period of time. For nearly thirty years he had built his company from one store in Wyoming to a large chain of fourteen hundred stores. The financial toll weighed heavily on his health, and he eventually checked himself into the Battle Creek Sanitarium. While attending a church service at the sanitarium and after hearing the hymn “God Will Take Care of You,” Penney became a Christian.

“His last years were spent helping others, which was the model for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

Penney returned to run his business, and after successfully guiding it through the Great Depression and World War II, he left active management of the company. He turned his sights to giving back. He fought for laws to have all stores closed on Sunday. He set up the J. C. Penney Foundation, an organization that supported human rights, community economic empowerment, government accountability, and environmental sustainability. He was one of the founders of 40Plus, an organization that helped those over forty find jobs. His last years were spent helping others, which was the model for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“When we commend our spirit to God, we release our bonds from a life of worries.”

In the Book of Luke Jesus’s last human act was to commend his spirit to God. An act that created a model for others to follow. An act in which we give up our pursuit of earthly gains and turn to helping God and our neighbors. An act that changes our focus. An act that moves our spirit to a different purpose, one of giving. When we commend our spirit to God, we release our bonds from a life of worries. We begin to be able to focus on a different path. Our business lives change from fretting to hopefulness. We change from restless sleep to a passion for waking up. Our step is quicker and our hearts are lighter. We have released ourselves.

“We move to a spirit that keeps life in perspective.”

Penney dropped his worries and realized that a bigger force than himself was involved. He began to understand that business cycles occur here and there. He grew to know that all he could do was work hard. He grew to know that worry was an impediment. As the country recovered, so did his business. The recovery became an afterthought, and after he had safely guided his business home, he moved to a new mission. In all of our lives we will have successes and failures. Some as a result of our efforts and some not. When we commend our spirit to God, we change our perspective from worry to hopefulness and helpfulness. We begin to recognize what we can do better and who the real creator of our success is. We move to a spirit that keeps life in perspective.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.”

– Matthew 7:14 (NRSV)

TAKING THE NARROW ROAD

In business and in life, it’s the little things that make a difference. Many of us in business do what we think we should do or are asked. For some reason it doesn’t work out as well as we hoped. Inevitably it takes longer and there are a few more things to do. It is in this spot where we have to decide between quality and quantity.  Do we finish our task because time is telling us to move on or do we dig deeper to resolve those nagging feelings? This spot reminds me of a quote by Orson Welles who said, “The enemy of art is time.” It is here  that we have to decide if we are to move on or eliminate obstacles like time. Great art or great business decisions require quality not quantity. How often do we say, “I can’t do any more” and move on? It is this decision that separates greatness from just being good.

The founders of Airbnb were struggling, they were running out of money and homestays were not coming as they had planned. Everything had been thought out. The website was built and the homeowners discovered. A few customers had caught on, but gaining traction at the rate they had hoped wasn’t occurring. It was here that the founders stepped back to figure out why. They decided to step back and talk to many customers and homeowners to identify how they could get better. They stayed in people’s homes and interviewed customers. The founders manned the helped desk to find out more. What they discovered was that a traveler wants more than just a place to stay. They wanted to experience the city where they were staying. In turn the founders expanded their efforts to create a five-star experience in every stay. They made their site easier, became more accommodating to the home owner and began suggesting places to visit when you arrived at your destination. As we all know the  Airbnb business took off. They tried one more thing, they dug deeper into the customer’s needs and discovered another level. They didn’t quit – they stepped back.

“Through just a little more effort we unlock the solutions to our faith and business lives.”

Jesus implores us both in our faith and business lives to work harder, to take the narrow road. Jesus points to a path that is harder than what we want to do. Like a good coach, Jesus is telling us try just a few more things. Pressing on we discover around a turn a deeper level of understanding. Through just a little more effort we unlock the solutions to our faith and business lives. Instead of just being busy, we become successful. Jesus asks us to dig a little deeper and we find a life we desire.

“Jesus suggests we avoid becoming slaves to our to do lists and focus on what counts and worry about quality.”

For many of us, we are pressed for time. Our to do list piles up if we tarry too long on a project. We are besieged by an endless list of tasks. Jesus suggests we avoid becoming slaves to our to do lists and focus on what counts and worry about quality. Jesus wants us to trade off the trivial for the important, to avoid distractions and not stop until we find the answer that settles our souls. Many times, it is around a corner that looks steep and hard. But when we take the time and find it, life becomes revealed and we are for the moment contented. We no longer feel defeated or harried. We have climbed a long hill. To rephrase Orson Welles quote, “The great enemy of art is time.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

– Matthew 11:29 (NRSV)

FOLLOWING JESUS TO A NEW IDENTITY

My friend Bill, who left the corporate world to help the poor for the Catholic church in the northwest part of the United States, called me in distress. He had left a well-paying job in the corporate world for two years to help those less fortunate. Upon his return he was finding it hard to find a new job. Many interviewers didn’t understand why he left and many were put off by the fact he was sixty. He kept meeting dead ends in all his searching. Confused by doing good and then being rebuffed had created a crisis in his life. He didn’t need the job for money, he just wanted to belong again.

His self-esteem plummeted and he began to feel worthless. His searching kept leading him to disappointment.

Over the next two years, he searched for a place to work. He prayed on a regular basis. He even went away for a week to a retreat center looking for his answer. He wanted desperately to belong again. His self-esteem plummeted and he began to feel worthless. His searching kept leading him to disappointment.

We talked on a weekly basis at an appointed time and during these, I would often probe him about why a job in his old world was so important. He would reply, because it was his identity. For years he had worked hard to provide for his family and built a wonderful resume. But now he had lost that ability.

He kept waiting for Jesus to answer his prayer of finding him a job.

During these two years, Bill would still help others. In fact, he helped a group of Nuns create a shelter for pregnant women. Many days he put in many hours painting and fixing. Within this community he found acceptance. But not what he wanted, he wanted to go back to his old life. Often times I would tell him how much I admired his caring and giving efforts to others. I would relay to him that when I told his story to other people, they became amazed at his giving nature and life. For two years, this wasn’t enough for Bill. He kept searching and not finding. Eventually, he decided to become an EMT, while he waited for a new job. He kept waiting for Jesus to answer his prayer of finding him a job.

Typical of Bill, he was one of the best students. In spite of some physical limitations he was able to stay up with the younger people in his class. He began to thrive. Many times, I would get a text from him, “I can’t talk tonight, I am going out with my classmates.” I was used to this, as many of the people I help, eventually find their answer and move on to their new life. It is a very familiar process. They search and then they find their answer.

Later, in one of our final conversations, Bill relayed to me that he had prayed for an answer many times. But he kept looking in the wrong spots.

Later, in one of our final conversations, Bill relayed to me that he had prayed for an answer many times. But he kept looking in the wrong spots. The answer to what was his identity, didn’t lie in the old spot of the corporate world, but in helping make the world a better place. Jesus had been answering his prayers, he just hadn’t paid attention.

Jesus asks us to take his yoke. Jesus reminds us that he is “gentle and humble of heart,” and that his yoke is light. How many times do we all pray for something that we want, but Jesus gives us something different. A life plan that soothes our soul and gives us meaning. Many times, it is about following a new path and away from the familiar. A path of uncertainty, but on this path, we become guided by a “Gentle and humble heart.”

Bill is peaceful now and I miss our weekly calls. But I am happy that Bill is on path of giving.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Go out and stand on the mountain, before the Lord . . . and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence”

— 1 Kings 19: 11–12

HEARING THE SHEER SILENCE OF GOD

A friend of mine, Bob, was in the process of selling an important asset. The sale would be a crucial part of his future and success. Bob was determined to be a good seller. To not hide anything from the buyer and provide the buyer with a product that exceeded their expectations. Bob responded faithfully to all the buyer’s requests and went further than his lawyer or broker expected him to go. But the requests didn’t end. After each obstacle was resolved, another popped up. A meeting was scheduled between all the parties to find a clear path to resolution.

“He prayed for God to give him the wisdom to make the right decisions with his business and to help his wife.”

The day before the meeting Bob’s wife announced that the doctor had found something during her checkup that needed a radiologist’s opinion. The appointment with the radiologist was scheduled at the same time as my friend’s important meeting. His wife told him to go to the meeting and she would be okay. Bob felt besieged. How can I ignore my wife? But how can I secure our future? He prayed throughout the day. He prayed for God to give him the wisdom to make the right decisions with his business and to help his wife.  Then he went to the meeting and his wife went to the radiologist.

During the meeting, there were many questions. Tough questions. My friend answered them all honestly. At one point the broker for the buyer became unrelenting. Bob felt a spirit of resolve fall over him and became quietly serious. Normally Bob’s mannerisms were friendly and engaging, but now he became dead serious and firm. Looking firmly into the eyes of the buyer’s broker and without hesitation he stated firmly and in a quiet tone, “If there is a problem, I will pay to have it resolved. It is what I have done to this point and will continue to do.” He left the meeting wondering about his wife and at the same time about the state of this important sale.

“A wave of joy overcame him. While Bob had waited in silence, God had answered his prayers.”

At home he sat in his favorite chair and waited in silence. A short time passed and he got a call. The broker said, “It is done, you have done everything and had no more to do. The sale is going forward.” Shortly after, his wife called and stated that the radiologist had found nothing serious and she would need some minor medical attention. My friend rested. A wave of joy overcame him. While Bob had waited in silence, God had answered his prayers. No great bell was rung, no fireworks,  the quiet winds of life had brought his answer. Life was back in balance.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“. . . just as the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

— Matthew 20:28

SERIOUS AND FOCUSED ON BEING A SERVANT

I remember him from early in my career. Don was the CEO’s chief assistant. I also remember that he never used the power of his title to accomplish his tasks. When he came to a meeting to discuss an item, he was focused and serious. Don’s goal was resolution: How could he help? Over time he was sought out by all of us for help. He was calm, insightful, and asked good questions. He knew his role, to help the company. Seldom was the solution about him; his only concern was solving the problem.

Don helped us get many things done. His contacts and relationships could broker many solutions. His reputation transcended the title he owned. His day was spent going from meeting to meeting. Sometimes one-on-one meetings, sometimes large meetings. Don waited to hear everyone’s point of view. His solutions came in the form of questions. He would say things like “What would you think if we did this?’” or “How about trying that?” Don could go anyplace in the company and be well received.

“Jesus knew his role, to help humankind and ultimately to pay the highest price for humankind.”

Notice in today’s verse that Jesus refers to himself as the son of man, not the boss of man. This perspective of servitude opened many doors for Jesus. Jesus knew his role, to help humankind and ultimately to pay the highest price for humankind. All of his activities were serious and focused on this goal. Throughout his short period of service, three years, he touched many. He performed miracles. He healed the sick and comforted the poor. Overtime, his reputation grew and became sought out by others. Jesus developed a great reputation.

His reputation was so good, Jesus could borrow a donkey for entry into Jerusalem. For his final staff meeting called the Last Supper, he was able to secure a room at no charge. In fact, his burial tomb was given to him by a rich merchant. His actions of service got many things done and, as with Don, allowed him to go into many places.

“When we serve, where are our hearts?”

When we serve, where are our hearts? Are they set to help or express our desires? Do we have a clear view of our true role and do we stay focused on that role? When we do, doors open up. Not all will agree with us, but all will welcome us. In the marketplace, producing honorable results should be our primary goal. Each of us has a role to play in this, and when we stay within that role we succeed. The hardest part is remembering we are a servant in our roles.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

When we work, does it have to be our way?

How do each of us serve in our work?

How do we search for the common good?

Jesus in silence

“Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’”

— Luke 17:19

USING FAITH TO GO ON OUR WAY

It is easy to say, “Get up and dust yourself off.” Many of us have heard this encouragement. But it isn’t so easy to do. Perhaps we have had a major financial setback or are struggling with a relationship. In those silent moments by ourselves, we twist and we turn, searching for answers. We head down various mental paths and look in each corner. Perhaps we cry out and silently yell it’s not fair. And it probably isn’t. It is true we should just get up and dust ourselves off and go on. But it isn’t that easy for everyone.

Faith is like that. Sometimes it’s easy to go into the building of faith and hit the elevator for the top floor and just arrive. But other times in our lives we have to investigate every room in the building of faith. To find out what’s there and see if it helps us. We have to walk up each stair and see what’s on the next floor. With the spirit of Christ in us, we know the answer is on the top floor, but we have to press back our doubts by exploring. Others may say, “Just have faith.” But these journeys help us have faith. They allow us to cross off what doesn’t work. They allow us to let our heart catch up with our intellectual knowledge.

Our faith will make us well. But we have to first move to that place where we can get up and be on our way.

Jesus says, “Move on. Your faith has made you well.” Jesus has to say that, because it is right. Our faith will make us well. But we have to first move to that place where we can get up and be on our way. It is at this point where we have to decide that our progress must be forward. Our investigation has to propel us to a conclusion. It is faith that we can hang on to after we have investigated every floor, but the investigation process itself can be revealing and strengthen our faith. It is when this strengthening has occurred that we can truly get up and be on our way.

“The journey in the inner building of our self with Jesus will reveal and teach us to have faith.”

With Jesus in our hearts, we can have confidence that our journey will be well. Regardless of our inner investigation, all paths will lead back to faith. All thoughts of ill will will disappear. All thoughts of self-pity will wither away. We will return. The journey in the inner building of our self with Jesus will reveal and teach us to have faith. Jesus will be with us on this journey regardless of our despair. And when we are done, we will be able to get up and be on our way.

Have faith!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do we do when we fall down?

How do we restore our faith?

How long should it take?

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

– John 1:12

FINDING SELF-WORTH

Many of us in the marketplace are pushed to believe our value rests in our net worth not our self-worth. We spend a lifetime surrounded by the message that our value lies in how much we earn, what are car looks like, or if we have the latest and greatest. We never seem to reach that golden ring these messages tell us exists. The effect of all this is a reduction in confidence and self-worth.

“Many of us in the marketplace are pushed to believe our value rests in our net worth not our self-worth.”

We are influenced subtly by our culture, our friends, our family, and even our thought life. They all conspire both innocently and purposefully to undermine our confidence. As we continue our journeys, we find ourselves stuck in a world that lionizes size-two Hollywood starlets or people with ten thousand-square-foot homes. We over analyze ourselves and find we don’t match up to these images. The overly analytical critique sears our souls and drives us deeper in the wrong direction.

Like all formulas, if the input is wrong, the answer is wrong. We have all heard the expression “garbage in garbage out.” In many of my counseling sessions I hear the silent voice that says, Why don’t they want me? But I see a different picture in these people. I see bright and enthusiastic people who want to lead a good life. God sees the same thing and says so in Genesis 1:27, where it states “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the Image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This is a powerful assertion of the value God places in each of us. We are like God.

“We need to reach down and change the input from our own to God’s.”

So how do we from the marketplace defend ourselves from our own overly critical analyses and cultural influences? We receive Jesus and believe in his name, as the Book of John advises us. But we also have to live out this inheritance both internally and externally. We need to reach down and change the input from our own to God’s. We are made in God’s image. Our outward expressions to our neighbors should simulate this same act of love that God expresses to us. At Starbucks, build up the life of the barista and from our hearts wish him or her a good day. At the grocery store thank the clerk for their hard work. Never tire of doing good with a heart formed in love. Both the inner expressions to ourselves and the outer expressions to others will gird our self-worth. Over time the importance of net worth will fade and be replaced with the value of self-worth. Our priorities will change, and life will seem brighter. We are all children of God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Where do we spend our money? Is our credit card statement a reflection of our self-worth or net worth?

Do we allow others to make us forget how God thinks about us?

Do you treat everyone like a child of God?