“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:7

FAITH AND DISTRACTIONS

Our faith is something that must be nurtured and sought after. The world reaches out to us and pulls away through life’s temptations, setbacks, and imagined responsibilities. At times the world will convince us that God isn’t with us, that he’s just some imaginary human construct. We will begin to blame others for our problems and to seek easier paths. But it is at exactly this spot that we should turn from our human instincts and dig deeper into our faith.

The recognition of the sovereign nature of God ebbs when we pay too much attention to the ways of the world and give in to despair. Faith must be practiced and nurtured despite our present condition, not because of it. There are few roads that are easy with faith. Jesus explains this, with a call to stay steady with our faith, when he says, “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

In life, it’s the little things that make a difference. Our faith lives are similar. For instance, many of us in business do what we think we should do or are asked to do, and then 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 than we’d expected. It is in this spot where we must 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 I used many times in my career, “The enemy of art is time.” Likewise, our faith life can become the victim of the suffocating drumbeat of time. It is here that we must decide if we are to move on or stop worrying so much about obstacles like time. Great art and our faith both require quality not quantity. How often do we say “I can’t do any more” or “I don’t have the time to nurture my faith” and move on? It is this internal decision that separates great faith from faith that is just an afterthought.

Our faith is in investment of ourselves in combination with God. God is not a genie that solves our problems alone. Our God is a loving God whom desires a relationship with us. Like any relationship it requires mutual acts of support. There are times when we need more from God than we can give, and God responds. Other times God only needs to stand by and watch us succeed. This continuum of faith varies from moment to moment.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be known to God.”

– Philippians 4:6

THE SIMPLE ELEMENTS OF PRAYER

Prayer is an essential part of developing a strong faith. Through prayer we converse with the sacred and begin a dialogue about our life. We either hear or see responses. At first there might not appear to be answers, but over time they begin to become revealed through the events of our lives as we move deeper in our relationship with God. Our prayer life expands and we stretch out the boundaries of prayer.

As we go deeper, prayer becomes a regular part of our day and our faith is strengthened. We also begin to expand the context of our prayers, leading to a richer prayer and faith life. We begin to see that there are four elements of prayer that can be said as individual prayers or in many cases included together in a single prayer. They are:

  • Prayer of Adoration to God. This element reflects our faith in God and the sovereign nature of God. It is also a praising of God. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see it expressed as “Hallowed be thy name.”
  • Prayer of Petition. This is where we request and ask for God’s help. Simple words expressing our needs. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see this expressed as “Give us our daily bread.”
  • Prayer of Intercession. It is here we are being a good neighbor. We are asking for life assistance for a friend. We are asking God to intercede on behalf of our neighbor. In the verse “Give us our daily bread,” by using the word “us” we are not only asking for ourselves, but also for our neighbor. Prayers of intercession that stand alone usually contain a more direct request.
  • Prayer of Thankfulness. This element of prayer is when we take the time to thank God for his involvement in our lives and reflects our gratitude for all that God has done for us.

God wants us to pray with our hearts. Accomplishing this requires an emptying of our thoughts or emerging somehow into a state where we are uniquely alone with God. A place that soothes us and frees our minds for this sacred conversation, centering ourselves to only be focused on God. It is our heart that God wants, free of daily tasks and our to-do list. Many people find a quiet, comfortable place to pray, a routine in the morning that moves them away from the world.

God wants us to be in prayer continuously, and he wants to hear our desires. Being overly prescriptive with our prayer life can make it rigid and meaningless. There are only a few guidelines that I can offer to people who ask me how to pray.

  • As it is in the Lord’s Prayer, I suggest always starting with a praising of God. In this statement we recognize the sovereignty of our relationship with God.
  • Always treat prayer as a sacred act.
  • Ensure that you are in a place and mindset that will be free of distractions.
  • Pray through Jesus and recognize the redeeming aspect of Jesus.
  • Pray truthfully—God knows the truth about you already!

Praying seems hard at first. We ask what we should pray for? How do we pray? By following these simple steps we can engage in a healthy prayer life. While we should pray in desperate situations, we should also remember to pray with thanksgiving. God wants a full relationship with us, not just in those times of stress, but in all our joys as well. When we pray as if we are an open book we allow a richer conversation with God. A powerful faith is developed through a rich prayer life that in turn honestly observes God’s response.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’”

— Matthew 8:27

WHAT SORT OF MAN IS THIS?

Jesus is sleeping in the cargo hold of a boat that also contains his disciples. From seemingly nowhere the wind picks up and the seas begin to roil. The waves begin to become so large that they threaten to swamp the boat. The disciples begin to panic. Trembling, they awake Jesus and with terror in their voices say, “Lord save us! We are perishing.” Jesus arises and rebukes the disciples by saying, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Immediately Jesus stops the wind and calms the sea. Upon seeing this,  the disciples say, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

What is amazing in this story is the lack of faith of the disciples. By now they had witnessed healing and other miracles by Jesus.  They had seen demons cast out, had heard the wonderful Sermon on the Mount, and seen destitute lives changed. We can well wonder, how could they still doubt that they would be saved from the sea? How had they let their human fears override their knowledge of who Jesus was? We in turn can wonder, would we be any different?

Jesus replies with, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” His reply contains a universal message about the difficulty of faith. In spite of all they had seen from Jesus, they still allowed their worldly fears to swamp their faith, just as with us, despite all we have seen we allow ours to do the same.

Each time Jesus visits any of us we are left with amazement, many times wondering why we doubted.

Also in this story is a universal question of “What sort of man is this?” Who is Jesus that he calms the wind and seas? Who is Jesus that we can have confidence in him as our savior? While the answer to this question exceeds all humankind’s understanding, we are shown on a regular basis Jesus’s value to humankind. We are told to have faith, because we should. This is easy to mouth, but a simple platitude isn’t enough. Faith, in part, is experiencing and knowing what sort of man this is.

Jesus never gives up on us and will always pursue us to have faith.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

— Acts 2:46–47

HOW DO CHRISTIAN BUSINESS PEOPLE DEVELOP BELONGING?

Everyone wants to belong to something that is good. It is part of the human condition to want to be a member of a group that has meaning. We search for this in book clubs, in the companies we work for, in our neighborhoods, and within the church. When we belong to a group that is good, we anticipate the meet-ups, we immerse ourselves in helping the other members, and we care. We want to be part of something that important.

When we recruit people to work at our companies, we try to convince them that we are a good group. We have them meet others in our company. We work hard to get them to feel they belong.

Belonging turns into believing. Believing in the principles of the group. Believing in our company. Believing in our book club. Believing in our Christian faith. Believing comes over time; belonging comes first.

“Jesus is not a condemning Lord. Rather Jesus gives life and enriches our lives.”

Many Christian evangelists skip over the belonging part in the process of helping a person to live his or her life through Christ. They espouse the notion of “believe or be doomed.”  Jesus is not a condemning Lord. Rather Jesus  gives life and enriches our lives. Jesus frequently says the word “with.” He strives to bring us into relationship. Jesus knows we are on a journey to find faith together. And the groups that we belong to are there to help us with this journey.

Today’s verse discusses the fellowship of the first-century Christian life. These events occurred shortly after Easter and the passage describes the sense of belonging to the early Christian community. The verse describes a happy, generous, and well-respected group. They were filled with goodwill and had the goodwill of others. Who wouldn’t want to belong to this group?

“With the help of Jesus, we help others to believe.”

From this small early Christian community grew a group that is today the largest in our world. As Christians we all evangelize; in the way we live, in the way we act, and in the way we talk. With the help of Jesus, we help others to believe. And creating a sense of belonging is the first step.

Creating a sense of belonging in others starts with universal acceptance and affirmation of their humanity. Making others feel welcomed starts with listening. Followed by our own commitment to Christian values that is shown not through words, but by action. By listening we give people a voice. BY walking through our lives with a rigorous adherence to the words of Christ we create a model to follow. Doing both creates in others a sense of belonging.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we make other people feel welcomed?

Do we let them explore our values at their own pace?

What voice will they have after they join?

“ One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

— John 9:25

THE “AMAZING” STORY OF JOHN NEWTON’S JOURNEY TO WRITING AMAZING GRACE

John Newton, the former slave ship captain, wrote the famous Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.” Included in the lyrics is the verse from John 9:25, “Was blind, but now I see.” However, John Newton’s past was very checkered. He was known for extraordinarily bad language. One sea captain considered his vocabulary the worst of any seaman he had encountered. He frequently was disobedient and  even was forced to spend time as a slave in Sierra Leone. In spite of his life’s circumstances he continued to be drawn to the sea. Because he was an extraordinarily good seaman, his faults were often overlooked. He endured a number of close calls at sea, where his ships were either close to sinking or in such bad weather that men were washed overboard. Even though he had turned away from God, during these difficult moments he would still cry out, “God have mercy.”

It was through these moments that Newton began to turn to a different life. He became associated with the early Methodist movement in England and became well known to John Wesley. Wesley encouraged him to write and become a pastor. Later he became a rector at a small Anglican church. While at this church he helped write hymns. Included with these hymns was the song “Amazing Grace.” Later in his life,Newton became an avowed abolitionist and was a good friend of William Wilberforce, the person largely responsible for ending the slave trade in England.

“Overtime, the continued proximity to death and a restless heart forced him deeper into his relationship with Christ.”

John’s conversion occurred over a number of years. He would come close to turning his life around and then fall back. Overtime, the continued proximity to death and a restless heart forced him deeper into his relationship with Christ. And then it became inevitable and it eventually took hold. It was at this point that he was no longer blind, but could see. The words to “Amazing Grace” were many years off, but he could see.

“Jesus’s healing of the blind man symbolizes our own moment of seeing and giving in to having a relationship with God.”

Today’s verse is about a blind man Jesus healed. The local religious elite, seeking to discredit Jesus, were questioning the blind man, whose sight had been restored. Today’s verse is the blind man’s answer to his questioners. Jesus’s healing of the blind man symbolizes our own moment of seeing and giving in to having a relationship with God. Like Newton we fight back and sometimes have to endure a great deal of hardship before we see. We struggle at times to pursue this relationship with God. Sometimes we are in and at other times we are out. But God persists through Jesus to bring our sight back. We get close and fall back.

Then at some moment the events of our lives tip over our resistance and we are now no longer blind.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How is our story similar to John Newton’s?

What holds us back from accepting Jesus?

When do we see?

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

— Romans 7:19

FOUR WAYS TO RESOLVE THE INNER CONFLICT OF DOING GOOD

When I first read this verse, I was stunned. How could Paul think this about himself? The Apostle Paul was the earliest Christian writer of the Bible. Inspired by God, he is credited with thirteen of the books in the New Testament. He was largely responsible for starting the Christian movement outside of Jerusalem. His travels to spread the Gospel were extensive, dangerous, and met with skepticism wherever he went. How could this man of extraordinary faith write this verse?

“We all want to think of ourselves as good, but are inherently disappointed when we aren’t.”

In reflection, I realized that Paul is answering one of the most basic questions each of us has with ourselves. We all want to think of ourselves as good, but are inherently disappointed when we sometimes aren’t. We don’t always do the things we know we should, and later in our internal dialogue we question our actions. We go to an important business meeting or interview, full of hope on what we want to accomplish and say, and at times we fall short of being perfect in doing what we hoped. This is the dilemma Paul is talking about. How come we can’t  always be who we know we should be?

The verse gives us hope in the natural human condition, that we all know good. The test is converting this knowledge into action. When we are in an interview, we hope to get the job. But when confronted with a tough question, do we answer completely honestly or do we shade our answers slightly? It is the lure and need of the job that begins to twist us away. Our failures arise from things we want and have the freedom we have to spin the truth to get them. Perhaps it’s also taking a shortcut when no one else is looking. Perhaps it’s massaging some numbers to make our projects look better. It is these points that cause us sometimes to drift into not being who we want to be.

“Through a life of connected prayer and reflection, Jesus helps us move away from our internal conflicts.”

There are many solutions to this dilemma.

  • The first is to become more aware of these temptations.
  • The second is to see the benefit to our reputation of being honest over the long term.
  • The third is to recognize that our responsibility is to helping others.
  • Lastly and most importantly is the realization that we are inherently good and that our feeling of personal want in these situations needs to diminish to create this greater sense of self-worth.

Even Paul, the greatest of all evangelists, struggled with this concept. It is the natural human condition.

Through a life of connected prayer and reflection, Jesus helps us move away from our internal conflicts.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How often do we reflect on our inner condition?

What are the things we do to diminish our goodness?

How do we strengthen ourselves to avoid the natural state of want?

“Whatever your task, put yourself into it, as done for the Lord and not for people, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.”

— Colossians 3:23–24

BELAY AND WORKING FOR THE LORD

In early 2017, I sat at my desk frustrated with the results of my efforts to find quality help in finishing my book and getting my website started, along with my Christian advisory services. It wasn’t that the work being completed was poor in quality; my frustration was that it didn’t have that extra effort. The work given to me was lacking the zeal of commitment. In spite of my willingness to give people the creativity to complete tasks as if they were their own, their work lacked the added value that makes things great.

My goal wasn’t to be good, but to produce the best. While I knew where I was going, I didn’t have the ability to be the best I could be without help. I decided to scrap all my plans and start over. I began by searching the Internet with a stronger focus and looking for Christian-based help. There I found my answer, a Christian-based business called BELAY. They had all the resources I needed to get my website fixed, an assistant to help, and people who desired to be the best.

At first I was skeptical, even stating to my BELAY contacts, Lucy and Meg, “I am used to great performers after working for many years with top companies like Foot Locker and Yankee Candle. Can you achieve this standard?” They didn’t reply with heavy salesperson talk. They replied with a thoughtful plan. A plan that produced in six weeks a world-class website, an assistant that was as strong as I had experienced in my previous jobs, and a direction that gave me hope that I was going to be successful.

“We don’t just work, we work for the Lord.”

What was the difference? My new assistant from BELAY, Kristina, explained it to me one day. “We don’t just work, we work for the Lord.” A simple explanation that spoke volumes. Instead of just getting work done, I noticed a warm assertiveness that insisted on doing things the right way. Polite and firm help that raised our level of performance. I noticed that they understood what I wanted, as a Christian author and advisor, even when it was still vague to me.

As we were approaching the launch date for the new website, I noticed an extra effort. Things I hadn’t thought of got done without my asking. E-mails from Kristina and Erica, the webmaster, would appear at one in the morning and later that day at five in the morning. Things got done. They were working for the Lord Christ.

“Each day I am inspired, because I work with great people…those committed to not just doing the job, but working for our Lord Christ.”

Later, as I was looking for an editor, I applied the same thought, “Find a devoted Christian.” I did, Richard Willett, who edited my manuscript in half the time others had quoted. Changes in my writing were made that improved it without fanfare. The publisher of my book, Jesus and Co., upon receiving the manuscript expressed high satisfaction in the editor’s work.

Each day I am inspired, because I work with great people. My answer was on the Internet, in the form of Jesus and those committed to not just doing the job, but working for our Lord Christ.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we work as if we are working for Jesus?

Why is Jesus the difference in our mindsets?

Are there areas in our work today where we could go from good to great?

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit . . .”

— Luke 12:35

DRESSED FOR ACTION

On 9/11 two planes hit the World Trade Center, causing them to collapse. When they collapsed, thousands of lives were lost and our country was thrown into mourning. It was a great national tragedy. Not only were lives lost in the towers, but the buildings surrounding the Trade Center were crushed. One of the buildings was the Verizon communications center. In that moment Foot Locker lost its ability to communicate with our four thousand stores throughout North America. Immediately we were in a position of mourning for our neighbors and had lost the ability to run our business.

“Bill was always prepared and dressed for action.”

Bill Johnson, who worked for me and was in charge of our communications network, was ready. I called him by cell phone and asked him what his plans were for recovery. Bill informed me that he had already put his plan in place and by eight the next morning we would have full communications online again. This was classic Bill. He constantly surprised all of us with his ingenuity and thoughtfulness. Regardless of the situation, Bill was always prepared and dressed for action. As he had told me, the next morning our multibillion-dollar business was running normally.

“Jesus tell us, always be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. We never know what each day will bring.”

Jesus tells us to be prepared for anything. Jesus tell us, always be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. We never know what each day will bring. It could be joy or unique sorrow. But if we are to react well, preparation must be a lifelong commitment. Whether in our business, personal, or spiritual life, this should be how we think, live, and pray. We never know when an important event will occur. Each day is a day of possibility. Each day a sharp turn can occur. Jesus asks us to be prepared.

Two years later, the Northeast was hit with a major electrical outage. With it our corporate headquarters went dark. We had many people stranded in our building who couldn’t go home. We needed power to keep them safe. I called Bill again. He replied, “My guys are reversing the power on the phone system and you can run the building off the battery.” It didn’t surprise me this time that Bill had the answer.

As always he was prepared.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Are we prepared spiritually?

What events have been sharp turns in our lives and were we prepared?

How do we prepare on a daily basis?

“And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.”

— Matthew 21:19

DO THE FRUITS OF OUR EFFORTS PRODUCE GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE?

I was talking with the business manager of a large automobile dealership and asked him, “How many cars a month does your best salesman sell?” He replied, “Thirty a month, month in and month out.” I was stunned. That was almost one and a half each day he worked. Considering the immense amount of paperwork and government forms that had to be filled out for each car, it was even more impressive. The salesman’s name was Steve, and not only did he sell a lot of cars, but he always achieved very high customer service scores. I queried the business manager about how and why Steve was so consistent. His reply was that Steve’s steady business came almost entirely from past customers’ referrals. He had gotten to a point where he only had to provide good customer service and no longer needed to  make cold calls.

“The fruit of his efforts was a steady stream of loyal customers.”

Steve sent out birthday cards to all his customers. He advocated for them when there was a problem. He would take their cars and get gas for them. He knew everyone by first name. In short, he put his customers first. The fruit of his efforts was a steady stream of loyal customers. His fig tree bore fruit because he cared. Customer first and himself second was the only way to accomplish this amazing feat.

How many times have we felt like a salesperson just wanted to sell something to us to make his or her goals? How many times have we felt cheated because of an extra add-on charge? How many times have our interests been put last? We are left feeling used and just there for people to get our cash. Many of us walk away silently and never do business with that person or company again. The salesperson may have won that day, but lost a future customer and many referrals. For a short-term gain there is a long-term loss.

“Do we really listen to the customer or are we only interested in the sale?”

In today’s verse Jesus condemns the fig tree because it bore no fruit. It provided only leaves. Its purpose was to produce fruit, but it bore none. Many of us are guilty of this as well. We strive for that big sale. It makes our numbers good and our bosses happy. But silently we ignore the customer and in turn choke off our future. Our withered fruits become our reputation. Do we really listen to the customer or are we only interested in the sale? Would we continue buying something from someone like that, knowing we don’t come first? Jesus knew that good business is great customer service.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we listen to our customers or do we push our goals?

How many repeat sales do we get?

How do we show value to our customers?

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

—John 17:17

COLORING OURSELVES WITH TRUTH

I met Bishop Earnest Lyght at Drew University. He was the resident bishop for Drew and was frequently available to the students. When you talked with Bishop Lyght, you could feel his truth. Whatever he said, he meant. When he talked, he talked without agenda. What he believed came from his heart. Not varnished, just a humble recitation of what he believed. He said what he believed with the knowledge that he needed to know more. A conversation with Bishop Lyght was a mutual dialogue. I am sure in silent moments of prayer, he searched his heart and desired only to tell God what was right.

Bishop Lyght was one of the early black bishops of the Methodist Church. He grew up at a time when the Methodist Church was segregated. It wasn’t until 1968 that these separate entities of race were dissolved and black pastors were welcome throughout the church. In spite of this obvious racism, Bishop Lyght continued his ministry with grace and truth. He commonly spoke out for the denied. He worked hard for equal rights of women and the poor. He wrote four books. But when you sat with him, you were with him. He listened and replied. His “thank-you’s” and “good days” were sincere. If something had to be fixed, regardless of the cost, he fixed it. His heart was always centered on the truth.

“Jesus says that our word is the truth.”

Jesus says that our word is the truth. That all we do should be centered on a sanctifying truth. A truth that courses through us to be the only thing we speak and do. In today’s world of fake news,  quick thank-yous that are said as an obligation and sleight of hand, Jesus’s ancient statement still applies. When we meet someone, we should be glad to meet that person. Our thanks in our emails should be sincere. When we tell a story, we should tell the whole story. What comes from us should always be the truth.

“When we do embody the truth, we set ourselves apart. We create a tapestry of ourselves that reflects the color of truth.”

It is sometimes hard to tell the truth. It can compromise our lives. We worry and fret about the consequences. When we do embody the truth, we set ourselves apart. We create a tapestry of ourselves that reflects the color of truth. We need to be always on guard about where our stories are leading us. Is it to gain favor? Is it to get something? When we say thank you, are we sincere? When we leave out facts, what is our purpose? Each day we struggle to be sincere. Each day we struggle to say what we mean. Each day we desire to be truthful. Some days we accomplish our tasks. Some days we don’t.

I am glad to have met Bishop Lyght. He is, in fact, a beacon of light. He is one of those people we aspire to be. His truth guides us.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What is truth in conversation?

What is truth in action?

How do we feel after we have been sincere?