“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”

– Matthew 5:8

QUIETING OUR HEARTS

Saint Augustine, one of the church’s early leaders, said, “Our hearts are unquiet until they rest in God.” A powerful statement from a man who in the first half of his life engaged in much debauchery. He was a great lawyer and orator in his early life. His fame was so widespread that he was recruited to go to Rome to teach aspiring students about oratory, reading, and philosophy. During this period of his life he was in constant pursuit of the “truth,” while engaging in a life of sin. Encouraged by his mother, he met Bishop Ambrose in Milan. Through these meetings Augustine discovered that he was on the wrong path to truth. In a garden in Milan he heard a child’s voice that he felt was the voice of Jesus, and knelt to accept Jesus as the truth. From this point he became a bishop, and he went on to become a key figure in firmly establishing the church.

“Jesus asks us to not give in to our personal power, but to our hearts and the existing human desire to do good.”

Today’s verse is one of the Beatitudes delivered to us by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us in this verse to have a pure heart. A heart led to do good. One that avoids the temptation to give in to our fears, desires, and schemes. A heart that reaches outward to our neighbor. A heart that has faith in God. A heart that endures momentary losses and looks to the future. A heart of hope. Jesus asks us to not give in to our personal power, but to our hearts and the existing human desire to do good.

A friend of mine named Donna talks about this state of being as it relates to her business. After a difficult period early in her life that involved alcoholism and challenging times with her parents, Donna found Jesus. She took her savings and bought a building, and broke it up into small offices to start an “office share” business. Competing against bigger companies, she has over time built a successful business that includes numerous other buildings and many customers. She let go of her fears and thrived. At the various crossroads of this amazing story of revival, she focused on two things. The first was to make ethical decisions;the second, to listen for God’s direction. She tells me that over time at each of these crossroads, the decisions got easier and her business grew.

“If our hearts are God-centered and faithful, we will survive and more likely thrive.”

Jesus asks us to trust our heart and follow its direction. There are times when our hearts appear wrong or we are beset with worry. If our hearts are God-centered and faithful, we will survive and more likely thrive. Decisions that are made with the wrong intentions, however, will nag us in the future. Sleeping and our overall sense of being improves when we act with a pure heart. The momentary losses that sometimes stand in our way will disappear over time. Our hearts will become quiet and not restless.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we incorporate God in our decision making?

Do we fret over decisions we have made?

Can we make hard choices?

How many times in our lives do we stand at a place where all things seem lost? These times of distress are inevitable and will visit all, both the weak and the mighty.

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

– Galatians 5:22-23

FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT

A friend of mine asked me, “How do you know if a person is spirit-driven?” My response was “I look for nine things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” My friend, amazed, replied, “Boy you are smart.” Not really, I read this in the book of Galatians and use it in my daily life to observe and act.

“In the book of Galatians, Paul contrasts worldly behavior to that of those who accept Jesus.”

Scholarship suggests that Galatians could be the first book in the New Testament. It was written fifteen to twenty years after the first Easter, earlier than the four Gospels, and was the apostle Paul’s first writing in a series of thirteen books either written by Paul or ascribed to him. In the book of Galatians, Paul begins the process of describing a Christian life. Central to this was the attitude of being Christian. In the book of Galatians, Paul contrasts worldly behavior to that of those who accept Jesus. For Paul these nine traits are exhibited by those living by the spirit.

The spirit is in each of us, but do we always act in the spirit? Do we hold doors for others? Are we kind in our comments? Do we avoid gossip at work? Do we patiently listen to our customers? Do we control our anger in the workplace? It is through outward expressions that we demonstrate the spirit. Doubtless, no one ever fully exhibits these traits on a full-time basis. But if we make the traits our goal in how we live our lives, they will emerge. Perhaps slowly at first, but over time we will notice an increase in repetition. An expansion of how we desire to be viewed and how we treat others. A general reconditioning in how we view the world, our business associates and ourselves. An expansion of who we are.

“What is in our hearts is exhibited in our actions. When we truly acknowledge Jesus and God, our lives become the light before people that brings glory to our father.”

In Matthew 7:16-20 God tells us “You will know them by their fruits.” We see this again in Luke 6:43-45, paraphrased teaching us that what is in our hearts is exhibited in our actions.  When we truly acknowledge Jesus and God, our lives become the light before people that brings glory to our father (Matthew 5:16).

I encourage you to read the book of James. In James chapter 2 God teaches us that true faith has a result. True faith bears fruit. We begin to avoid the salacious and negative influences. Our priorities change. Our hearts grow sensitive. Our awareness of our surroundings increases. We will find more people smiling when we enter a business meeting. It will be easier to stand in line. A gentleness will fill our soul. We change.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do we watch on television or YouTube, is it a reflection of who we are?

Is it a reflection of the spirit?

Do we index to doubt or optimism?

Can others trust us?

TRAIL TOWNS

We have left the Great Smokie Mountains, National Park. Foiled by weather through two significant weather events that closed the roads to the park over the last week. The recent storm has left the roads closed for three days. An experienced hiker in the Smokies relayed to us that the weather has been extraordinary and the worst he has seen in 25 years of hiking. Some days the winds have blown well over 50MPH. Our comfort level is below 35MPH. Because there is little in terms of “bailout” points, we are moving on and returning to the Smokies in the fall to complete the miles we missed.

When we were able to hike in the Smokies, we were treated with spectacular vistas and wonderful hiking. During this time we reached a 6000-foot peak and slept at over one mile high. Thankfully we were able to get into town just hours before the roads closed. However, many people weren’t as lucky and got stuck up top. Some had to huddle in the 3 sided shelters or in the two public bathrooms that are on the mountain. We read the tweets from these people and prayed for their safety.

This puts us at mile 241 and headed to Tennessee. There is a term used on the trail called “hiking legs,” which means you can walk effortlessly for many miles. While better, we are still a few weeks away from having them. The younger hikers have them now and are starting to do 20 mile days.

One of the unexpected joys has been with the Trail Towns. Generally, they are spaced 20-30 miles apart. They offer a chance for a shower, laundry, food resupply, and a warm bed. In March and April, a bubble of thru-hikers appears in these towns. They are ready for us and very welcoming.

Getting to know and visit these places has been a special part of our journey. We meet the shuttle drivers who take hikers from the trail into town. Sometimes the town pays for the shuttle or other times a local church runs the shuttles. There are also paid shuttle drivers and having their phone numbers, which we do, increases our flexibility. The paid shuttle drivers charge about $15 a person. These drivers work most of the year shuttling hikers, both thru-hikers and week-long hikers. This is how they make their living.

All the towns have places for hikers to stay, ranging from hostels to B&B’s to Holiday Inn Express. When we stay in town we are recognized as thru-hikers. Even if we see people we haven’t met on the trail, they invite us to dinner. All the town people know what we are looking for, whether it’s the Post Office, supermarket, outfitters or innkeepers. They know how to help us and most do it with a smile.

These towns are closely knit and each town person knows the next. In one case a shuttle driver took us to the Post Office in Fontana, which is only opened from 12-4, and proceeded to have a fifteen-minute catch-up session with the person working at the Post Office.

We go to the Post Office in each town to move our “bounce box” along. A “bounce box” contains those items we don’t need for the next week and if you don’t open it the Post Office moves to our next stop for free!

The supermarkets stock what hikers like, such as Beef Jerky, Belvita Bars, breakfast bars and trail mix. Most of the places to stay have a laundry facility where we wash our 2 sets of clothes.

All the towns have that one place to get a great hamburger, french fries, and beer. We don’t worry about our diet, we crave calories. By now most hikers have lost 10-15 pounds and need to eat more.

The towns we have visited are, Blairsville GA., Hiawassee GA., Franklin NC., Fontana NC. (Population 7) and Gatlinburg TN. Small towns that represent the best of small-town America.

I asked one person, “What is social life like in town.” They reply it revolves around our church.

Churches abound in these towns and beside faith development, they also provide social support, shuttles, free breakfast, and trail magic. It is like going back in time when churches were the hub of a town.

When Myron Avery, the visionary who helped create the Appalachian Trail, first thought on the trail he wanted it to run through small towns. His goal was not to just hike but experience the diverse communities that existed. His belief was that a real trail experience was both in the hiking, but also in meeting people off the trail. Now that we have been out for three weeks, we understand his goal.

During our time in Gatlinburg, we met Mike. When we were in the Smokies and decided to bail out, Connie had called a shuttle driver who agreed to meet us at one of the two parking areas in the Smokies. We arrived early and met Mike. He was also looking for a ride down. So we offered him a ride. Eventually while standing and waiting, two other people needed a ride and came up.

People that were passing through kept asking if anyone needed a ride and received rides. Around 5 it was just the two of us and Mike. We went into town together. Over the two days we were in Gatlinburg we hung out with Mike.

Mike was thru-hiking as far as he could go until August. Mike looked like a mountain man, long silver hair pulled back in a ponytail and a wonderfully full beard. Mike was hiking for the same three reasons we were hiking. To become a better person with friends, physically change through hiking and grow spiritually.

Mike understood that “it’s not about the miles, but the smiles.” He was enjoying meeting new people, testing his body and looking for meaning in the woods.

Mike has slept in a tower by himself at Albert Mountain and watched both a sunset and sunrise. He walked slowly at first, but over the last few weeks has worked his way up to 10 miles a day.

He has no idea how far he will walk. But his deadline in August 31st and then go back to his life. He is one of those people who have many friends and knows many people. He will be a friend to us long after we have all left the trail.

His faith is very simple, be moral, help others and search for God. His faith is more communal than specific. He is still trying to grasp God and why God exists. He is in the investigation phase. We gave him our views and pray that it helps.

Mike smiles every day and laughs loudly.

Mike is one of the many people we meet and get to know in the trail towns.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“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?

How many times in our lives do we stand at a place where all things seem lost? These times of distress are inevitable and will visit all, both the weak and the mighty.

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”

– Matthew 19:24

WHERE ARE OUR HEARTS?

In our modern marketplace we are taught and encouraged that the measure of our success is how much we make. Corporations are rewarded for increasing their earnings per share. We all want our raises and bonuses to be bigger. For many who read this verse in Matthew it appears that Jesus is saying that if you are rich you won’t be able to go to heaven. However, if we use the discipline of historical context, we can see a different message. A message that refers more to where our hearts reside.

“Jesus desires for us to turn our hearts humbly to the purpose of God.”

In ancient Jerusalem there were two gates to enter the city. A large gate where all could pass and a smaller gate used at night to prevent entry by potentially dangerous invaders. The smaller gate was called the “Eye of the Needle.” For camels to get through this gate they had to kneel and be relieved of all their baggage. The camel was the largest beast of burden in ancient Judea, suggesting its purpose in Jesus’s analogy. The act of kneeling is a humbling act. An act of submission or honor, both in the ancient world and today. Jesus desires for us to turn our hearts humbly to the purpose of God.

A writer friend of mine engaged with a well-connected literary figure who signed a contract promising to help my friend get his book published. For a sizeable amount of money from the aspiring writer, the literary figure promised to introduce him to publishing firms. A contract was signed and the literary figure sent off an e-mail to an agent, who replied to the writer with a rejection. From the literary figure’s point of view, an introduction had been made and therefore the money was due. While technically the literary figure had provided the contracted service, he did little more than send a random e-mail to a random agent. The aspiring writer was on the hook to pay the contract fee but had little to show for his money. While everything was done legally according to the contract, the heart of the literary figure was in making money and not in providing substantial help to the writer. His actions were legally correct, but not correct within the context of intention.

“Jesus cautions us to be humble and careful in pursuing wealth…To decide between a short-term gain and being fair with our neighbors. He is saying that when we stand at this crossroads, we should follow a heart that wants to help others.”

In this story lies the point of Jesus’s message. Is our goal to make money regardless of who we affect? The lure of wealth often times puts us in this position, to decide between a short-term gain and being fair with our neighbors. In the marketplace we often stand at this crossroads. Jesus isn’t saying that being rich is bad. He is saying that when we stand at this crossroads, we should follow a heart that wants to help others. Jesus cautions us to be humble and careful in pursuing wealth. He is well aware of the temptation of riches and the delusional effect of wealth. He is advising us that the pursuit of wealth, while intoxicating, can be harmful to our hearts. Are we following the command of Galatians 5:13 to put aside our own worldly desire and instead using what we have to serve others in love?

Earning a living isn’t the issue; where our hearts reside is the issue.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we make decisions that are made with a heart that wants to help?

How do we protect our hearts from the delusions of wealth?

How do we stay humble?

MILESTONE ON THE TRAIL

This week we passed two milestones that are important in providing a sense of accomplishment. We left Georgia and entered North Carolina. The first big test of any true hike! Then two days later we got to the 100-mile mark. While small for the entire journey, they are huge for our confidence. By now at least 25% have dropped out. Hitting these marks at least told us we were accomplishing something.

The trail is both hard and eye-opening. For us, the climbs are acts of patience. The younger trail hikers storm up the mountains and we plod along. Walking with measured steps and creating benchmarks to hit on the way up. In doing this we make the 1000 foot or more climbs manageable. Sometimes each tenth of a mile is hard and that is all we can focus on. When we get to the top, we replace patience with joy. Another peak climbed. Each one gives us more confidence.

We are also seeing that life can be very simple. Sometimes our entire day is just walking, setting up our tent, and eating. In this simplicity, we see what is important. Life boils down to food, water, and shelter. But for us to be happy, that is all we need. It is fun to walk with each other, Connie and I alone for most of the day just discussing our daily goals, life, our friends, our daughters and where we are going. The days are simple and fun.

The only thing we get anxious about is where our next water supply will be. Learning to never pass by a stream close to the trail. It takes fifteen minutes to get water. We must filter, put in our electrolytes and make sure we know where the next water source will be.

At each stop, we have to be very disciplined in making sure we leave nothing behind. We always take one final look before we leave. We have heard this is so very important. In fact, we heard about a person losing his tent. Everything we carry we have to use every day.

At night in the camps or shelters, we find people. Sometimes a dozen and sometimes forty, just setting up their tents, having dinner and then socializing. A wonderful community of people who help and provide each other support.

The younger people go faster than us and some do twenty miles in a day. Some are faster than us but walk the same ten to twelve miles a day we do. We are slower, at 65 I can’t walk as fast as the twenty-year-olds, but we walk longer.

When we venture into town, we see a different world. People going to work and living lives. Many very ordinary people just living life. In the trail towns, they care for the thru-hikers.

As thru-hikers, we are very recognizable when we are in town. We wear clogs in town. The men are unshaven. The women wear bandanna’s or scarves on their heads. We all have the same clothes on from yesterday. We buy food for the next few days and rest our legs. We are minor celebrities and the town people accept us and help us.

The stories of faith keep appearing on the trail. On a tough climb this past Sunday we met Pippi Rambo, her trail name. A very large woman in her twenties that walks slowly because of her size. But every day she comes into the camp, maybe a few hours after everyone else, but she arrives.

On top of this mountain, we talked on this Sunday morning. Pippi told us that she was tired of being an inspiration to others. Because of her very large size, people come up to her and tell her she was an inspiration. She doesn’t want that; she just wants to be a thru-hiker. And she is.   Being an inspiration isn’t why she hikes. She wants to be normal and nothing more.

She is a quiet Christian, who recoils at overly zealous evangelicals who told her she must proclaim her faith every day. She is shy and doesn’t want that. She just wants to love God and help others. That is her way of proclaiming, not talking just doing.

I reminded her of the Good Samaritan that Jesus talked about. How two proclaimed pious people walked past an injured man. Even to the point of walking to the other side of the road. Followed by a person from Samaria and a different community, who helped tend to the injured man and provided him with safety. For me this was an example of our Christian attitude, we should have within us, doing versus saying is the essence of faith.

We left her with a closing comment that she was a good person. Typical of Pippi, she said we were as well.

On another morning I sat down with a man for breakfast. He had intended to hike last year. But five days before he was supposed to leave his wife came down with pancreatic cancer. His next nine months were spent nursing his wife, who died this January.

He told me he had seen things with her death that no person should ever have to see. But dutifully he fought alongside her, despite the inevitable.

He was a shaken man; over the horror, he saw and loss of a thirty-five-year companion. As we talked the emotions of that year came out in the stoic man.

Grief is a difficult companion. It knows no appropriate behavior. It let’s go slowly and comes in the nights of life; creating anguish and teardrops. It prevents a life of normalcy and its only purpose is dismay.

But slowly the tears will go away, each drop of anguish replaced by the grace of God. Until that sunny day where memories replace the grief. No one knows the time. But in a perverse way grief will heal him.

We left each other, with me praying in Jesus’ name that he would heal on his thru-hike. Perhaps a place of respite from his awful companion called grief.

We live life in segments and milestones, surrounded for a few days by wonderful people. Then we move on never sure how to say goodbye.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“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?

How many times in our lives do we stand at a place where all things seem lost? These times of distress are inevitable and will visit all, both the weak and the mighty.