praying to God

“No slave can serve two masters: for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

— Luke 16:13

WHOM DO WE SERVE?

John Tyson, CEO of Tyson Foods, has hired more than one hundred chaplains for his workforce. The chaplains deal with family issues, drug and alcohol addiction, and faith issues. The company employees regularly serve meals to those affected by disaster, under a program called “Meals That Matter.” The company has won the International Spirit at Work Award. Not all the employees are Christian, but all are accepted.

“What convinced the board to promote John was his deep faith.”

When John was younger, he dealt with his own demons. He suffered from alcoholism and was far off his path. Through his Christian faith he recovered. However, when his father was set to turn the company over to John, the board of directors had very serious concerns. Through a number of conversations, John was able to convince them of his worthiness. What convinced the board to promote John was his deep faith. He was made CEO and in 2000 implemented the chaplain program at Tyson Foods.

“Jesus points out the pitfalls of being self-interested in the workplace.”

Today’s verse is from the parable of the Dishonest Manager. In this parable Jesus points out the pitfalls of being self-interested in the workplace. The pitfalls of not serving God and your company first. It is a parable not about whether being rich is good or bad, but about whom we serve. When we work, do we keep Jesus’s tenet of “Love your God and Love your neighbor” foremost? Or do we dive deeper into our own ambitions? When we work, do we think about benefiting our customers? Do we think about fair play with our employees and other employees? Where are our hearts and whom do we serve is the critical question.

“When we serve God and our neighbor, we begin to do what we ought to do.”

The temptation to serve ourselves and money is persistent. It pervades the workplace in each day, hour, and minute. We are constantly beset with the choice of serving money or something greater. Serving money and ourselves may have significant short-term gains, but will usually end poorly. When we serve God and our neighbor, we begin to do what we ought to do.

Jesus is clear we can’t serve both. The decisions we make are always choices between one or the other. When we decide our path, we decide on wealth or God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are examples in our work life of a choice between two different goals?

How do we handle these choices?

Are we willing to forgo short-term gains for the benefit of others?

“What is impossible for mortals is possible for God”

— Luke 18:27

IMPOSSIBLE ODDS

On October 31, 2003, Bethany Hamilton was surfing along Tunnels Beach in Hawaii. As she lay on her surfboard, a tiger shark swam by and bit her arm. The shark severed the arm and left Bethany bleeding profusely in the water. People from the beach and other surfers hurried to help her get back to shore. The father of one of the surfers applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. A doctor who lived nearby rushed to help and attended to her during her trip to the hospital. She lay in the hospital with 60 percent of her blood gone. Her dad was scheduled to have knee surgery that morning, so he gave up his slot and Bethany was successfully operated on. She was only thirteen.

“With one arm, she did participate in the world surfing championship, and she won.”

While she was in recovery, she and her mother prayed. They prayed that God would use this accident for His glory. After a week Bethany was released, and she began to think about the national surfing championships that were scheduled in three weeks. She recovered with remarkable speed and continued a state of prayer. With one arm, she did participate in the championships, and she won. All with one arm and being only one month removed from her accident. She had come close to dying, and a remarkable set of events had saved her life. To have won the surfing title with one arm was even more remarkable; in fact it seemed impossible.

Jesus points out that we as mortals can view things as impossible, but to God all is possible. When we pray, we have a chance. When we pray with the right heart we can succeed. Bethany and her mom asked God to help, not for their glory, but for God’s. Theirs was a heart designed to show that in spite of overwhelming odds, God could do the impossible.

Jesus knows our wants and prayers. Jesus hears. Setting our hearts to the right attitude, and recognizing that God can surpass all human understanding, completes our prayer.

We have all had those times when it seemed like doom awaited us. We worry and we pace. What is the answer? How do we overcome? We overcome when we change the perspective from us to God. When we turn it all over to God and leave behind our deep thoughts of despair, we give God space to fix our lives. Maybe not as dramatically as Bethany Hamilton’s, but it will be dramatic. God’s answer will be unique. We will know God’s answer belongs to us. Like a great present given to us on Christmas by a close friend, it will be deeply personal. We will know it came from God.

“When we worry, our heart does not leave room for God. When we trust God, there is space for miracles.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do we do when we face obstacles, do we pray first and worry last?

What miracles have we experienced and how did we know it was from God?

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

— Luke 14:11

HUMILITY

Bob showed up at my door to fix a few things around the house. After many weeks of trying to make an appointment, Bob had been able to fit me into his very busy schedule. What I noticed quickly was his humility. A quiet man of Mohawk heritage, he lived among us without fame, but he was sought after. He looked at my work, took pictures, and was remarkably thorough with his inspection. As our visit wore on and he got comfortable with my openness, he told me about his heritage. The heritage of being one of the very few Native Americans who lived in a mostly white community. A heritage where he and his brothers served their country. A heritage that made it hard for him to understand why they had to run a gas pipeline through a besieged group of people in South Dakota. Not judgmental, but seeking answers.

“He always paid him more than what he had assumed he would, because Bob was good at his craft and humble in his requests.”

Bob worked most days for fourteen hours. As I said, he was highly sought after. His request for payment was always “Pay for my materials and whatever else you think I am worth.” The friend who referred him to me, Chris, explained that this was Bob’s way. He always paid him more than what he had assumed he would, because Bob was good at his craft and humble in his requests. I am sure this unusual way of billing exposed him to being taken advantage of by others. But I am also sure that his humility and high quality of work inspired others to overpay. Bob is humble, thorough, and busy.

“When we humble ourselves, we invite God’s recognition of our humanity.”

In today’s verse Jesus makes an important life statement. He instructs us to be careful with how we view ourselves. To not make our successes higher than they are and to be humble in who we are. My friend Dick explains it by saying, “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.” Jesus also issues a warning, that when we act higher than others, we invite downfall. When we humble ourselves, we invite God’s recognition of our humanity.

“Hubris is an untrustworthy companion, Humility can be trusted.”

Many times in my own career, after I had achieved a great success, I believed I was better than I was. Almost immediately these thoughts of greatness were erased by a calamity. In my youth I didn’t tie in the connection as well as I would later in life. But this pattern was consistent. It took me  many years to realize that my success was the result of others and God. Later in life I would make the sign of the cross on my chest to thank God for recent successes and acknowledge others for their help. Hubris is an untrustworthy companion, humility can be trusted.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we act when we succeed?

Do we take the time to recognize others and God for our successes?

“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

— Luke 14:34–35

SALT AND HONOR

When my daughter was a sophomore in college, Wells Fargo gave her a credit card. She had no income, other than what her parents sent her as an allowance. Not knowing that the credit card existed, I was surprised to receive the bill. When I asked my daughter the circumstances, she told me she had been pre-approved, and when she went to the local branch, they gave her the credit card. How did they do their income check? How did they know if she could pay them back? They didn’t, and my daughter had just learned a hard lesson. My question was, why would one of America’s largest banks be so sloppy?

“Wells Fargo had lost its saltiness and honor in the pursuit of profits at any cost.”

Wells Fargo had survived the great bank crisis of 2008, better than all the other banks. In fact, they needed no government help. This was largely attributable to their CEO, John Stumpf. His steady hand guided through and around all the pitfalls of bad lending practices in the early 2000’s. But in 2016 the bank was exposed as issuing bad credit cards to people who neither wanted them nor could afford them. Five thousand and three hundred people were fired. John Stumpf, the once great icon of responsible banking, lost his job as well. A lifetime’s impeccable reputation down the drain. Wells Fargo had lost its saltiness and honor in the pursuit of profits at any cost. A corporate culture emerged away from responsible business practices and toward treating customers like they were apples to be picked. After the news of the scandal broke, the bank’s stock fell very far.

“Jesus cautions us avoid those paths that take us away from our core value of honor.”

Jesus cautions us to retain our saltiness. Jesus cautions us avoid those paths that take us away from our core value of honor. To avoid giving in to a short-term solution that takes advantage of others. Ethically, Jesus tells us our actions will have consequences. These consequences can be severe. Severe enough that a lifetime of honorable work can be wiped out. Our honor and how we handle decisions is our salt.

“There will be times we have to let the other person win. But we will remain with our biggest asset, Our salt and our honor.”

Many of us face decisions like this every day in our work and daily life. Decisions that seem small but that, made without honor, can be disastrous. For most of us our reputation is our greatest asset. We don’t have large trust funds or a big inheritance. We earn our living based on who we are. Our honor is our salt. It is what makes us good. For all our decisions, our salt should come first. Surely there will be times when that means we lose a big sale or big client. There will be times we have to let the other person win. But we will remain with our biggest asset. Our salt and our honor.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What is our decision-making process, do we take our reputation into account?

How do we evaluate our next steps and does it include “fairplay”?

Whom do we admire that is admirable?

“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like the mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches”

— Luke 13:18–19

THE MUSTARD SEED AND OUR DREAMS WITH OUR CAREERS

Many times our dreams exceed our capabilities and credentials. We find ourselves competing in places we know little about or with people who have résumés far superior to our own. How do we succeed? How do we rise above our limitations? The answer is simple; by believing in ourselves and by working harder and doing those things others won’t do.

Every interview ended with “You don’t have enough experience.”

One of my clients, Carolina, wanted to work in a very large professional firm in NYC. Every interview ended with “You don’t have enough experience.” While she had gone to a great school and gotten great grades, they were a little shy of what would get her in the door. Finally, she accepted an internship with a large professional firm, with the knowledge that she had less than a 20 percent chance of being hired.

She still had six weeks until the internship started. She wanted to give herself the best chance of earning a full time position, so she took the time to simulate her new job by taking self-directed courses that would improve her skills. She spent hours making sure she knew every answer to every question imaginable. She would study complicated legal documents until she understood them completely.

The other interns took the time off, and Carolina was constantly fighting the temptation to do the same, but she knew her dream. She worked hard and dug into issues she didn’t understand. She wanted to be able to start the first day ready to go.

“Using the image of the mustard seed, Jesus tells us that little things can have a big impact in achieving our dreams.”

In talking about the mustard seed, Jesus compares it to the Kingdom of God, how from a little thing, the smallest of all seeds, a great tree would emerge. Using the image of the mustard seed, Jesus tells us that little things can have a big impact in achieving our dreams. Little things like extra effort. Sure, the other person has more experience, and sure, the other person has a better résumé. But hard work that is focused on our dreams is like the mustard seed. It always grows.

“Hard work is the one defining thing that separates excellence from what is merely good.”

Hard work is the one defining thing that separates excellence from what is merely good. It is the one intangible we can control. We know our dreams, and they can be lofty. But being willing to do a little more can create a mighty career.

“The mustard seed of working hard allowed her to achieve her dreams.”

We know the end of this story well. It plays out in the movies all the time. The good person struggles, tries hard, and succeeds. It’s the journey of life and of the Kingdom of God. Carolina did get her job and excelled at it. The mustard seed of working hard allowed her to achieve her dreams.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are our dreams?

What stands in our way?

How do we overcome obstacles?

How is this like the Kingdom of God?

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they might invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

— Luke 14:12–14

THE BUSINESS ETHICS OF DOING GOOD

My friend Geoff always challenges me about the purpose of doing good. He will ask, “Is it ethical to do good with the thought of being repaid?” If to do good is our only purpose, then it would seem that to think of being repaid isn’t ethical. However, Dr. Kate Ott, a leading Christian ethicist, will say that any act of doing good is doing good. Further she will reply that our early church fathers believed that all acts of doing good, regardless of intent, lead to an improvement in our character. The ethics of doing good are a complicated issue; both intent and the act of doing good are vital when we consider our motives.

Why do we invite people to dinner? Is it for camaraderie? Is it to solicit business? But will we also have dinner with those in need?

“But will we also have dinner with or do good for the less fortunate?”

Certainly a large number of dinners are designed to build community. Certainly there are those moments when the goal of an invitation is to establish a closer business relationship. But will we also have dinner with or do good for the less fortunate? This is the question from Jesus in today’s verse.

“Jesus is saying be careful with our motives when we do good.”

Jesus isn’t saying to us not to have dinner with friends or family. Jesus is saying be careful with our motives when we do good. Further, if we desire our actions to be rewarded, then he asks us simply to pursue the course of helping, because that action will result in the reward, the blessing, of a strengthening of our character and an invitation to stand alongside the righteous.

“The ethics of doing good are part of our life journey.”

The ethics of doing good are part of our life journey. Perhaps it starts with doing good for the wrong reasons, but that is still good. Perhaps over time our actions change in intent from what we want to do to what we ought to do.

When we think about ethics as a journey on which different people are at different places along the way, the concept becomes less judgmental. While it will always be about why we do good, Jesus is asserting that we should strive to do good for the right reasons.

While any act of good is still good, the movement to “why we do good” is a journey within our hearts that strengthens our ethics.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Whom do we have for dinner, and why?

Do we talk with people to gain something or to listen?

What does the word “ought” mean to us?

“Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”

— Luke 12:2

SECRETS ARE NOT SECRETS IN BUSINESS OR IN LIFE

Recently I was talking to a young person, Rebecca, whom I had helped start her career. She was working for a large, well-known company. It was a great place for her to start. In this counseling session, she mentioned that she and some other employees had recently been discussing a senior manager in an unfavorable light. I immediately stopped the flow of our conversation and focused her in on that conversation about the senior manager. I cautioned her not to engage in conversations with others in the marketplace about her personal feelings. It was dangerous. She should always assume that whatever she said would get repeated.

“In the marketplace the difference between a secret and a general announcement is that the secret gets told to one person at a time.”

In the marketplace the difference between a secret and a general announcement is that the secret gets told to one person at a time. Whatever we say, we should be willing to have everyone hear. Many times these conversations are innocent at first, but they can take on a life of their own. Many of these secrets are passed on with embellishment as well. By the time the offending person hears the story, it is louder, more critical, and certainly not reflective of the original intent. These conversations can end careers.

“Jesus implores us to consider carefully what we say.”

In today’s verse Jesus is very direct with this assertion. Jesus implores us to consider carefully what we say. But the verse is also about where our heart is. Are we sure when we say something that we have both sides of the story? Is this venting just to fit in with the crowd? How would the other person feel if he or she knew? These are questions that should be asked.

“If we feel strongly enough about something, we should have a warm and assertive conversation about it with our colleagues and superiors.”

If we feel strongly enough about something, we should have a warm and assertive conversation about it with our colleagues and superiors. When conversations like the one Rebecca mentioned occur, we should gracefully bow out. This is the reminder Jesus is giving all of us. And all of us have engaged in these backroom exchanges.

Jesus always wants us to be kind to our neighbor. A simple question we can ask before we get to deep in these conversations is how is the person going to feel when they hear our observations?

Today, let us consider our conversations and determine if they are wholesome. Let us remember that what we consider innocent could be volatile. Let us remember that our superiors, other workers, customers, and vendors have a point of view as well.

Resisting these negative conversations is hard, but Jesus reminds us, all will be uncovered.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do these conversations sound like?

How do we defuse these conversations, by reframing or by being silent?

How would the other person feel?

“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.”

— Luke 13:24

SEEKING AND STRIVING

Peter Drucker, the famed business advisor, says, “The key to success isn’t what you learn in success, but what you learn in failure.” Consider the following. Winston Churchill was banished from his political party for a decade before he became prime minister. Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he wasn’t smart enough. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first television job as an anchor. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper because he lacked imagination. We all know the happy endings these stories have. The key ingredients were not giving up and continuing to strive!

“We all want to be successful, but are we willing to put in the effort?”

Most start-up businesses have great ideas. They are led by people who are seeking to grow and create. But 80 percent of these businesses fail. The reason for most is a lack of striving. Many of these businesses fail to connect with their customers. They don’t walk the thousand miles their customers do. In turn they don’t know what their customers want. Many also fail in the first three years because of a lack of time invested, or because they don’t know the hard details of their business. They don’t know why their value proposition needs to be different. In summary, striving is as important as seeking. We all want to be successful, but are we willing to put in the effort?

“When Jesus says go through the narrow gate, he is telling us to avoid the easy way.”

This is what Jesus is getting at in today’s verse. Many of us want success, peace, health, and a strong connection with God. These are things we all seek. Dreams and ambition are critical to moving forward. Wanting to be a good person or good at your craft is a great start. But in our business, personal, or spiritual life success requires effort. When Jesus says go through the narrow gate, he is telling us to avoid the easy way. He is telling us to respect what we seek. He’s asking, are we willing to put the time in?

Larry Bird, the hall-of-fame basketball starter from the Boston Celtics, would show up four hours before practice and games. He would often run laps in the balcony, spend an hour shooting at the basket. Often he arrived many hours ahead of the other team and his own teammates. He wasn’t fast. He wasn’t tall for his position. But he was committed and prepared to be the best.

If our dreams are our passions and aligned with God, Jesus tells us to use the narrow gate. The gate that requires us to strive to be our best.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are our individual dreams?

What do we have to do to be an achiever?

How do we respond to failure?  

“Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

— Matthew 26:27–28

SECOND CHANCES

David Steward’s lowest point came when his car was repossessed from the parking lot of the company he owned. His business was $3.5 million in debt. Quite a fall for the person who at one time had been FedEx’s number one salesperson. David had left FedEx a few years earlier to start his own business called World Wide Technologies. And here he was with no car, a failing business, and a dark future.

An African-American, David grew up in a heavily segregated part of Missouri. Through sheer will and determination he went on to college. He found his way onto the school’s basketball team, in spite of his high school coach saying he wasn’t cut out for basketball. When he graduated, he sent out over four hundred résumés before landing a job. He had spent most of his life overcoming obstacles others had put in front of him.

And here he was in one of life’s most difficult spots. He had fought hard to get ahead and now it was all crumbling around him. Through prayer and by turning to the Lord, he discovered he had made one mistake during his miraculous life. After leading a life that rose above his circumstances, he had built his business on a bad foundation. He viewed his customers, vendors, and employees as instruments for his success. They were there to serve him. In effect he had begun chasing net worth and not self-worth.

“Through prayer he asked for a second chance.”

Through prayer he asked for a second chance. He changed his life and business model to one of serving his customers, employees, and vendors. He changed his businesses purpose to one of providing great service. Almost overnight his business changed. Today it is one of the largest privately held businesses in America.

“We have all been given a second chance.”

In one of Jesus’s final times with the twelve, he reveals his purpose. At the Last Supper he tells them that he has come to forgive their sins and ours, through his death and resurrection. We have all been given a second chance.

But there is more to this story. While we have been given a second chance, if we continue to make the same mistakes we will still end up in the same place, requiring forgiveness again. Change on our part is required to lead a different life. Perhaps a breaking of old habits or an acceptance of a new course in life.

Many people confuse the meaning of the word “repentance.” Repentance isn’t just admitting to ourselves and Jesus that we were wrong. It also means we are sincerely willing to change.

Repentance in Greek means just that: “a sincere desire to change.” Through this genuine desire to change, the gift of forgiveness becomes real.

Through prayer, David acknowledged that he needed to change. Instead of thinking internally about himself, he had to learn to think about others first. He had to become external with others, putting them first. His focus became self-worth and not net worth.

Forgiveness is the gift of a second chance, but it’s only valuable when we change.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How hard is it to change and admit we need a new direction?

What prevents us from changing: pride, habit, or letting go?

Where do we need change in our lives to make forgiveness become real?

“When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman you are set free from your ailment.’”

— Luke 13:12

REFRAMING OUR LIVES

A sweet and caring woman, whom we will call Grace, asked me to help with her life goals. A major goal Grace listed was mobility. Having been involved in an accident that had left her paralyzed since her youth, she experienced movement as a critical issue.

Her handicap accessible car of fourteen years had recently had broken down and she believed she didn’t have the money to buy a new one. She felt housebound. Since the accident, in many subtle ways, she had felt disabled. Not just with her paralysis, but with her life. Not having access to car only made these feelings worse. She didn’t believe she could afford a new car. Each month she was barely able to pay her bills.

“Together we made some cuts by looking at things differently that saved her a substantial amount of money.”

We started by looking at her income and expenses. She was actually receiving a decent income and her credit was good. Her problem lay in her expenses. She was spending too much. Together we made some cuts by looking at things differently that saved her a substantial amount of money.  With these cuts in her spending we created a budget and crafted a plan for her to buy a new car. We reframed the way she looked at her expenses and how she spent her money.

Grace worked hard and stuck to this new budget, which included money to go out once a week. Grace found a handicap-accessible car and applied for credit to buy her new car, now knowing she had the money to pay for it on a monthly basis. After a lifetime of having to overcome obstacles she was certain she would be rejected. Even though she paid her bills on time and was conscientious with her credit, her past of constant rejection made her feel that it wouldn’t work out. However, the following Tuesday she was notified that she had been approved and could now buy a new car. When I received her text excitedly telling me she had been approved, I could feel that the weight had lifted from her. She had mobility back. She could be free in the world.

“Sometimes we are bound more by our past than by anything physical. We begin to believe there is no other way.”

Sometimes we are bound more by our past than by anything physical. We begin to believe there is no other way. We have been told all our lives about our limitations, and they have become the only existence we know. In today’s verse, Jesus tells the woman she is free from her ailment. This may have been a supernatural miracle Jesus was talking about. But perhaps it was actually the reframing of a life. Reframing in the sense that what the woman had been told or had thought about herself wasn’t true.

Perhaps for a miracle to occur we only have to look at life slightly different. Many times prayer will reveal a different way.

Reframing and someone like Jesus telling us we are free enables us to change our lives. It means giving up the past and living today as we want to live. The steps away from our past are always difficult and beset with fear. We may have regrets that bind us to what’s come before. Or perhaps stories people told us about ourselves. Or even horrific experiences. The past will bind us; the future will free us. When the past lurks in us and tells us we will fail, remembering the word “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us,” can release us.

God wants us to have a future and to free us from those things in our past that bind us. Emmanuel!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What ailments do we have to be freed from?

How do we think of the past?

What does “Emmanuel” mean to us?