“ 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?

“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?

Five Traits of Great people:
• Gets things done
• Warmly Assertive
• Listens to learn
• Analyze Effectively
• Develops others

FINDING THE RIGHT PEOPLE

When I first got to Foot Locker, I needed to find friends quickly who had these same five characteristics. But I had to be careful in my approach. It’s easy to come into a tough situation and announce you’re going to change everything; easy to be disparaging of the past, your employees, and your predecessors; easy to think you know the answers without the full set of facts at your disposal. But that’s the wrong approach.

I discovered it was easier to find out what was already working and look for current employees who could help, on the theory that it’s easier to make progress with allies than with enemies. Joe Bongiorno, Peter Brown, Peter Cupps, and Mike Zawosky had all had consider-able careers at Foot Locker before I arrived, but all had been largely overlooked by their superiors. When I talked to them, I found they had the five qualities of good employees. I merged them with people I knew from my own past, like Lauren, Kevin, and Marc, and we developed a team that promoted the message of the company and avoided self-interest. When we found employees who exhibited these shared traits, we labeled them with a term we developed, “profile employee,” meaning they had the requisite five characteristics. They worked for the company, not themselves. Everyone we thought of hiring or bringing into our circle was evaluated. If the candidate was a “profile employee,” we brought that person in. If a candidate didn’t possess the five traits, he or she was ruled out.

Our circle soon expanded to form a powerful group that could work on its own, for our values became the culture. The culture worked because we weren’t trapped by tradition or hemmed in by our personal status or power. For Foot Locker this group became the team that held the goal line when things looked the bleakest. We survived because of these common values.

Jesus knew that in building teams, success depended not only on hiring the right people, but on training those people to live up to their God-given talents.

He recognized that all people have blind spots to go along with their gifts. Jesus concentrated on maximizing people’s strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses. Sometimes the effort was simple, other times intense. The aim was always to help the team become more effective and live into their mission.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

— John 1:43

FOLLOW ME – JESUS OF NAZARETH

When Henry Heinz, the founder of the H. J. Heinz Company, wrote his will, he included as his first lines, “I desire to set forth, at the very beginning of this will, as the most important item in it, a confession of my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior.” Henry Heinz founded the company called “Heinz 57” with his brother after previously filing for bankruptcy. They started out making ketchup and eventually expanded to over sixty other products. A successful company largely in Pittsburgh, it grew to become one of the biggest food producing companies in the world. Beyond his being a devout Christian, the unusual first words of Henry’s will represented a lifetime of living his faith.

“The words in Henry Heinz’s will reflect the life he led and were a statement of his focus in following Jesus.”

The H. J. Heinz Company had a reputation for fair treatment of their employees, at a time when fair labor standards existed only in the future. By 1906, he was providing his employees with free medical care. In his facilities, he had gyms, swimming pools, and gardens. He provided educational opportunities, libraries, concerts, and lectures. He was a pioneer in safe and sanitary food preparation. At a time in our country’s history when many corporations ignored these social items, Heinz was a leader. The words in Henry Heinz’s will reflect the life he led and were a statement of his focus in following Jesus.

“Following Christ requires a self-examination by ourselves, of why we follow.”

Jesus finds Philip and recognizes in him a stout and honest man. Philip will become one of the Jesus’s leading recruiters. When he meets Philip, he says, “Follow me.” Philip follows. Philip was the connection to Nathanael, Andrew, and Peter. In later life he is credited with traveling to many parts of the Middle East and preaching the Gospel. He represented the true nature of Christianity by following Christ. Not just physically, but spiritually. Following Christ requires a self-examination by ourselves, of why we follow. Do we follow for gain or profit? Or do we follow out of a real desire to know him? To give up our past lives requires a change of focus. It doesn’t mean we give up who we are and what we do, but we give up a previous focus. We change our attitude on why we do things.

“The first lines of his will described whom he followed and where his focus rested, with Jesus.”

For Henry Heinz, his focus could have been on squeezing out a few more dollars by not being generous to his employees. He could have increased his net worth by not being charitable. His focus, however, was to be successful in a way that supported his choice to follow. Certainly, lobbying for tougher food standards cost him margin dollars. The first lines of his will described whom he followed and where his focus rested, with Jesus.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

What do we have to give up?

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

– Revelation 1:20

THE NUMBER SEVEN AND BUSINESS PLANNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we have a life or business plan?

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

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

forgiveness

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

— Luke 23:34

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How many chances do we give people?

How many should we?

Do we know the rest of their story?

cloud over the ocean

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

— Luke 22:46

STAYING AWAKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

How do we stay awake?

hot air balloons

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

— Luke 22:32

TURNING BACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What situations do we have to turn back to?

What holds us back?

Why does going back soothe us?