“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4

GRANDMA GATEWOOD’S WALK

In 1955, Emma Gatewood told her children she was going for a walk and left her small community in rural Ohio. She would return six months later a national hero whom was followed by most major newspapers, the Today show and many radio stations. Why? She was the first woman to solo hike the Appalachian trail.

Far more remarkable, was this 67 year old grandmother of thirty grandchildren, walked the trail in a pair of Ked’s high tops and a minor amount of equipment. Poor and living on $54 a month of social security, she made her own back pack stuffed with a few clothes, a shower curtain to protect her from the rain and her favorite food, Vienna sausages.

For much of her journey she relied on the generous gifts of housing and food from “trail angels” she met along the way. Though she still spent many nights in the woods, sleeping under trees and picnic benches. Frequently she would make a fire to protect herself from bears and wild dogs.

Along the way, she forded swollen streams, hand over hand climbed rock faces and spent some nights sleeping in below freezing weather. Nothing could stop her, even the great hurricane Diane. She was a real life Forrest Gump.

During her hike on the Appalachian trail in 1955, the trail was rough and had little maintenance. Very few people hiked the trail as thru-hikers in her day. In fact for many years there were no attempts.

The trail is over 2000 miles in length. Thanks to pioneers like Gatewood, today 31 different organization maintain the trail. Each year, thousands attempt the thru-hike with thousands of dollars spent on gear. Over several years, less than 25% finish the trail. The trail starts on a remote mountain top in Georgia and ends with a extraordinarily steep climb to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Along the way, hikers suffer blisters, sprained ankles and have to climb peaks 5000 feet or more above sea level. Many hikers can only walk 10 or so miles a day. Grandma Gatewood would frequently walk over twenty! She finished the trail in 146 six days, when the average is just short of 180 days.

Today over a million people visit the trail, with most being single day hikers. Some just hike sections of the trail for a week or so. The much smaller group of hikers, called thru hikers, are mostly in their twenties looking for a lifetime adventure before they start their lives.

You can ask any thru-hiker about Grandma Gatewood and they will know her legacy. For many she is the inspiration to continue. “If Grandma Gatewood could do it, so can I!” is a consistent refrain by these hikers.

Where did she get her energy and strength? She was a hardworking farmer most her life, working many days for 12 or more hours. She had eleven children to raise and a farm to attend to.

But she also had an abusive husband. She endured many beatings. Some so severe that they almost ended her life. She had false teeth, because her husband had knocked most out. She was constantly bruised and had the scars.

One day she punched back and ended up getting arrested for battery. After spending a night in jail, the local mayor found out and demanded she be released. He took her in for a while and not long after the courts finally granted her a divorce.

She hung on to the farm after her husband left and made a meager living during the Great Depression. Her children grew into adults and left the house. Leaving her the opportunity to walk the great trail she had read about in the National geographic.

She was a kind woman, who never turned away any that came to her house looking for food during the depression and the war years. She didn’t have much, but she shared.

There are few clues about her faith. But in her letters she would refer to God as the great “I Am.” A reference to God’s describing himself to Moses. An interesting reference that showed her Biblical knowledge and respect for God.

Her fame grew as she walked. At first a local newspaper ran a small story. Then more as she passed through the trail towns. Then the national press picked her up and daily the nation watched her walk. As she neared the end of her hike, at each trail head she would be met by reporters, including Sports Illustrated.

She never could understand why the nation took an interest in her. She was just out for a walk. A walk to cleanse a difficult life.

Later, she would hike the trail two more times, the last time when she was 75. She hiked the Oregon trail from St. Louis to Oregon, all 2500 miles. She became the first female extreme sport hiker in America, well past the age of 65. Many that walked with her, where many decades younger and couldn’t keep her pace.

Today, she is an icon for the small group who hike long distances. If she could do it, so can’t they. She is in the museum for the Appalachian trail, listed as one of the ten most influential hikers. After a lifetime of turmoil, she lived her final years fully. She died at the age of 85 in 1973. Leaving a legacy for us and a brood of offspring that still discuss her today. In fact a great grand-nephew wrote a book about her called Grandma Gatewood’s walk.

Grandma Gatewood showed the world, that you are never too old and disabled to live life. Living life fully to her meant one step at a time, with a riveted focus on not being defeated.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Andy Mai

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“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 8:31-32

WHAT DOES A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN REALLY COST?

I recently went through a security checkpoint at an airport in Dallas Texas, where the TSA agents were working processing us through the various security procedures to allow us to fly. Each TSA agent I encountered, I thanked them for working without pay. They all appreciated the simple gesture.

It made me wonder what is the government shutdown really costing us? The shutdown has been caused by a president who wants to build a very large wall and the ruling Democrats are opposed to putting in the budget, close to six billion dollars to build this wall.

Eight hundred thousand government employees have been denied pay and over four million government contractors are out of work. The average government employee, with benefits makes one hundred and nineteen thousand dollars. If that is the case; then not paying the employees would pay for the wall in five weeks.

The math here is simple, but the issues are far more complicated. The real reason for the shutdown isn’t about saving money, but about a power struggle that is unaware of the impact on the humans involved.

The president has made a campaign promise to build a wall to prevent illegal aliens, drugs and criminals from entering our country. His constituency is pressing him very hard to fulfill his campaign commitment. He has been firm and unbending in his position.

The democrats know this is a big political issue and have been equally unbending in allowing the wall to be built. Firm that the president won’t get his way and be able to declare victory.

The issue has become like watching two petulant children fighting in a school playground over a slight. As time wears on the issue becomes less what the fight is about and more about getting their way. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people do not have a paycheck to pay their bills. Lines are growing long at airport checkpoints, as more TSA agents call in sick to do a job without pay. Garbage is piling up in our national parks. Lost in all this squabbling are the real facts.

First, very little of the drugs come from illegals crossing outside the official “Points of Entry” into the United States. The vast majority comes through the “Points of Entry.” The logistics of dispersing tons of drugs among those entering the US through the desert are overwhelming for the drug dealers. As such, drugs come hidden in large  containers in our ports. They come through the official land POE’s hidden in forty foot trailers. They come through our airports hidden in cargo bays.

Building the wall will not prevent this, better technology at our POE’s will. But this wall is a campaign promise made to appease those who rightly want the flow of heroin and cocaine to end, but are misguided by how the scourge called drugs really flow into our country.

Nor are the Democrats being truthful with Americans, they are not proposing an alternative, they fight so the president will be embarrassed. Leaving hundreds of thousands without paychecks.

Which raises another question, why do government workers on average make one hundred and nineteen thousand dollars a year, or almost 78% higher than the average American and double that of the people who teach our children. Consider that the average American who works in retail makes a third of this amount or the average family of four brings in just under seventy thousand a year. Sure, some of the cost is from our government employees cost of living in the greater Washington D.C. area, but not this much!

The issue here isn’t that government employees shouldn’t be paid properly for a day’s work, but the disparity between the voters and government pay is out of sync.

Our legislative leaders and our president and his staff still get paid during the shutdown. While trash builds up in our national parks and travelers wait in long lines at airports. The same people who created the shutdown are being paid, while not doing their job. Engaged in a stare down not designed to work on facts, but one of personal power control.

Missing is a real discussion and a path forward to resolution. How do we slow the flow of drugs into our country that ends lives and disrupts families? How do we stop criminals from other lands without impeding the inclusion of immigrants who can help our country continue to be the worlds great melting pot? These are the real issues with the wall, ones that all Americans would like resolved.

Trust in our government since 1960 has dropped from a near 80% to 18%. While the Democrats will blame the Republicans, the same is true with Republicans. Lost in this debate is what Americans desire, the truth.

Some of us identify with traditional views of smaller government and less taxes. While others of us want the protection of the poor and the average working person. We all want to end the epidemic of drugs. We all want those who desire to be American’s not to be criminals from far-away places. These are honest debates and productive when done with searching for the truth. This debate seems lost amongst the acrimony that exists today.

The shutdown isn’t about the issues, but about power. Lost in this power struggle are the TSA workers who work without pay. Lost is the average American who makes significantly less than the government employee. Lost are the individuals who will become snared in the desperate cycle of drug addiction. Lost are the individuals who desire to come to our great country, to enjoy freedom and be productive citizens.

Lost, while our politicians grandstand for personal glory. Lost by people whose behavior doesn’t represent the values of most American’s.

Jesus would have one simple request; search for the truth through him and we will all be set free.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ramon Kagie

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“But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 4:43

GEORGE WHITFIELD AN ORIGINAL AMERICAN CELEBRITY

During the 18th century in America, there was no NFL or Major league baseball. Hollywood didn’t exist. The great celebrities of that era were politicians and traveling preachers. Certainly, people like George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were the mega stars of that era. But traveling preachers also became celebrities. People like Johnathon Edwards and George Whitfield.

Preachers that weren’t of the Puritan or Anglican church belief where in high demand. They would move from town to town and preach at parks, under trees or in town squares. During this period, religious freedom of expression became an important concept.

In the 17th century, if you lived in New England your church was likely the off shoot of the Puritan’s, now called the Congregational church. If you lived in the south, likely your church was the Anglican church or what is now called the Episcopal church. The mid Atlantic colonies were more diverse, but still very severe in their application of religious beliefs.

If you went to the Puritan church your life was controlled by Puritan beliefs. If you didn’t show up to church on Sunday, the local constable would visit you during the week and suggest you don’t miss church next week.

Many of the pastors of these two denominations were paid directly by the government. If you were a pastor of the Congregational church in Massachusetts bay colony you received your pay from the colony and local city.

Both the Methodist and Baptist denominations were in their infancy and not approved of by the ruling bodies of the colonies. Catholicism was very small and it wouldn’t become a religious force until the late 19th century.

It was not uncommon on Sunday for Methodist or Baptist preachers to speak under trees or anywhere they could get an audience. As the people of the colonies began to desire a different church experience, crowds would form to hear these new age preachers give sermons. Men like Johnathon Edwards and George Whitfield.

This period in the American colonies was called the First Great Awakening. A period where people desired a more religious experience than the functionality of their existing church.

George Whitfield was a particularly strong preacher and would draw crowds of tens of thousands. It was always a big event, like a Bruce Springsteen or Beyoncé Concert. Whitfield preached almost any day of the week and soon became a sought after speaker. He was invited to Harvard and famous halls in Rhode Island. It is estimated that Whitfield spoke 18,000 times and had over 10 million listeners during that time.

In Philadelphia, thirty thousand people gathered to hear him speak. This would be comparable to today’s crowd at a Super Bowl game. In the audience was a skeptical Benjamin Franklin. Who became inspired by Whitfield and became a life long friend.

Later Benjamin Franklin created the original colleges that went on to form the University of Pennsylvania and installed a statue of George Whitfield in its center court.

Whitfield became popular, not just because of his strong oratory skills, but because he preached about religious experience that was personal to the listener. Not a formulaic, must do set of rules. But to the individual’s personal desire to have their own relationship with God.

Whitfield was also successful because of his unusual promotional methods. Pamphlets and newspapers had just begun in America. Similar to today’s version of social media. Whitfield hired an influential publicist, who worked with the creators of the pamphlets and newspapers to give them news stories about Whitfield. Very quickly, Whitfield went viral, using today’s vernacular.

Whitfield was way ahead of his time in preaching and publication, ignoring the traditional and tapping into the new media of his age.

As you would guess the established church was very opposed to this new way of communicating theology and the message of God. They disagreed with his message and methods of promotion. But Whitfield’s goal was not to go along to get along. His goal was to bring the message of the Gospel to the people and not to be conformed. Essentially creating a new form of preaching and using the new communication vehicles of the press.

Whitfield preached to the slaves of the south. Creating encouraging messages and speaking out against slavery.

Whitfield died young, at the age of 55. While in poor health and encouraged to take life easier, Whitfield replied, “I would rather wear out, then rust out!” After his death, both the Methodist and Baptist preachers used Whitfield’s methods and created churches that by the middle of the 19th century represented over 50 percent of the population of America.

While not well known outside of theological scholars of today, he was one of America’s first celebrities. He led not by doing what others had done, but by doing what he thought should be done. He didn’t follow the temporary values of the day, that each era contains, but he followed his responsibilities to others. A responsibility to explore a relationship with Christ and a responsibility to preach as often as he could to as many as he could.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben White

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“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

Philippians 2:3

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM HUMBLE PEOPLE

Brian Flores is not well known and humbly does his job every day. He is the son of Honduran immigrants and grew up in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn. Protected from the wrong path in life, by his hardworking parents and uncles, he became a scholarship athlete that played college football at Boston College. Where he was known for his quiet leadership style and team first attitude.

Brian had an injury while at Boston College and his chances for playing in the NFL where eliminated. Instead he chose to become a coach. His first stop was as an assistant in scouting for the New England Patriots. Essentially, his job was that of fetching. Getting coffee or delivering important papers to the scouts were his primary responsibilities. Nothing remarkable and mostly his days were spent getting things for others.

Brian stayed loyal to this job and eventually became recognized for his quiet, but effective execution of his job. He rose up the ranks from his mid-twenties to mid-thirties to becoming the de facto defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.

His biggest claim to fame was being the person who sent Malcolm Butler on the field in the final minutes of the Super Bowl, that won the Super Bowl for the Patriots in 2014. He recognized an unusual formation by the Seattle Seahawks as they were posed to score and win the game. Immediately the coaches changed the defense and Brian said, “Go Malcolm Go.” Malcolm had been told about the play and proceeded to intercept the pass that saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots.

He has since been promoted a few more times and this year was given the chance to be the lead defensive coach for the Patriots, a remarkable climb for the son of hardworking immigrants.

This year, no less than four NFL teams have asked him to interview to be their Head Coach. Yet Brian is little known outside of New England and likes it that way.

He was recently asked where he discovered his quiet but effective leadership  style. His reply, “The Bible. There’s plenty there as far as how to lead and how to forgive and how to love. I think that’s all qualities of a great leader.”

Wow! What a remarkable quote that is so different in our age of bombastic leadership impressions. Leadership through the Bible that is focused on forgiveness and love. A humble expressions of leadership as a servant.

While I was at Theological school for seven years, I would often hear other students complain that the great leaders of the Bible were flawed and were not great leaders.

In many cases my fellow students were right in describing the flaws of the great leaders of the Bible. Certainly there is Abraham who many times lost faith in God and went his own way, even lying to Pharaoh that Sarah wasn’t his wife. There is David who committed adultery. Or Rahab the prostitute. How many times did the great Peter ignore Jesus? Or Moses who refused and pushed back with God about his leadership role.

The Bible is littered with stories about leaders who failed at one point. God’s response was one of forgiveness and love. It is God’s response that we find the leadership lessons of the Bible. God loved and forgave these great people in the Bible.

The great stories of the Bible wouldn’t have existed without these two important Christian qualities. Moses never would have led the Israelites to the promised land. Abraham would never have become the father of three great world religions. Rahab would never have become the person who saved the Israelites. Peter would never have become the founder of the church.

God leadership lesson is that of forgiveness and love. The knowledge that we are human and we all will at times become victims of our own human frailties. The lesson Brian refers to in the Bible is not about the frailties of our human nature, but God’s appealing to the better nature of our humanity. Appealing to our role as forgivers and our responsibility to love our neighbor.

Sure myself and other future theologians missed this point at times. Victims of our frailty, but recovered through our better nature. God waited for us and never let go.

Maybe this year a Brian will become a head coach in the NFL. A remarkable climb from a meager start as a son of immigrants from a tough neighborhood. If not Brian will still be a humble servant leader for God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Timothy Eberly

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

JOHN 1:1

DOES FACEBOOK HAVE TOO MUCH POWER?

Has Facebook gotten to big? Almost seventy percent of Americans have a Facebook account. Of those three quarters visit the site daily. Almost half of Americans use Facebook as one of their sources of news. Facebook has become the largest hangout in America.

In corporate terms they are close to a monopoly. At the very least they have become an important part of the information flow and an influencer of our society. But has their growth stayed consistent with their controls and morale maturity?

Recently, Franklin Graham was banned from Facebook. Why? Because of a post protesting North Carolina’s position on bathroom access. Franklin Graham is the son of Billy Graham and certainly has conservative Christian views that not all agree with. But he is an American and has the right to express his opinion and practice his religion.

When the leadership of Facebook discovered their misstep, they immediately apologized and restored his status. Their explanation for the ban was that one of their fifteen thousand content moderators had determined that Graham’s post was hateful based on his viewpoint.

Wait! They have fifteen thousand people reviewing posts every day to decide if what gets posted is appropriate? Seems like a little bit of Big Brother.

As Facebook has grown to become an important influencer in American life and thoughts, it needs a closer look at its policies of determining what is appropriate and isn’t. At the very least it shouldn’t be left to a one of fifteen thousand hidden in a cubicle with their own views of morality to decide.

Certainly, any post that promotes violence or contains offensive words should be questioned. Certainly, any conversation that derides or is discriminatory against any race, creed, religion, gender or age group needs to be questioned. But what are Facebook’s boundaries? Have they left content decisions up to a single person who has more power than their position dictates?

Facebook is definitely having growing pains. From allowing Russian influencers to impostor as average Americans and post false news in our last presidential election. To allowing Cambridge Analytica the ability to acquire sensitive information about Facebook users. They have grown so large that they can no longer control content without making a misstep.

Franklin Graham has a belief that the truth lies in the word of God and more specifically is a devout Christian. While we may disagree with Graham on his interpretation, we can all agree he is a Christian. Throughout most of his adult life, he has supported worthy causes and helped his neighbor. He hasn’t been one of those evangelists that take advantage of others or preached selfishly. He has always said what he believed with his only agenda of speaking his truth about God. He certainly isn’t a hate monger. He just believes what he believes and loves his neighbor.

But Franklin Graham has a big following and a bigger voice than most Americans. When he protested his ban, it made national news. But what about other Christian’s who don’t have an influential name or base. They become powerless against a hidden force that can ban them because they don’t agree with their views on faith. There is no one you can call at Facebook to protest. They only answer emails. In fact, most responses from Facebook are form letters. No real answers, just frustration. Their truth gets lost.

It makes us wonder in this age of identity politics and political correctness, has some unknown figure taken on the role of deciding what the truth is about Christianity without recourse? In America today, according to Pew Research, seventy five percent identify themselves as Christian and two thirds of this group prays daily. If identity politics is the current way of thought. Why would we ban Christian input on a site where the vast majority identify themselves as Christian?

As Facebook has grown, it also has unwittingly become a powerful forum. A forum of ideas and points of view. It has become a forum that can be manipulated by insiders and outsiders. A forum of national debate that needs more openness. But it should also be a forum where those who intend harm are better identified and those who express views not to harm, are not restricted.

Facebook does provide valuable resources and contains wonderful content. Most companies have learned that Facebook advertising is a very effective way to promote products. For many, it is a way to keep up to date on family and friends. For shut-ins it is a window to the outside world. Many who post on Facebook have content that is insightful and sometimes down right humorous. We may not always agree with what we read, but more often than not it helps us keep track of our world.

Facebook does help us every day, seventy percent of Americans use it frequently. But Facebook can’t be the decider of our religious beliefs or morality. It certainly shouldn’t be left to some unknown person sitting in a far off cubicle deciding what is the truth and what isn’t. It certainly shouldn’t be selling our private information to unknown entities. It should also know when twelve million messages and users from a foreign country are trying to influence our elections. It has gotten so big that it needs to be more focused on what counts and what doesn’t.

Recently, many people have opted out of Facebook and their membership is declining. The reason, the impersonal and ambiguous way they decide what content can be presented. They have not protected our privacy, in attempts to generate more profits they have sold our information. Unwittingly they have become a source for false news and allowed their immense influence to be appropriated by those who seek their own mission.

Facebook stands at a crossroads of either hearing the complaints and changing or stubbornly continuing a path of profit accumulation that will eventually cause them to fail. Not an uncommon dilemma for those who gain remarkable success, but a crossroad that needs humility.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Glen Carrie

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“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”

Matthew 7:1

SHOULD WE JUDGE OR OFFER HOPE?

Stephen A. Smith, the highly controversial sports analyst of ESPN, was the first to criticize Josh Gordon, the suspended NFL wide receiver. In a highly insensitive way Smith showed no sympathy for a man who has suffered with mental illness for most of his adult life. In a highly critical rant, he was dismissive and unsympathetic of Gordon’s journey. So uninformed was his rant, that many spoke out, not about Gordon’s latest failure, but by the way Smith carried on. A rant so insensitive, that it sparked an enormous backlash on Twitter.

In late December, Josh Gordon was suspended for the fifth time, for using substances banned by the NFL. Gordon, earlier in the year had been given another chance at playing in the NFL. He was traded by the Cleveland Browns to the New England Patriots. The Patriots, a team who have in the past been successful with dealing with troubled players, was seen as Gordon’s last and best chance. For a while Gordon performed well and was becoming an important part of the famed Patriots offense.

The Patriots put his locker next to Tom Brady’s and Brady worked closely with Gordon to fit in. The assigned a security crew to help him deal with drug use. In fact, the entire locker room worked hard at accepting their new teammate. Bill Belichick, the coach and Robert Kraft, the owner, had a number of conversations of support for Gordon.

Then he let them down. What was interesting, there was no harbinger of ill will from the team. The team made statements about their desire for Gordon to overcome his mental illness. All the players spoke out in support of Gordon and commented on what a great teammate Gordon had been. Both Tom Brady and Julian Edelman came out and posted public support of Gordon on their social media.

But what we heard from the national press, notably from Steven A. Smith was insensitive remarks of condemnation. When the Patriots picked up Gordon in the trade, I heard many judgmental comments that said, “don’t get too excited he will fail again.” Sure he failed again and maybe this lesson in life will not be his last.

But should we judge a man with documented mental illness issues, who grew up with sketchy surroundings or should we offer hope. Not hope that is enabling, but hope that he will heal.

Gordon’s issue is symbolic of how we should view all those who struggle. Should we attack and issue judgmental comments or should we lend a hand. Is it fair that we isolate people who make a mistake and become defined by that mistake.

Let’s be clear Steven A. Smith is controversial for a reason, not to help. But to increase ratings. His livelihood is based on his ratings and the more he attacks the higher the ratings.

Today in America, bad news sells and good news is a yawn. Encapsulating those who stray and giving them a scarlet letter. What is missing in this discourse, is we will all fail. Sometimes in spectacular fashion and sometimes not. But part of the human existence is the hard lessons we all have to learn.

Jesus warns to be careful in judgement, because it will be returned when we have our day in the inevitable refinery of life.

Others personal tragedy is not a reliable predictor of someone’s future, many have gone on to turn their story of tragedy into a story of hope.

Consider first lady, Betty Ford, who was an alcoholic. She recovered and went on to establish the Betty Ford clinic that helped thousands recover from alcoholism.

Michael Vick, who was involved in the terribly inhumane sport of dog fighting. Who went to prison for two years and then had to file bankruptcy. After he served his time, thanks to Andy Reid and Tony Dungy was given a second chance in the NFL. With his second chance he once again became an elite quarterback. He paid back every dollar he owed to those who had lost out in his bankruptcy. Today Vick is actively involved with the Humane Society to help prevent cruelty to animals.

What is not reported about Vick, is that for 544 nights he went to bed in prison reciting Psalm 23 and falling to sleep with his Bible under his head.

I have friends who have also suffered from alcoholism, but recovered through wonderful programs run by organizations like the Salvation army. All who have gone on to productive lives.

Chris Carter the former NFL great and TV personality, admits he is an addict and states, “I have been in recovery for twenty eight years.” Today, Chris helps those needing to be in recovery.

We can turn to Ray Rice, the standout running back from the Baltimore Ravens, who savagely beat his wife in an elevator. He was cut from the NFL and lost his livelihood. Becoming a symbol of a spousal abuser. What’s not reported is that both he and his wife have reconciled. He got the treatment he needed to reconnect with his family and become a reliable husband. Where is he today? He is a spousal abuse activist, and speaks at many functions discussing the impact of spousal abuse. His football career is over, but his life isn’t. He feels he got a second chance, not a second chance at football, but a second chance at being a great husband and father.

Those of us who failed, have regrets and many are willing to pay the price of our failures. I have walked with many who have disappointed and let people down. I have seen them grow.  I have also walked with many who don’t give second chances. I have seen a hardened heart. I have seen it is easy to kick someone when they are down. I have seen that more good comes from hope than judgement. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to pay back what we did or that those who failed should be enabled.

I pray for Stephen A Smith to view life as good and not as another chance to gain fame at someone else’s demise.

We can sit in judgement of people who have failed or we can offer prayers that they will overcome. We know as Christians what is required. Not judgement or enabling behavior, but prayers of hope for recovery.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben Hershey

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“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:39

TONY DUNGY, BELL RINGER FOR THE SALVATION ARMY

Every year, from late November until Christmas, the Salvation Army has volunteers to ring a bell in front of grocery stores and on street corners. Tens of thousands volunteer every year to ring a bell in front of the iconic red kettle. In New York city, one thousand people volunteered this season. Millions are collected throughout the country, supporting the Salvation army’s programs to feed the poor and help families in duress.

This year in Central Florida, Tony Dungy was spotted ringing the bell. Yes, the Hall of Fame ex-football coach and player, Tony Dungy. Soon a crowd gathered to meet Tony and his family. It was posted on social media and went viral. When Tony was asked why he was ringing. He said, “I heard there was a shortage of Bell Ringers this year, so I volunteered.” This type of helping behavior is not unusual for Tony Dungy, he has spent a lifetime of  “doing the right thing.”

On most Sunday’s you will find Tony Dungy on TV, Football America to be exact. Tony teams with Rodney Harrison and analyzes the upcoming games. What is interesting in this age of “shock and be famous media”, Tony smiles and is extraordinarily respectful. He provides no shocking revelations to draw attention to himself or is unnecessarily over the top with his humor. Just an ever present smile and good well thought out opinions. In just a few minutes of viewing you can quickly tell he is a decent guy.

Tony has been a life-long Christian, where he played and coached he hung on to those values. His job was always to help out first and be taken care of second. With his players, he asked them to put their faith first, followed by their family. Football came last. This attitude created a team committed to a strong work ethic and values. Tony’s teams made the playoffs ten years in a row and he won the Super Bowl coaching the Indianapolis Colts.

As a player, Tony played as a starter on the famed Pittsburgh Steeler team of the seventies. He was the safety on a defense nicknamed the Steel curtain. Tony wasn’t a high draft choice, in fact he wasn’t drafted. The Steelers asked him to come in for a tryout. He did and became an undrafted member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tony is also a community activist and has been involved with past president’s leadership council of Faith based neighborhood partnerships, as an advisor on fathership issues. Tony is a public speaker for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in action. Today he continues to work with Big Brothers/Sisters and the Boys/Girls club in Indianapolis. Tony is frequently heard on Christian radio and has several regularly scheduled shows.

Some things you might not know about Tony Dungy:

  • Among sports figures he ranks second behind Hank Aaron in polls on respect.
  • He was the first African American coach to lead a Super Bowl winner.
  • He developed the “calm coaching” technique for other coaches.
  • He is one of the few people to win a Super Bowl as a coach and player.
  • He is the most recent NFL player to have and throw an interception in the same game.
  • He was the youngest coordinator for an NFL team at the age of 28.

Tony is a decent man and a role model. He goes about his craft, whether it is playing or coaching football differently, he puts his faith first. As a broadcaster, he doesn’t want to be known for outlandish comments, only to be known as thoughtful and decent man. Helping his neighbor has and was his main goal in life. He is a man of character not a character.

It’s refreshing to know that some good guys do finish first. It’s nice to know that in a polarized world we have a symbol of rational thinking. It’s nice to know that we can openly speak about our faith and succeed.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by frank mckenna

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“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters”

Colossians 3:23

DO CHRISTIAN BASED BUSINESSES THRIVE?

In this age of political correctness, there are few businesses that step forward and proclaim their commitment to Christ. A few of them are well known businesses like, Tyson’s Food, Chick-Fil-A and Forever 21 who are open about their faith. However, few of the Fortune 500 companies openly espouse their faith commitment.

Lower on the size rung the same is true for smaller companies as well. All this despite the fact that 75% of all workers are Christian. A staggering dichotomy when we think about the reality of the common person.

Almost all American’s have to work to pay their bills and 75% have a Christian faith. A disconnect in most lives for at least eight hours a day.

Certainly over-zealous evangelists have created a stigma in our workplace. It is also true that all workplaces want to be inviting and some wrongly feel that being Christian can make some feel uncomfortable. Losing sight of the value of being openly Christian has for the companies employees and customers.

The facts, however, point in another direction. Christian based businesses have more fulfilled employee morale. By the numbers, Christian based businesses, generally outperform those who aren’t. Christian based business have stronger outreach programs for their communities. In general Christian based businesses are healthier, friendlier, better community citizens and more profitable.

It takes a braveness to be a Christian based business and buck the tide. But these businesses have a powerful ally in Jesus and their own Christian values. Sure we can look at the outliers who have given Christians a bad name, but most Christians believe in humbleness and working hard. Most Christians don’t want to be disruptive in the workforce by being overly zealous. They simply want to work and thrive using their values as Christians. Values of honesty and fair dealing are their motivating goals. Values that put their customers or fellow employees first.

One company in particular has recently caught my attention through a close friend of mine, Jim Steinman. Jim is a faithful follower of Jesus and an outstanding executive. A few years ago, Jim went to work for a company called Powerhouse Retail Services. Jim has loved his experience at the company. The company has experienced massive growth and is stretching further and further to service its clients. Jim loves being busy and productive, but more importantly cherishes his ability to be open with his faith.

When I first heard about Jim’s company, I wasn’t surprised by its success. Hiring people like Jim is always a good start. But like most Christian based businesses, they are always sought after by customers. Both, because of their values driven by Christian principles and from hiring people like Jim.

When I reviewed their employee comments on Glassdoor, I saw a similar theme. The employees love the people they work with and being associated with a growing company. Their only major complaint is that they are too busy and work long hours. In fact the company is so busy, at times it has to turn down new customers.

Powerhouse is in demand because they work hard to satisfy their customers needs. Like most growing companies they are resource constrained. A common dilemma for companies that are experiencing a high level of growth.

Their employees perform at a very high level and with integrity. Something we would expect from Christian employees. My experience tells me that the employees are the principle reason for the surge in growth.

Powerhouse is very open about their Christian beliefs. They invite Christian guest speakers the first Friday of every month to talk with their employees. It isn’t unusual to see Bibles on people’s desk. They also actively support their community with Pay it Forward programs, such as; helping families dealing with autism and combatting food scarcity amongst children. This Christmas the company provided toys for 500 children in need. 300 of the children were sponsored directly by the employees. Pictures of their offices had these Christmas presents waiting for distribution lining the walls

Running a Christian based business seems radical in the contemporary context of our era of political correctness. Many times I am asked how can I be so radical in my views. But these views are not so radical in a historical context, many companies in the recent past have had these values. At the turn of the last century, it wasn’t uncommon for businesses to be openly Christian based. It wasn’t uncommon for great industrial leaders to pursue the business and Christian beliefs.

John Mott, one of the great social and industrial leaders of the 19th century, was a strong Christian committed to giving back. John was a leader in the business world’s social Gospel that was prevalent at the end of the 19th century into the early 20th century. John Mott is credited with starting the Young Men’s Christian Association.

Mott’s business, was apple juices and his company survives today. Maybe it is radical today to be Christian based, but it wasn’t in the very near past.

Being Christian based doesn’t mean we don’t treat other religions as inferior. It doesn’t mean they are exclusive. Being Christian based means respecting our neighbor and their beliefs. This is commonly missed by those who promote excessive political correctness.

Radical, maybe, but not historically. When we consider Christian values they really aren’t that dissimilar from what we want and expect from good employees and companies. Christians are people that work as if “serving their Lord.”

 There is a reason that companies like Powerhouse Retail thrives and it isn’t to faraway from their Christian values.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Alexander Michl

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“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Matthew 5:44-45

REVEREND WANG ARRESTED FOR PREACHING IN CHINA

Communist nations are atheist and in general are against any formal religious gathering. While the aggression against Christians has become more subdued over the past few decades, through events like the fall of the Iron Curtain. However, China’s recent movement to an open society and a more open view of religious practices has stalled and appears to be regressing.

Today there 100 million Christians in China, many attend an in-home church to avoid government interference. However, this Christmas, the Government in China has stepped up its efforts to control religious practices. Earlier this month, 60 police raided a church taking artifacts and questioned those attending.

Of particular interest is Pastor Wang Yi, who was arrested with his wife on December 9th. He sits in jail today with the potential of having a fifteen year prison sentence. His crime was no more than being more open than other pastors by actually having a formal church.

Prior to his arrest he suspected that there could be an incident where he would be detained. Knowing this he drafted a letter to his congregation to be released if he was arrested. He was and the letter was distributed. In his letter he said, “I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use nonviolent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God.”

During the next few days, the congregation gathered to protest the arrest and held a church service at a nearby park. 60 of the protesters were arrested as well. Many of the congregation have had police come to their homes and been asked to sign a document declaring they have left their faith and taken their children out of the church run school.

After years of a slow movement by the Chinese government to religious tolerance, a return to practices from a few decades ago has started to prevail. The new President Xi has begun to push this agenda harder. Besides Reverend Wang, the Catholic church has been at odds with President Xi over the disappearance of Bishop Zhuang Jianjian, whose whereabouts is still unknown.

But it goes deeper than just the persecution of Christians, China is moving back to a society similar to one from George Orwell’s book, 1984. President Xi appears to be trying to create a controlled society similar to what existed in the fifties. We see this in a number of recent incidences. Their lack of agreement that charging tariffs on other countries imports is wrong, while they refuse to have tariffs charged on what they export.

They have been persistent in stealing other countries technology. President Xi himself ended the term limit for his presidency, setting himself up to be a life time ruler. These are dangerous times for a country that had up to recent past created a chance for its citizens to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Previously it was possible for their citizens, through hard work and ingenuity to better their lives. Chinese citizens had been given the freedom of travel and private ownership. With President Xi, there appears to be a different direction from the recent past.

Like most despotic activities from the past, they center on the person in charge and their ability to control its citizens. Inevitably, Christianity and other religious beliefs are attacked during these descents into despotism.

While President Xi can try to eliminate religious practices, the only result will be a movement that will reside hidden from those who try to control religious practices. The movement will go deeper underground. History is littered with these movements. In Nazi Germany, where they gained control of the national Lutheran church and silent approval from the Catholic church, religious activity didn’t disappear it became clandestine. In fact it created the forming of the Confessing church. In ancient Rome, before the acceptance of Christianity, the church literally went underground. Into the catacombs under the city. During the Cold War, the church in the affected eastern bloc countries still met and practiced their beliefs.

The lesson is that many that try to control religion don’t see that Christ does not go away. Our beliefs don’t die because a despot say they must. We are all free in our minds and in our beliefs, no state can control God’s connection to the hearts of the masses.

As Reverend Wang stated, our resistance is one of non-violence, but also of firmness. Many have walked before Reverend Wang and provided the example of civil disobedience. Our prayers today are for his safe return. Perhaps he will become a martyr like those from the past and for that we pray for his peace.

I write this article today to ensure his story is heard by a few more and maybe our collective voices of those who write to support Reverend Wang will help. Perhaps as a group we can start pushing the wheel of religious freedom a little further along.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Hanson Lu

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“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

Revelations 3:20

SEVEN NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS IDEAS FOR OUR FAITH

Every year we all make New Year resolutions. We want to exercise more or perhaps lose some weight. Essentially, we want to change in some way. Sometimes it’s big changes and sometimes small. The start of anything that makes us better is always a good thing. Staying the same not only will produce the same results, but in many cases we will go backwards.

So it is with our faith lives. Our faith should be nourished every day. Without this added attention, our faith will dim and the ways of the world will take up a bigger piece of our thoughts. Here are seven simple things we can all do to help our faith this new year. Any one of these will move us forward as Christians.

Read the Bible Everyday

Most Christians have a Bible, why not set aside 15 minutes a day to read the Bible. For instance, at a normal reading pace, if we read the Bible for 15 minutes a day, by the end of the year we will have read the Bible from cover! When we are done, we will be changed.

Sure there are hard parts, but there is also a richness in the difficult sections. Perhaps start with the New testament or even just the Gospels. After a week or so, it will become part of our daily routine. The hardest part is starting and continuing. But we will be surprised how important it becomes after just a week or two.

Go to Church More Frequently

Life is busy and our priorities can be overwhelming. Fitting in going to church every Sunday can be a difficult task. Perhaps our current church isn’t meeting our needs or our schedule. Perhaps Sunday morning comes up to quickly. Perhaps we need to find a church that better suits our lives. But going to church helps us, even in small ways.

Going to church helps our faith lives. There is more to church than just the sermon. There is fellowship with other Christians. It is a wonderful time to think about our upcoming week and how we can bring God into our lives.

Listening closely to the prayers being said and thinking about the words being expressed, will add to our faith. Likewise songs lift our souls, but also included in the songs are important statements that are similar to prayers.

God will speak to us when we are in church, maybe through the sermon or through a song. Or even a person we meet. I can honestly say, that each time I go to church, something new and surprising happens that helps my faith life.

Make Prayer a Part or Our Daily Routine

For some of us the best time to spend a few minutes praying, is in the morning. For others it may be at night. Regardless of the time and place, a short conversation with God through Jesus becomes a haven when it becomes part of our life routine.

Prayer is an important part of our faith lives, it is through our very personal conversation that we begin to see the connection between our prayer life and God’s answers. God will answer, our only task after we have prayed is to watch and observe. In the observation we will see God’s answer.

There are three types of prayers. The first is when we go to God with a request. The second is when we ask for help for someone else. The third and final is a prayer of thankfulness. Perhaps in each prayer, we can use all three types. The only caveats to daily prayer is consistency and being in a quiet place.

Read the Verse of the Day

Many Christian websites have a verse of the day. Some of my favorites are www.biblegateway.com and www.christianitytoday.com. Both have verses of the day. I particularly like going to Bible Gateway, as the first thing you see is the verse of the day. Many times, I will note how it applies to me or a situation I am familiar with.

Christianity Today, has daily newsletters that will can be sent directly to our emails. There are many sites that doing something similar. Over time, it will become part of our daily routine.

Join a Bible Study Group

Most churches have a Bible study group. If not, your local pastor can lead us to some in our communities. Most Study groups have a theme, like Christian mothers or Christian business people. It might take a few visits to a different groups before we find the right one, but there is one for all of us.

Bible study groups are a great place to be with people that share common life circumstances. Hearing others views is important as each person has a unique perspective. Many times I will hear a comment or statement about a verse that changes how I think. But we also share lives at Bible studies, we get to know other Christians and their lives. Not every Bible study group will fit, but there is one out there for us as individuals.

Join a Helping Based Organization

In every community there is an organization that helps those in need. Initially, it may just be volunteering your time. Perhaps later it can be serving on a committee. But in every community there are ways to help others. Most communities have a hospice program or a tutoring program. Certainly every community has a food bank or clothing center.

Spending time helping others, fulfills the second commandment of Jesus, by loving our neighbor. Surprisingly when we help others, we help ourselves.

Each Day Make a Difference in a Person’s Life

This is perhaps both the easiest and hardest one to accomplish. When we go to a store, say “Thank you” to the person waiting on us. Practice holding the door for someone else. Let other cars go in front of us when we are in a traffic jam. Essentially, slowing ourselves down helps others. Sure it might be inconvenient, but is the second or two we lose really that important?

Lend a hand to someone who is struggling, even when we are busy. Perhaps spend a few more moments listening to their story. Listening is our easiest gift to give.

These seven things can all be accomplished or perhaps one at a time. But in some way they all push us to be closer to God. In some way they affect how we treat others and strengthen our faith. Some can be hard to start, but after a few weeks, we find ourselves with a new routine.

This New Year, besides our normal resolutions, why not add a few resolutions that strengthen our faith lives. Jesus is waiting for us to answer his knock on our life’s door.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ian Schneider

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