path through the woods

“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

— Luke 17:20–21

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AMONG US

One of my clients, Bill, had been on a long search for a job. Each day he met disappointment with this search. He is skilled in his craft and has an amazing amount of insight. He would be a great person for someone to hire. But each door got shut and he was thrown into despair. He was well off, with enough to allow himself to not work. But he wanted to do something and searched every day. He prayed and asked Jesus to help him. He went on long retreats and asked Jesus to give him answers. One retreat at a Catholic center required him to be silent for three days. It was a place with little to distract him, which would allow him to be in a constant state of prayer. Where was his answer?

“His gift was of a bounty that would allow him to be whom Jesus wanted him to be.”

Bill was looking in the wrong places. His answer was right in front of him. He had been given a gift. He didn’t have to go back to the old life, and in fact he didn’t really like his old craft. He just wanted to work. His despair was centered on doing the same thing he’d done before, which he could no longer achieve. His gift was of a bounty that would allow him to be whom Jesus wanted him to be. He had freedom to go wherever he wanted. To be whoever he wanted. Letting go was causing his despair.

“It is the spirit of God that lets us know what our gifts are.”

In today’s verse, the Apostle Paul talks about the gifts bestowed on us by God. It is the spirit of God that lets us know what our gifts are. At times we may forget them, and other times we may try other things. But knowing them becomes our purpose. Given by God and centered by God. How many of us can write a life plan that capture our gifts and fit it into seven words.  Our talents are the gifts bestowed upon us and worth writing down.

When I was working as a Fortune 500 CFO and responsible for hiring people, I used an approach called the “profile employee.” While their gifts were important, it was who they were that mattered the most. It was how well they understood themselves that counted. In review meetings the managers would say that he/she was a “profile employee.” To an employee it was the highest compliment. We didn’t care about any “ism”; we hired anyone who was positive, wanted to learn, and wanted to do “good.”

“The Kingdom of God can be found down a new path in our lives, which we don’t know. One that isn’t familiar. But that has always been among us.”

Many of us look in the same places over and over again for what we want. Those familiar places of our past. We know the path and it is comfortable. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, but it is among us. It is here! But we cannot see it.

Our journey in life will often send us down the old familiar paths. A path we can see and trust. It is like an old friend whose every nuance we know well. The Kingdom of God can be found down a new path in our lives, which we don’t know. One that isn’t familiar. But that has always been among us.

“He had a different purpose now. Not to be given to, but to be giving.”

Bill finally got his answer, by asking a different question: “Jesus, what do you want from me?” Not “what can you do for me?” Bill knew he had to become an inward person and not look outward so hard, because he had already found the Kingdom of God. His new job was to be among people. To help them. He had a different purpose now. Not to be given to, but to be giving. It cheered him up. It gave him value and joy to know he was helping God. His Kingdom of God was to help, and that was the way his heart was quieted. A sense of peace. Many times we look and the answer is among us.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Where are we looking?

What questions are we asking in prayer?

How do we feel the Kingdom of God?

waves over rocks

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”

— 1 Corinthians 2:12

OUR LIFE PLAN AND OUR GIFTS FROM GOD

Sitting in Starbucks with a friend I was helping, I saw it. There it was, a perfect seven-word life plan. It said, “Be happy, continue learning, and do good.” Simple, but complex when I got to know  Richard, the man who wrote this plan for his life. Richard is a happy person, but very thoughtful. He is a person you can trust and is extraordinarily humble. He serves as crew chief for his local EMT squad. When he shows up to help you, you are in good hands. He won’t panic, and for those moments he is in control, you can trust he is with you. He does good in places where others would cringe. He knows a lot. He can perform expert activities on Excel. He knows how products flow in business. He studies a lot and has an incredible desire to learn more.

“Be happy, continue learning, and do good.”

Richard is also unemployed. Why won’t anyone hire Richard? Simple: He is over fifty. He isn’t the  latest model. He is part of the largely ignored sector of our workforce that is considered too old. We have all kinds of “isms” for all kinds of biology. Some real and some perceived. But ageism is real. People like Richard have to work harder to find a job. When people find out their age, the phone line goes dead. Ironically, people like Richard will stay working for companies longer than the newer models. They offer experience that is time tested. They know how to tell their bosses the hard answers. In Richard’s case, many in the workforce who are younger and amazing, profess skills with Excel, but let me assure you they are not as capable with Excel as Richard.

But Richard has a life plan, and it fits him. He will continue looking for a job without bitterness. He just wants to work. He will continue to exist not being the new shiny penny. He will continue to be happy and do good. He will continue to look for a job.

“It is the spirit of God that lets us know what our gifts are.”

In today’s verse, the Apostle Paul talks about the gifts bestowed on us by God. It is the spirit of God that lets us know what our gifts are. At times we may forget them, and other times we may try other things. But knowing them becomes our purpose. Given by God and centered by God. How many of us can write a life plan that capture our gifts and fit it into seven words.  Our talents are the gifts bestowed upon us and worth writing down.

When I was working as a Fortune 500 CFO and responsible for hiring people, I used an approach called the “profile employee.” While their gifts were important, it was who they were that mattered the most. It was how well they understood themselves that counted. In review meetings the managers would say that he/she was a “profile employee.” To an employee it was the highest compliment. We didn’t care about any “ism”; we hired anyone who was positive, wanted to learn, and wanted to do “good.”

Richard is a profile employee and I am happy helping him find a job.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are the most important characteristics in a life plan?

What are our gifts?

Do we allow others to define us?

“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?

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

— Luke 12:48

A BUSINESS PERSON WHO GIVES MORE THAN HE RECEIVES!

My friend Geoff has run a very successful sports training business for over twenty-five years. He was given a great opportunity at an early age to run this business, and it has grown significantly under his stewardship. Beyond that he has gained the respect of a number of elite colleges, and his students benefit from the access he provides to those schools. He was blessed with parents who gave him a secure home and allowed him to explore life. He is surrounded by numerous friends that respect him for his intelligence, compassion, and commitment. He was recently named coach of the year by the National Squash Federation.

“As a friend, we all know Geoff will answer any call, at any time of the day. He is there to help.”

While Geoff certainly manages his business with great skill, it is the other things he does that we admire. His students are not just taught a sport skill; they are taught integrity, teamwork, and respect for your opponent. He is thoughtful with the parents of his students, who in turn know he respects their children and their life goals. As a friend, we all know Geoff will answer any call, at any time of the day. He is there to help. When he was in Africa on a mission trip to aid orphans, the children instantly were attached to Geoff. On one part of a trip we filmed him biking with the kids up a steep hill. Both the children and Geoff were laughing as they made this steep climb. At home I remember a time when he spotted a homeless person and asked the person if he was okay and if he needed anything. The rest of us were wary, but Geoff was hospitable.

“Jesus asks us to push outward with our gifts and refrain from storing. He asks us, “What more can we do?”

Jesus asks us to use our gifts from God. From those who are blessed, much is expected. Jesus asks us to push outward with our gifts and refrain from storing. He asks us, “What more can we do? Who can we help?” From those of us who run a business, much more is asked,  because of our blessings. We should serve because we have received. The lives we can change are sometimes clear and sometimes hidden. But we can help.

Geoff recently started an extension of an urban youth program designed to provide college access to youth who otherwise would not go to college. A few years ago it started with twenty-six students, and it has now tripled in size. These students will go on to college and far exceed the national average graduation rate.

Geoff’s life is enriched, not just because he works hard and is surrounded by a strong family and friends, but because he gives back more than he receives.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are our blessings?

Are we inward or outward with our gifts?

Do people see us just as business-people or also as sharing people?

“. . . but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and they went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.”

— Matthew 13:25–26

THE WEEDS OF LIFE

My wife and I were sitting with the woman who had to schedule a routine surgical procedure, and on the woman’s head was a headset and microphone. I asked, “Why do you have your headset on?” Her reply: “I wear it all day because I have to talk with the insurance companies all day. You might get interrupted here and there when I get a live person on the phone, so bear with me.” This woman had to call insurance companies all day regarding billing questions and many times was put on hold for a many minutes. As she waited on hold she served her customers, but every fifteen minutes or so someone would come on the phone and ask her a question. She would provide the answer and get put back on hold. And so her day went, everyday.

Too much of our life is spent on hold and waiting for many minutes to only can get the ten-second answer we need. If it isn’t the insurance company, it’s the cable company or the Department of Motor Vehicles. It has become part of the American experience. It is the weeds of life. Organizations impose these rules and procedures that must be followed, and we must wait on the phone or in line. In today’s story we see an ingenious woman who had solved the problem. Wear a headset, apologize to her patients for the minor interruptions, and still get her job done. Remarkable!

“The parable explains that weeds are always there, planted by some unknown entity that seeks to disrupt our daily routine.”

In today’s verse, Jesus talks about the weeds of life. The parable explains that weeds are always there, planted by some unknown entity that seeks to disrupt our daily routine. When asked what we should do with the weeds, Jesus replies, in Matthew 13:30, “Let them both grow together until the harvest.” In short Jesus tells us to work around them. Find an alternative solution and continue with our work.

“The weeds of life are always with us, but our faith helps us rise above them and helps us deal with all of life.”

Each of us will confront the weeds of life on a daily basis. Jesus tells us the weeds aren’t as important as what we do about them. Do we allow the weeds to choke our progress? Do we let the daily slights lower our view of other people? Can we find another way around the weeds, like the medical scheduler? The weeds of life are always with us, but our faith helps rise above them and helps us deal with all of life.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are the weeds of our life?

How do we deal with them?

What examples of ingenuity do we see in dealing with weeds?