“Rise up, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”

– Genesis 13:17

WALKING THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF OUR FAITH

The great father of our religious heritage, Abraham, was from the tenth generation since Noah. His father, Terah, had taken Abraham from his home in Ur,  to journey through the land of the Canaanites. His father never made the it into Canaan. Distracted from his mission, stopping instead in Haran, where Teran died.

After his father’s death, Abraham was spoken to by God, who said; “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 Abraham began a long journey throughout the region, taking with him, his immediate family and nephew Lot. Along the way they were beset by many struggles, including a famine. Desperate to avoid the loss of his health and wealth, forgetting God’s command, Abraham led them into Egypt. Abraham like his father became distracted and lacking in faith moved away from God’s plan.

While in Egypt, Abraham told his wife, Sarah,  to tell pharaoh that she was his sister. An act of concealment to avoid having Abraham being murdered. For his wife, Sarah, was beautiful and Abraham was sure that Pharaoh would murder him to possess his wife.

The plan worked for a while, Sarah was fully accepted in Pharaoh’s house. Abraham was treated well by the Egyptians. Pharaoh takes Sarah as his wife, but soon develops sore and other plagues caused by God. Pharaoh confronts Abraham and asks him why did he lie? Why did he not tell Pharaoh that Sarah was his wife. Fearing more retribution from God, Pharaoh him banished from Egypt.

Along the way, both Abraham’s and Lot’s herds grew. Causing animosity between Abraham and Lot. Abraham tells Lot to choose a place where he would go and Abraham would take what was left. Lot chose a large parcel of land that would be best for his herds, but also contained the city of Sodom. A place that was notorious for its wickedness and sinful behavior.

Lot moved his herds and settled in the city of Sodom. Abraham took over what was left. A final settlement and finally Abraham was in the land that God wanted him to be. After years of traveling to Canaan and being distracted by his own fears and hearing the sirens of other lands. Abraham was where God wanted him.

God then issued a request to Abraham to, “ “Rise up, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:17 Abraham was now finally where he should be and God had told him to inspect all that he owned. Not just to see, but walk its length and breadth. To immerse himself in all that God was giving him. Not just see the trees and water, but to be with the land. To explore every facet of this land that he had inherited from God.

Metaphorically, we can see this same thing in our lives. Our faith is the land that God wants us to explore and become immersed. Not just stand by and watch the unfurling of our faith, but to experience and invest our energy into our faith. To move beyond just saying our prayers and reading the Bible. But to explore our prayers and the Bible. To become deeply immersed. To learn the ways of the world and what to avoid. To wonder at the majesty of all creation. To wonder about the stars, to observe the spiritual winds of our lives. To not become attached to the shiny and temporary glimmers that the ways of the world. To not live our lives in fear and desperately try on our own to solve our problems through worldly ways.

God has a great bounty of spiritual wealth awaiting us. God will protect us and guide us on this journey. In times of trial he will hear. We will never be alone.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

-John 3:7-8

SEEING SPIRITUAL WINDS

On this dark night near Jerusalem, Nicodemus is struggling to understand the message of God.  Nicodemus was from the ruling class of the 1st century Judean society. He had nearly everything, wealth, a member of the Sanhedrin and status. Yet here he was, trying to learn what Jesus had to offer. He came to Jesus in the darkness part of the day, at night, so that he wouldn’t be seen. He had a yearning for God and deep in his soul he knew Jesus was the answer. Torn between the trappings of his material life and the desire to know God, he visits Jesus.

Struggling he tries but he doesn’t get what Jesus is saying. All that he had and knew was at risk, preventing his full comprehension of what Jesus had to say. Knowing this Jesus was frank and to the point, he tells Nicodemus, “You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” -John 3:7-8

Jesus’s point compares the spirit to the wind. God directs the spirit and the wind. He is simply telling Nicodemus, that if he is with God and born from above, then he would know that the wind or life isn’t for him to control. Those in commune with God or born from above understand the wind and the spirit. They know God is sovereign. He is also telling Nicodemus that he is trapped in the world. Matthew Henry , the famous 17th century theologian, explains it in this way, Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe.”  Nicodemus is at a crossroad in his life. Does he accept Jesus’s answer, which threatens his wealth, power and status, or does he return to his old life and still have a thirst for God that can’t be satisfied by the natural life.

For those us peering into this story, we know the choice Nicodemus should make. A test that he has to take in the school of life, that has only one question. Perhaps we feel like screaming out, “choose the wind!” Almost as if we are watching a science fiction movie and we are encouraging the main character to not go into the dark room. We all know the answer and what we would do.

This is the same question we are asked every day, sometimes every hour. Do we choose the comfort of our life or choose the wind. Nicodemus has a lot to give up. Many from the ruling elite  in the first century wanted Jesus taken care of or at least silenced. He posed a threat to all they had. To embrace the message of Jesus threatened all that Nicodemus had achieved through the world.

For those of us in the twenty first century, the question on our own life’s test is the same. Which path do we choose?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

– John 14:6

ACCEPTING THE COMPELLING FORCE OF GOD

C.S. Lewis, the great English writer of the twentieth century, had spent his late teens and early twenties angry at God. He stated, “I was angry with God for not existing.” An atheist for an extended period of time, he continually wrestled with God. He found the church boring and religion a chore. His belief was that if God existed, he would not have designed a world “so frail and faulty as we see.”

Lewis was a member of the Oxford University community, surrounded by people like Yeats and Tolkien. He was part of the intellectual elite of England during the early part of the 20th century. He couldn’t buy into the winds of God. His wrestling with God eventually ended because God became the only answer to a life-long yearning.

He wrote his own conversion story, where it states: “You must picture me alone in Magdelen , night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” The searching had ended. Encouraged by his friends, like Tolkien, he was changed and reborn.

“Many nights during World War Two, C.S Lewis spoke to the people of London on the radio to soothe their hearts, while bombs rained down.”

C.S. Lewis went on to become strong a Christian. Lewis wrote Mere Christianity and was instrumental in helping the English people’s morale during the bombing of London in World War II. Many nights during World War Two, C.S Lewis spoke to the people of London on the radio to soothe their hearts, while bombs rained down. Nicodemus, another reluctant follower from the first century came out of the closet and acknowledged Jesus publicly. He was at the Crucifixion and worked with Joseph of Arimathea to provide the burial tomb and spices.

“God pursues us. We fall and fail, but God’s chase is never ending.”

Life gets in the way of God, as it did with Lewis.  God pursues us. We fall and don’t accept the winds of God, but God’s chase is never ending. Once we give in to our gift, we are quickly whisked to life as another being. We are still “frail and faulty,” but our lives have changed.

The giving in to the compelling spirit of God and satisfying our own yearning, can and will place us at a crossroad. The path we take can heal us, but sometimes comes at a high earthly cost.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:7

FAITH AND DISTRACTIONS

Our faith is something that must be nurtured and sought after. The world reaches out to us and pulls away through life’s temptations, setbacks, and imagined responsibilities. At times the world will convince us that God isn’t with us, that he’s just some imaginary human construct. We will begin to blame others for our problems and to seek easier paths. But it is at exactly this spot that we should turn from our human instincts and dig deeper into our faith.

The recognition of the sovereign nature of God ebbs when we pay too much attention to the ways of the world and give in to despair. Faith must be practiced and nurtured despite our present condition, not because of it. There are few roads that are easy with faith. Jesus explains this, with a call to stay steady with our faith, when he says, “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

In life, it’s the little things that make a difference. Our faith lives are similar. For instance, many of us in business do what we think we should do or are asked to do, and then for some reason it doesn’t work out as well as we hoped. Inevitably it takes longer and there are a few more things to do than we’d expected. It is in this spot where we must decide between quality and quantity.  Do we finish our task because time is telling us to move on, or do we dig deeper to resolve those nagging feelings? This spot reminds me of a quote I used many times in my career, “The enemy of art is time.” Likewise, our faith life can become the victim of the suffocating drumbeat of time. It is here that we must decide if we are to move on or stop worrying so much about obstacles like time. Great art and our faith both require quality not quantity. How often do we say “I can’t do any more” or “I don’t have the time to nurture my faith” and move on? It is this internal decision that separates great faith from faith that is just an afterthought.

Our faith is in investment of ourselves in combination with God. God is not a genie that solves our problems alone. Our God is a loving God whom desires a relationship with us. Like any relationship it requires mutual acts of support. There are times when we need more from God than we can give, and God responds. Other times God only needs to stand by and watch us succeed. This continuum of faith varies from moment to moment.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be known to God.”

– Philippians 4:6

THE SIMPLE ELEMENTS OF PRAYER

Prayer is an essential part of developing a strong faith. Through prayer we converse with the sacred and begin a dialogue about our life. We either hear or see responses. At first there might not appear to be answers, but over time they begin to become revealed through the events of our lives as we move deeper in our relationship with God. Our prayer life expands and we stretch out the boundaries of prayer.

As we go deeper, prayer becomes a regular part of our day and our faith is strengthened. We also begin to expand the context of our prayers, leading to a richer prayer and faith life. We begin to see that there are four elements of prayer that can be said as individual prayers or in many cases included together in a single prayer. They are:

  • Prayer of Adoration to God. This element reflects our faith in God and the sovereign nature of God. It is also a praising of God. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see it expressed as “Hallowed be thy name.”
  • Prayer of Petition. This is where we request and ask for God’s help. Simple words expressing our needs. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see this expressed as “Give us our daily bread.”
  • Prayer of Intercession. It is here we are being a good neighbor. We are asking for life assistance for a friend. We are asking God to intercede on behalf of our neighbor. In the verse “Give us our daily bread,” by using the word “us” we are not only asking for ourselves, but also for our neighbor. Prayers of intercession that stand alone usually contain a more direct request.
  • Prayer of Thankfulness. This element of prayer is when we take the time to thank God for his involvement in our lives and reflects our gratitude for all that God has done for us.

God wants us to pray with our hearts. Accomplishing this requires an emptying of our thoughts or emerging somehow into a state where we are uniquely alone with God. A place that soothes us and frees our minds for this sacred conversation, centering ourselves to only be focused on God. It is our heart that God wants, free of daily tasks and our to-do list. Many people find a quiet, comfortable place to pray, a routine in the morning that moves them away from the world.

God wants us to be in prayer continuously, and he wants to hear our desires. Being overly prescriptive with our prayer life can make it rigid and meaningless. There are only a few guidelines that I can offer to people who ask me how to pray.

  • As it is in the Lord’s Prayer, I suggest always starting with a praising of God. In this statement we recognize the sovereignty of our relationship with God.
  • Always treat prayer as a sacred act.
  • Ensure that you are in a place and mindset that will be free of distractions.
  • Pray through Jesus and recognize the redeeming aspect of Jesus.
  • Pray truthfully—God knows the truth about you already!

Praying seems hard at first. We ask what we should pray for? How do we pray? By following these simple steps we can engage in a healthy prayer life. While we should pray in desperate situations, we should also remember to pray with thanksgiving. God wants a full relationship with us, not just in those times of stress, but in all our joys as well. When we pray as if we are an open book we allow a richer conversation with God. A powerful faith is developed through a rich prayer life that in turn honestly observes God’s response.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’”

— Matthew 8:27

WHAT SORT OF MAN IS THIS?

Jesus is sleeping in the cargo hold of a boat that also contains his disciples. From seemingly nowhere the wind picks up and the seas begin to roil. The waves begin to become so large that they threaten to swamp the boat. The disciples begin to panic. Trembling, they awake Jesus and with terror in their voices say, “Lord save us! We are perishing.” Jesus arises and rebukes the disciples by saying, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Immediately Jesus stops the wind and calms the sea. Upon seeing this,  the disciples say, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

What is amazing in this story is the lack of faith of the disciples. By now they had witnessed healing and other miracles by Jesus.  They had seen demons cast out, had heard the wonderful Sermon on the Mount, and seen destitute lives changed. We can well wonder, how could they still doubt that they would be saved from the sea? How had they let their human fears override their knowledge of who Jesus was? We in turn can wonder, would we be any different?

Jesus replies with, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” His reply contains a universal message about the difficulty of faith. In spite of all they had seen from Jesus, they still allowed their worldly fears to swamp their faith, just as with us, despite all we have seen we allow ours to do the same.

Each time Jesus visits any of us we are left with amazement, many times wondering why we doubted.

Also in this story is a universal question of “What sort of man is this?” Who is Jesus that he calms the wind and seas? Who is Jesus that we can have confidence in him as our savior? While the answer to this question exceeds all humankind’s understanding, we are shown on a regular basis Jesus’s value to humankind. We are told to have faith, because we should. This is easy to mouth, but a simple platitude isn’t enough. Faith, in part, is experiencing and knowing what sort of man this is.

Jesus never gives up on us and will always pursue us to have faith.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

—John 17:17

COLORING OURSELVES WITH TRUTH

I met Bishop Earnest Lyght at Drew University. He was the resident bishop for Drew and was frequently available to the students. When you talked with Bishop Lyght, you could feel his truth. Whatever he said, he meant. When he talked, he talked without agenda. What he believed came from his heart. Not varnished, just a humble recitation of what he believed. He said what he believed with the knowledge that he needed to know more. A conversation with Bishop Lyght was a mutual dialogue. I am sure in silent moments of prayer, he searched his heart and desired only to tell God what was right.

Bishop Lyght was one of the early black bishops of the Methodist Church. He grew up at a time when the Methodist Church was segregated. It wasn’t until 1968 that these separate entities of race were dissolved and black pastors were welcome throughout the church. In spite of this obvious racism, Bishop Lyght continued his ministry with grace and truth. He commonly spoke out for the denied. He worked hard for equal rights of women and the poor. He wrote four books. But when you sat with him, you were with him. He listened and replied. His “thank-you’s” and “good days” were sincere. If something had to be fixed, regardless of the cost, he fixed it. His heart was always centered on the truth.

“Jesus says that our word is the truth.”

Jesus says that our word is the truth. That all we do should be centered on a sanctifying truth. A truth that courses through us to be the only thing we speak and do. In today’s world of fake news,  quick thank-yous that are said as an obligation and sleight of hand, Jesus’s ancient statement still applies. When we meet someone, we should be glad to meet that person. Our thanks in our emails should be sincere. When we tell a story, we should tell the whole story. What comes from us should always be the truth.

“When we do embody the truth, we set ourselves apart. We create a tapestry of ourselves that reflects the color of truth.”

It is sometimes hard to tell the truth. It can compromise our lives. We worry and fret about the consequences. When we do embody the truth, we set ourselves apart. We create a tapestry of ourselves that reflects the color of truth. We need to be always on guard about where our stories are leading us. Is it to gain favor? Is it to get something? When we say thank you, are we sincere? When we leave out facts, what is our purpose? Each day we struggle to be sincere. Each day we struggle to say what we mean. Each day we desire to be truthful. Some days we accomplish our tasks. Some days we don’t.

I am glad to have met Bishop Lyght. He is, in fact, a beacon of light. He is one of those people we aspire to be. His truth guides us.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What is truth in conversation?

What is truth in action?

How do we feel after we have been sincere?

“So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

— Genesis 1:27

IMAGO DEI

George  was raised in a wealthy home and went to Harvard. Instead of studying economics or business, he pursued a path of social advocacy. He eventually graduated with a master’s in Social Work. From there, with his wife, he started an organization called Street Squash, a program that provided inner city youth with access to college. The sport of squash was used to add an advantageous credit for the young people when applying to college, but it was not the primary focus of Street Squash. The students were provided with a place to go after school and study. They had tutors and visited college campuses. The goal was to create access for a segment of our population that needed a head start. George could have been a great investment banker, but chose instead a life of helping.

From his kitchen table George built an organization that has sent thousands of youth to college. And he has helped in the establishment of fourteen other programs throughout the country.   The graduation rate of students from these programs is substantially higher than national statistics. The youth from Street Squash achieve an almost 90 percent graduation rate. Without Street Squash, their chances were 15 percent. George only sees goals. He only sees that the youth are people. He knew that squash gave the students athletic content for their college résumés, and he knew Squash would help him with fund-raising.

“George reflects the Imago Dei, and his life focus is on helping, not labeling.”

Today’s verse comes from the book of Genesis and reflects the earliest statement from God on how humankind is viewed. We are all made in the image of God. Theologians call this Imago Dei. In today’s world of labeling from all corners,  people like George gets lost in the din of noise about racism, liberalism, conservatism, misogyny, and all the other labels we use to describe one another. Our news media encourages labeling because it increases viewership, which in turn increases revenue. All at the expense of the imago Dei. I know George and wish he was better known by others. George reflects the imago Dei, and his life focus is on helping, not labeling.

“There are no differences or labels from one to another when we think of people as images of God.”

In this time of great divide between all the various factions, it is important for us to reflect on what God means with the image of God. There are no differences or labels from one to another when we think of people as images of God. When we label, we diminish the intent of God. The solution to this great divide is turning back to God’s original intent and away from the commercialization of labels.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we see people when we first meet them?

What does the imago Dei look like?

How do we feel when we are labeled?

“So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!

(2nd Corinthians 5:17 NRSV)

LEAVING THE PAST BEHIND

A client of mine had a very personal self-inflicted catastrophe. After living a life that was driven to pursue power, money and fame, he took a step too far. As he achieved more and more, he began to cut corners in all aspects of his life. He began to see his friends and family as a way to get what he wanted and ignored their human value. He had become trapped in the lure of power and took the fateful step that went to far. Exposed by sin as an impostor, he began the process of re-evaluating his life and began the long road back. He turned to Jesus and accepted the yoke of being born again.

He changed his priorities. He began to work to provide for his family and not for himself. He re-entered the church and began to be a person of service. He relearned the values of “loving his neighbor.” He came home to be with his family and avoided late night meetings. With these changes he received forgiveness from those close to him. While the climb back was hard and uneven, he persisted and stay riveted on the values of Jesus. In our meetings, I noticed he had one hard step left to climb, he had to forgive himself.

“The Apostle Paul tells us that when we fully turn to a life with Jesus we become a new person or creation.”

In today’s verse attributed the Apostle Paul, we see the term new creation. The Apostle Paul tells us that when we fully turn to a life with Jesus we become a new person or creation. Our priorities change and we change. Life is new. It is not that we don’t have to pay for the consequences of our past, but the past no longer defines who we are. When we reconcile with God and our neighbor, we are forgiven. However, the hardest person to forgive for our past is ourselves. We drift back and fall into despair when we think about our past. We question who we are and become embarrassed at what we have done. We can’t release ourselves from our past.

“It is in the present, as a new creation with the Lord, that Jesus wants us to reside.”

For my client his hardest critic was himself. He tried to over achieve in his new life to escape his past. Every error in judgement brought on harsh self-criticism. He couldn’t forgive himself and tried to outrun his past. He over helped and over apologized. He hadn’t released himself, in spite of the renewed acceptance from friends, family and Jesus. He couldn’t move away from the regret of his past and his recovery wasn’t complete. Each journey he took to review his past brought horror and self-loathing. Eventually, he believed the words of Paul and moved forward. Eventually, he accepted the love of his family, friends and Jesus. Eventually he stopped judging himself based on the past and looked to the present. It is in the present, as a new creation with the Lord, that Jesus wants us to reside.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“My Father is still working, and I am also working.”

– John 5:17 (NRSV)/p>

THE CEREAL TYCOON

Henry Parsons Crowell, was the founder of Quaker Oats. He lost a lot in the early part of his life. His father died at thirty-six of Tuberculosis. He himself nearly died from the same disease. He wasn’t able to get a high school diploma, because of his father’s death. His first wife died after two and a half years. The first part of his life was hard. By 1885 he had started to have some success in business and bought a company called Quaker Oats. He made one small change to the company. Instead of selling his cereal in large barrels, he introduced the smaller containers we are familiar with today. Soon Quaker Oats became available in grocery stores throughout the country. During the depression of 1893, it served as a staple for many American families.

“If my life can be lived so as to please Him in every way, I’ll be supremely happy”

Soon after, Henry remarried and began to use his faith life to help others. He introduced God into the business world and others tycoons, such as John Rockefeller. He and his wife would travel the country, contributing to many organizations. In some years he would donate to  one-hundred organizations. He is famously quoted as saying, “If my life can be lived so as to please Him in every way, I’ll be supremely happy”. In the last years of his life, Henry was constantly working for the Lord.

“Every action, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, that helps God and humankind is in concert with God.”

Jesus makes a statement about working for God. The back story to the verse is that he has just healed a person on the Sabbath. The religious elite complained mightily and tried to use this activity against Jesus. Jesus’s reply speaks directly to our Christian behavior. He extends our work for God to Sunday. We have our work lives, that we use to pay our bills. From that we should have a Sabbath.  We also have the work of the Lord, which never ceases. Every action, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, that helps God and humankind is in concert with God. We need our rest and we should take it, but not be wedded to legalism, but to the spirit of God.

Henry Crowell died in 1948. He left a large trust. The trustees of this trust have a clear directive, “To carry out the Mr. Crowell’s wishes to honor the Lord who he loved and served during his life on this earth.” Over the years the trustees have kept this wish alive. Each year they issue close to one-hundred and fifty grants, totaling millions of dollars. Well past his death he is still working for the Lord. He was dubbed the Cereal tycoon. A life of riches created by one small change to his business. But also a life that worked endlessly for “the Lord he loved.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman