“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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:21

IS JESUS BAD FOR BUSINESS?

In at least half of my radio interviews I am asked, “Does Christianity and business work together?” The reason I am asked this question is, in our current society the prevailing feeling of mixing our faith with our business lives is out of step. Fundamentally and practically this concept of not mixing business and our faith is in error. Jesus and his values are strongly related to running a successful business.

First, let’s consider the reality of most lives. We all have bills to pay. To pay these bills most of us have to work. In fact, most people spend more than half of their awake hours working. The vast group of humanity has to and needs to work. But are they to leave their faith at home? Making them part time Christians. A difficult proposition for those who desire a personal relationship with God. Working is a necessity and so is a strong faith life, and they should be connected.

Second, there are businesses that are faith based and they thrive. Consider Chick-fil-a, a wildly successful business. While we can disagree with some of their positions on faith, they are Christian based and follow their beliefs. If you compare Chick-Fil-a to other fast food restaurants they exceed all in productivity and profits on a store by store basis. What makes this more remarkable is that they are only open six days a week versus seven for their competitors. They are closed on Sunday, every store.

Their customer reviews exceed those of other fast food places and their employees are always the happiest. Their lines are long every lunch time, but people will wait.

Many of the small businesses I meet that are Christian based, likewise have similar results. Their employees are courteous and congenial. The customer reviews are high.

What makes them successful, isn’t the pursuit of money, but the way they pursue paying their bills and earning profits. They think long term and not short term. They think about how they treat their customers and are not satisfied until the rankings are high. They think about making quality products. They create a great work environment for their employees. Jesus’ values are present in all these thoughts.

I know of a firm that has grown substantially over the last few years, that doesn’t embody these values. But warning clouds are on their horizon. Through skillful high pressure sales tactics they have amassed a large number of customers. But less than one percent of these customers are satisfied. When I discussed this with their management, I was met with surprise. They responded by saying, “But we are making lots of money.” True for the time being.

Looking at their reviews on line, a tidal wave of complaints is growing. It has become so large that it will swamp their business. They invest most of their activity in selling and making money;  little in satisfying their customer. Certainly, opposite of Christian values. Like all businesses with this direction, they will enjoy a period of success and inevitably fail.

In my book Jesus &Co.I talk about this disconnect between the ethical values and purpose of companies. Those that are inwardly motivated to generate profits through any means, typically stumble. Ethics and especially Christian ethics will solidify a company for the long term and help them avoid the disasters caused by short term thinking.

The reason short term thinking companies stumble;  is they serve to make money now and not to produce a great long term product. They use high pressure sales tactics to acquire customers and do little to satisfy. For the time being their money is growing, but it will soon dry up.

Jesus, who himself was a business person, makes a profound business statement when he says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” An insightful strategic thought. If we chase money as our only goal we will be captivated by that goal and ignore the real purpose of our company.

Customers shop where they are respected and employees work where they are cared about. Our goals should be long term and not in the short term pursuit of money.

Many of the Parables of Jesus center around this concept of fair play in business. More than half talk about how to exist in business ethically and sustainably.

The values of Jesus are always long term. They speak to fair dealing. They embody how to treat our customers and employees. They are always about fair play and decency. What employer wouldn’t want these values as part of their operating culture?

How do we as individuals bring these values into the workplace if we work in a non-Christian business. Simply act in a manner that is pleasing to our Lord. We don’t have to stand on the lunch table and declare we are Christian. We only have to bring the values to our behavior. Overtime our bosses and compatriots will notice that we are the ones who seek long term sustainable solutions. We are the ones who defend our customers right to a quality product. We become the person, people turn to for moral advice.

The goals of all businesses should be on achieving long term goals and not short term victories. Short term victories wane and long term success sustains.

We don’t need to declare we are Christian in the work place to be Christian. We need to act in a Christian manner that inspires others. Words don’t change people, actions do.

A business purely based on money will not survive in the long run, a business that has the long term values of Jesus will.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:13-14

DOES A BAD STOCK MARKET CHANGE OUR FAITH?

Over the last few weeks I have talked with a number of friends who have grown despondent over the size of their savings. Which have become significantly reduced by another round of stock losses. In some cases dropping more than ten percent in a month. Their normally happy disposition has become subdued by the knowledge of what they have saved is less than what they expected. They now worry about their future and ability to be free to pursue life.

Many are stuck watching the stock market hoping for a change, only to be left with a weakened sense of hope. They are glued to CNBC looking for hope or some clue that it is almost done going down. Optimism has flown from their minds, replaced with dread.

Panic and fear have set in. But the stock market is cyclical and never permanently sits still. It mostly goes up, but at times it goes down. Since that last major shudder to the stock market in 2008, the market has rebounded by over 300%. Each down is replaced by a higher up. But sitting in this moment of down it is hard to believe it will go up. They have no control of the cycle and that makes it worse.

Today, eighty percent of the stock market trades are made by computers. Guided by algorithms that are unaware of the emotional effect of their computer generated decisions. Large behemoths that are insensitive to the human emotions they create. There is no sensitivity to the human drama that they create.

A worldly function that impacts our outlook and faith. But should it? Should we put our sense of well-being on a petulant and uncaring machine. Eventually, the market will return to where it was, like it has so many times before. But for the moment this is a period of anxiety.

Like all anxieties that we can not control, our task is to not change our view of life. It is not the time to lose faith. We may have to cutback a little, but has our life really changed? Does it mean we become more miserly with our charity? Does it mean that our hopefulness needs to be abated?

Jesus answered these questions, while talking to the Samaritan person at the well. He simply said, when we allow the things of this world control us, we will thirst again. When we put our faith in his Living Water we will never thirst. The Living Water replaces gloom with a hopeful Christian attitude of joy.

It is a hard road to cross, what should we thirst for? It is hard when we see what we work for is diminished. It is hard when our human efforts don’t bear fruit, despite our earnestness.

What we can control is our faith. A faith that does not worry. Faith in Jesus gives us a future. The past is only history and doesn’t define the future.

Valleys are a part of life that are followed by mountain tops. It is here in these valleys our faith is refined and we become better prepared for the next valley.

Maybe it’s not the stock market that makes us despondent. Perhaps it’s a lost job opportunity. Perhaps the loss of a close friend. Many things in life are out of our control. Through Jesus what we can control is a spirit of optimism. A faith that believes all will be right. It is not being defeated that defines us, it is whether we get up and try again that defines us.

Turning our eyes to Jesus, dims the a world that can be wildly unresponsive. Drinking the Living Water of our faith calms our thirst and worries.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace

SILENT NIGHT AND WHY IT SOOTHES OUR SOULS

Exactly two hundred years ago in 1818 on Christmas Eve, at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria, disaster struck. Mice had chewed on the wires of the organ bellows and created mayhem. Ruining the church organ on Christmas eve. Forcing the Reverend of the church, Joseph Mohr, to scramble to find music for the evenings worship service.

Not to be undone by a few mice, Reverend Mohr quickly gathered his wits and decided he would create a new song. A song that could be played on a guitar. A song that would become the hallmark of Christmas Eve, throughout the world.

In his study, Mohr quickly penned the lyrics to Silent Night. He then asked famed composer Franz Gruber to create the melody for the song. In moments of haste, the most famous of all Christmas songs was created. By two resourceful people under duress.

Over the years, the original manuscript was lost and the identity of the original writer was unknown. In 1995, the original manuscript was found and Reverend Mohr was credited with writing the words. Franz Gruber went on to a successful career as a composer and musician.

Since that time, the song has been translated into three hundred languages. As well as, its simple melody has been made to fit music for one player or an entire orchestra. Today, many performing artists have recorded the song, from Kelly Clarkson to the Temptations. If you go to YouTube you will find pages of renditions.

A simple set of lyrics combined with a soulful melody, created in haste, that is now the staple of all Candlelight services on Christmas Eve throughout the world. No denomination claims it as its hymn, it is just a universal statement of the purpose of Christmas for the whole world.

A reflection of the true spirit of Christmas. A song praising the arrival of God in human form. A song of peace and calm, with a melody that transcends language and cultural barriers.

A song sung by the whole world, from Austria to Africa and North America. A song that unifies our purpose and our world. For the brief moments we are present when Silent Night is sung at church with lit candles, we are mentally transported to feeling close to God and those with us.

A song that doesn’t require money or extraordinary efforts of our daily lives to be at peace. It only requires a heart of hope and expectancy for our future. A quiet time when we are surrounded by other people expressing their joy in the birth of Jesus. A peaceful and joy filled time amongst all the worries of the world.

This Christmas eve, why not visit a local church and attend the Christmas eve celebration. The service will end with the lighting of candles in the dark, symbolizing the lighting of the world with the arrival of our Lord, Jesus. Accompanied by the singing of Silent Night.

In a few brief moments the Spirit of Christmas will arrive.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A

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“Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.”

—John 5:19–20

THIS CHRISTMAS “WHAT OUGHT WE TO DO?”

Beyond the ethics of doing the right thing, we must also show faith by having the courage to do the right thing. If we truly believe and have faith in the unseen, then we will not hesitate to do those “right” things, even if doing so might put us at some personal risk. Being bold in our faith leads us to do what God would have us do. A faith that if we choose a path for the right reasons that God will give us “A future with hope.”

The principal question of ethics is “What Ought we to do?” A simple question that when married with difficult situations can lead to complicated answers. Even simple answers to this question will lead people to have different answers.

When we bring Jesus into our thought process, ethics turn into Christian ethics. We then begin to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Again this sounds simple, but it is not. Competing with what Jesus would do is our natural selves. We have our own desires and needs. We need to pay our bills. We need to earn a living in order to do that. We want our worldly needs satisfied. Sometimes these needs will conflict with what Jesus would have us do.

I know a woman named Beth, who was homeless and fighting hard to regain her footing, so she could raise her child in a home like she saw other mothers do. She worked at a local Dunkin’ Donuts in a job that sometimes had her scraping gum off the bottom of the tables. Her boss was abusive and ranted at her throughout her shift. Each day she went back to her shelter with a little more money to get her freedom. On the Christmas Eve of her one-year journey in homelessness she left work and found a woman in the parking lot who was in need. It was a dark, rainy night, and the woman had not recently eaten and was rummaging in the trash bin behind the store. With what she had earned in tips that day, Beth took the woman into Dunkin’ Donuts and bought her a meal. She sat with the woman and listened to her story. On that rainy Christmas Eve, she drove back to her shelter wondering if she had done enough for the woman. Her principal question was had she done what she ought to do?

Beth eventually got an apartment and left her job, to work at a better place. The next fall she was able to put her child on a school bus for her first day of school. She was able to go to a job where she was respected. She continued to wonder if she had done enough on that Christmas Eve.

“We should walk on our path of faith, to explore the length and breadth of our inheritance. An inheritance that will heal and free us.”

Deciding what we ought to do seems complicated, but Jesus gives us a simple blueprint when he says, “but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” Regardless of our natural circumstances, Jesus tells us to act in a manner that we envision how God would act. He asks us to act without fear of loss, but through our hearts. We should not overly ponder the event, but to let our knowledge of God through our heart tell us what we “ought” to do. We should walk on our path of faith, to explore the length and breadth of our inheritance. An inheritance that will heal and free us.

Maybe this is the Christmas that we move our gift giving to doing what would Jesus do? Perhaps this is someone we know who needs a little extra help. Perhaps a piece of what we give, we give to a needy cause. This Christmas we will all have that moment when we have to decide, What ought we to do?

The answer is; What would Jesus do?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by erin walker

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DID JESUS REALLY EXIST HISTORICALLY?

One of the questions I am frequently asked is, “Did Jesus really exist physically on earth.” Those who doubt need tangible proof that Jesus really walked on earth. Did he really walk among? Did he really say what is in the Bible? As a Doctor of Ministry, I can say with certainty that he did exist. Not because I want him to be real, but because he was real.

Historical information from the 1st century is much murkier than that of the 21st century. The internet didn’t exist. Great writings were not as prolific as they are today. As such, gleaning information about Jesus’s physical existence is much harder. Proof of his existence requires searching ancient records that are far more subtle than they are today.

This is compounded by two other facts, much of what was known was from oral history and that which was written, was only about the elite. Writings in the 1st century tended to be written about kings or emperors, the aristocracy. In fact, in the first century only five percent of the population could write. When they did write it was on material they may last only a few decades. Unless these writings were transcribed, they would disappear. So finding the truth in this quest is much harder than what we can do today with our own history.

If we discount what is written in the New Testament, can we still be sure Jesus really existed? My answer is yes! There does exist wonderful clues and writings that confirm Jesus’s existence.

We do know that Jesus existed from both Tacitus, at the beginning of the second century, a pagan historian, and Josephus at the end of the first century. Josephus referred to Jesus as a “yoke maker.” A reference to Jesus as a carpenter. Tacitus discussed the crucifixion in his writings, not only referring to Jesus, but Pontius Pilate. A non-Christian source of confirmation.

Dr. Gary Habermas wrote a book called the Historical Jesus. In this book, his research concluded that there are over sixty non-Christian references to Jesus. From writings of ancient luminaries such as; Tacitus, Josephus, Thallus, Phlegon, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian, the Talmud, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion. Many of these I read during my formal education of obtaining a Doctorate degree.

Another clue in our detective work centers around the existence of a document now called “Q”. Q is a document that included a number of sayings by Jesus. We know this document existed as it was included in the three synoptic Gospels; Matthew, Mark and Luke, and other documents unearthed from archaeological finds over the last few centuries.

The three Synoptic Gospels were all written at different times, spanning sixty C.E to eighty C.E. Mark was written first, followed by Matthew and then Luke. We know that because of some similarities the content of Q is included in all three. The writings of Q also exist in other documents that are not in the Bible. For instance, the Gospel of Thomas includes a number of these sayings.

Christian writers who are not in the New Testament, also have writings supporting the existence of Jesus, such as; Clement of Rome, Diognetus, Aristedes, Papias, Barnabas, Polycarp, Ignatius, Melito of Sardis, Quadratus, and Justin Martyr.

While this evidence answers the question of Jesus physical existence, it is only a small part or start of our belief. When talking with those who doubt, this information is a start, but there is more. Jesus is not just seen, but felt. Feeling Jesus in our hearts extends his physical presence to that of a spiritual presence.

Just knowing Jesus existed isn’t enough for those seeking. It is from feeling Jesus. When I hear the question of did Jesus really exist, I know the person is the early stages of acceptance. Accepting that there is a higher force and a set of life values we can hang on to.

Accepting Jesus in our hearts comes from observing. Learning to discern what is coincidence and what is providence. The process starts with engaged dialogue, or prayer. Then watching and seeing the results. For some this will come quickly. For others, perhaps a lifetime. Ultimately developing a firm faith is believing in the unseen.

For some a crisis must first exist. For others, simply a prayer that is answered. But for all that seek Jesus, he will be found. Each journey is different. With different hills and valleys to wander. The eventual encounter with Jesus will be remarkable and deeply personal.

Sure Jesus walked this earth. But this knowledge is the start of our journey. Jesus is more than physical, he is spiritual. He wants not only our eyes to see, but our hearts to feel. Breaking down the barriers of doubt of his physical existence hopefully will lead us to the final answer. Jesus is God, whom we seek.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Grant Whitty

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.