helping others

“But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.”

— Luke 22:26

SERVANT LEADERSHIP

In 1978 Betty Ford’s family confronted her about her alcoholism and addiction to opiates. In her memoirs she later stated, “I liked alcohol, it made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and pain.” Here was a former first lady admitting her addiction. A person well regarded for her social activism and grace. She had been trapped. She entered rehab and emerged into recovery. Behind her life as a social activist, a recovered breast cancer survivor, and an abused wife in her first marriage, was a hidden life of booze and drugs. The pressures of her past and present had driven her into the trap.

When my daughter was in her early teens, she asked me, “How many people work for you?” I replied, “Thousands.” She replied back, “It must be fun to boss that many people around.” Little did she know, when you manage a very large organization you have to make adjustments almost hourly. Each person you meet has a different need, and no one management style works universally. You develop knowledge about the people and respond the way that is most effective for the person to get his or her job done. Sometimes it is gentle coaching. Sometimes it is frank talk. But it is always different. Leading a large organization is definitely not “one size fits all.”

“However, when you tell people where you are going, and not how they have to get there, they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

I noticed over the years that managers who require people to perform their way can be effective, but are very limited in what they can accomplish. They are good at getting very specific things done, but their style keeps them from moving beyond that. They often find themselves exhausted and frustrated. The task of getting everything done your way requires constant follow-up and a lengthy “to do” list. However, when you tell people where you are going, and not how they have to get there, they will surprise you with their ingenuity. As a manager, I always found it easier to find people their resources and give them the freedom to do their job. Sure, you will get disappointed here and there, but the breadth of what you can manage will grow.

“We get our greatest life pleasure by helping others succeed.”

Jesus stresses this in today’s verse. That we are here to serve, that rewards don’t come from being served. When we think of people we admire, we usually think of servers, like Mother Teresa or my friend Roger, who donates his dental experience, or Geoff, who started an inner city after school program. Jesus knew that the human condition is that we aren’t truly satisfied unless we are in service. We get our greatest life pleasure by helping others succeed. Our best memories are of those times we served. We cringe when we insist on our own way. We are left unsatisfied.

“In our work life we get our greatest sense of accomplishment watching others succeed.”

In our work life we get our greatest sense of accomplishment  watching others succeed. Helping others be successful gives us self-satisfaction. At the same time, it allows our organizations to grow. Servant leadership requires us to adapt. It requires us to be in the background. It requires us to leave our ego home. But the reward is a sustainable and productive workplace. Jesus asks us to not think of ourselves too highly. He knows that a controlling, do-it-my-way management style is very limited. Serving and helping people with resources is usually all we need to do.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What is our management style?

What prevents us from serving?

Do we think about serving or commanding?

ocean

“. . . and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.”

— Luke 22:11–12

AUDACIOUS REQUESTS

I remember seeing her, Beth Caulfield, in class at Drew University Theological School . I immediately knew she was from the business world. My old world. She was dutiful, serious, and committed to learning her new craft. I knew she would get an A. She did. Later, after we graduated, I received an assignment to assemble and hire the best Methodists in New Jersey for a new group being set up to help the larger church. The existing clergy gave me over fifty names to interview. I needed to hire five. I personally talked with all that were on the list and began to hire the five I thought were the best fit. Then Beth called and asked if she could interview. But she hadn’t been on the list. She persisted and I conducted one more interview.

“She wasn’t part of the crowd, but she knew that wasn’t important. What was important, she knew she could help.”

We hired Beth. But she hadn’t been recommended by the clergy, I was told. They also told me she was pushy and not part of the crowd. True she didn’t speak their language. True she was from a faraway place, called the business world. She wasn’t pushy, she was using her skills learned in another world. She wasn’t part of the crowd, but she knew that wasn’t important. What was important, she knew she could help. She wasn’t afraid of disappointment. Her past had told her to ignore rejection. Her past had told her to ask. But her past had also told her to be polite and humble. She was only following rules she had learned in a different place.

“Jesus knows that when we serve God faithfully, we are not disappointed.”

Imagine Jesus sending a few people into town to ask for a room. A room where he would meet for the last time on earth with his disciples. A request that we might view as audacious. But not to Jesus. He knew there would be no disappointment. He knew that the room was to serve God. Jesus knows that when we serve God faithfully, we are not disappointed. God emboldens us to make the request, and the request will be granted. Jesus did meet in this upper room. Beth did get her job.

“Fear of disappointment is the biggest obstacle to success.”

Fear of disappointment is the biggest obstacle to success. It is the fear of being rejected. Perhaps even humiliated. We all confront it every day. We have to ask and we get nervous. Rejection is a very high form of humiliation. Jesus modeled the ability to ask without fear. He put his purpose ahead of disappointment. His goal was divine and his request fit a practical need. In business, we don’t always have divine goals, but we always have goals. When our goals help our neighbor, our customers, or our company, we should ask. When our goals are honorable, we should ask. Our own fear of disappointment prevents us from asking, but Jesus modeled how to request, and Beth followed.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do we fear when we ask?

Is our request honorable?

How do we ask?

marriage

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”

— Ephesians 5:21

A DAUGHTER’S COMMENT ABOUT MARRIAGE

While on Christmas vacation, in Portland, Oregon, I had just gone out to get my wife her morning wake-up material. It consisted of a large decaf Americano with cold soy, a whole grain bagel with no butter, and the New York Times crossword puzzle. My daughter, who was lying in bed with my wife, said, “Wow. I want this for my marriage.” And there it was, a statement that I had shown my daughter what marriage looked like. A marriage in which I cared about my wife and her needs. I don’t judge my wife that she needs these tools to arise. They are just her. It makes me happy that I can make her happy and help her day.

“Over time we build a history of repeated positive actions that create a marriage.”

Now, what my daughter doesn’t know is that our marriage is hard work. Being a good husband doesn’t just happen after we say our vows. It is a constant repeating of failure and then success. It is a constant searching for how to be a better husband. Some arrive quicker than others. And some, like myself, take a while to get the point. In marriage we venture around the rooms of a committed relationship. In these rooms we discover revelations, which we then take and try out. Some work and some don’t. Over time we build a history of repeated positive actions that create a marriage. We slip and fall. Through the graciousness of our partner, we get another chance. This process repeats itself every day. We try every day to be a better spouse.

“In marriage we are subject to one another, because we are in reverence to Christ.”

Paul provides the attitude to help us continue this journey. He says, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Our actions, when supported by reverence to Jesus, present to our spouse a commitment of behavior as if we were talking with Christ. But also, we act the way we do because we are reverent to Christ. We get the decaf Americano with cold soy because we’d do it if Christ asked. We are gentle, because it is the way we would treat Christ. We spread our coats over puddles, because we would do this for Christ. In marriage we are subject to one another, because we are in reverence to Christ.

“As Paul recommends, we remain subject to each other and Christ.”

My marriage is easy, because my wife is gracious. My wife leads with love. My wife helps others first. My wife has a deep faith. My wife makes it easy to get her a decaf Americano with cold soy. We bicker. We test each other’s will. We fight for control. We complain about each other’s frailties. But we go to bed each night with a moment of affection.  As Paul recommends, we remain subject to each other and Christ. We wake up each day ready to renew our marriage. I am glad my daughter wants our kind of marriage.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What does reverence to Christ look like in our marriage?

Do we treat our spouse in a way that honors Christ?

tulips

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”

— Luke 21:34–35

RECOVERING FROM LIFE’S TRAPS

In 1978 Betty Ford’s family confronted her about her alcoholism and addiction to opiates. In her memoirs she later stated, “I liked alcohol, it made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and pain.” Here was a former first lady admitting her addiction. A person well regarded for her social activism and grace. She had been trapped. She entered rehab and emerged into recovery. Behind her life as a social activist, a recovered breast cancer survivor, and an abused wife in her first marriage, was a hidden life of booze and drugs. The pressures of her past and present had driven her into the trap.

Later, she set up the famous Betty Ford Center. In its time it became the go-to place for addiction recovery. Over one hundred thousand people emerged from the center into recovery. Betty Ford’s public admission of her situation helped others take the first steps to recovery. But Betty Ford was more than this. She inspired people with breast cancer. She fought for women’s rights by lobbying for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1991 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Jesus tells us to be on guard for life’s addictions, of all kinds.”

Jesus tells us to be on guard for life’s addictions, of all kinds. He calls it a trap that arises unexpectedly. He also tells us that all will be confronted. None will escape the battle.  Even first ladies of great character. It can become an embarrassing moment in our lives that we try to conceal. In this concealment, we lose the resources of friends who will help. We conceal our addiction from God, who will help. We fight alone against a dangerous foe. Our embarrassment prevents our resources from coming to our aid. We become trapped. It is inevitable that we all encounter this part of life in one form or another.

“Our prayers, friends, and most importantly our recognition of our addictions become our shield.”

How do we win against addiction? Jesus says through prayer. Praying for strength to escape these things. But it starts with our first admitting that we are being confronted. We extend this recognition into prayer. We allow others in on the secret, as Betty Ford did. Our prayers, friends, and most importantly our recognition of our addictions become our shield. There will be those who judge, but they will have their turn. They will need help in some distant future. We press forward balancing judgment against recovery. Recovery is stronger, judgment is weaker.

When we emerge into recovery, we can renew our lives and begin the task of being a shining light.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Is addiction just drugs and alcohol?

What are other addictions?

How do we fight back?

faithful prayer

“Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”

— Matthew 21:22

FAITHFUL PRAYER

On an early spring morning, while taking a long walk, I felt I had lost the ability to pray. In that moment, all that I wanted seemed gone. A long ago desire to be a faithful Christian seemed lost forever. The fire I had started as a youth had burned down to a tiny ember. It appeared to be burning out. I began to pray that I could learn to pray. It was at that moment my greatest desire. I needed to rekindle my connection to God. To return to a connected life of thankfulness and humility. No other desire in that moment stirred within me. Later that day and for many days to come, the ember began to burst into flames. After I had thought it was burned out.

“Fundamental to prayer is a sense of need that we ourselves cannot meet, and faith that God is both able and willing to meet that need.”

Charles L Allen, a mid-twentieth-century author and pastor, describes prayer as follows: “Fundamental to prayer is a sense of need that we ourselves cannot meet, and faith that God is both able and willing to meet that need.” When we search for something to meet our need, we search in many places. We search at work, in our relationships, and in our readings. The further we search, the more we seem to just miss. But some search directly to God. They are patient and faithful. Charles Allen was the pastor of a Methodist church in Atlanta during the 1950’s. Each Sunday night he would hold a service on prayer. Each Sunday, over a thousand would show up to pray. Each person strung together Sunday by Sunday a life sculpted by prayer. A faithful request to be connected and renewed.

“Faithful prayer is the recognition that God is the source of our strength and the provider of the answers to life.”

Jesus tells us to pray. But he also tells us to pray with faith. A faith that our prayer will be answered. A faith that we will watch the events of our lives respond to our requests. A faith that isn’t based on selfish desire, but based on an authentic desire to be redeemed. A faith that our thankfulness is pointed to God. With this faith we will receive. The desire to receive being based not on ego, but on a spirit-led connectedness.

There are many times Jesus prays in the Gospels. In the Garden, while in the desert, and early in the morning. In his prayers, he is in dialogue with God, a searching for answers and an examination of the heart. In the Lord’s Prayer, he lays out the fundamentals of prayer: praise and petition. We express our recognition of God’s value and place a request. A request that through our faith we will receive an answer. When we engage in silent prayer, this request becomes molded by our dialogue with God. Our prayer request shape changes as the spirit helps formulate our requests. At times the prayer becomes something different than our original intent, an internal mediation with the spirit.

It is with faithful prayer that we let go of our human desire to shape our lives and through faithful prayer we let God help shape our lives.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Why pray?

What dialogue do we have with the spirit when we pray?

Why is faith important?

woman in field

“For I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

— Luke 21:15

POWERFUL WORDS OF TRUTH

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818. As a youth he became obsessed with learning to read. Thanks to the wife of his slave owner, he was able to. Later he would read the New Testament to the other slaves, teaching them the Gospel. When his masters discovered this, they broke up his activity and he was sold to another master. Frequently subject to beatings, he desired a different life. A free black woman, Ana, met Frederick and used her life savings to help him escape dressed as a sailor. They moved to New York and were married for over forty years. They had five children.

Frederick Douglass said, “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.”

Frederick was not satisfied with just his freedom. He became a leading orator in the anti-slavery movement. His oratory compelled many to turn against the practice. He was universal in his views of human rights. Frederick Douglass said, “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.” While a great supporter of the anti-slavery movement, he also fought for the right of women to vote and many other humanitarian causes. Later his oratory gave him access to American presidents. He pressed Lincoln to move faster on abolishing slavery. He traveled to Europe to speak about human rights. But many were against him, falsely using the Bible to justify slavery, creating images of slaves as inferior. Frederick Douglass spoke against all this, and is now long remembered, while his adversaries are long forgotten.

“Truth takes longer to brew, but is always a lasting brew.”

Many times in our business lives we see a different way. Perhaps we see corruption or something that causes harm to our customers. It is in these times that Jesus says he is there to help. He will give us the words to say. Words that seek truth. Words that lead others to see a better way. Words that promote a different view. Speaking these words requires conviction and a sense of love for our opponents. The truth is hard to contradict without opponents indicting themselves. Truth takes longer to brew, but is always a lasting brew. This is Jesus’s promise, that we will have the words. Our hearts and minds have to be ready for the words. Our courage, ready to speak the words. Jesus has the words. We have to ask.

Frederick Douglass was successful in his cause because he was singular in his fight. But his words were of universal freedoms. His words were spoken truthfully and not colored by agenda. His heart, too, was directed universally. Frederick Douglass’s color symbolized a great specific injustice, but his voice became that of all injustice. In our business world injustice exists as well. Maybe not to the degree of slavery or the right to vote. But it does affect our customers and fellow workers.

There is a way to speak the truth. The right words. They exist. Jesus gives us these words. Jesus gives us our love. Combined they create truth and change.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Where in our lives could we use the words of Jesus?

How do we speak them?

What can become the outcome?

waiting for harvest

“As for these that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon the other; all will be thrown down.”

— Luke 21:6

REBUILDING THE STONES OF LIFE

Jimmy Carter, our former president, in the late seventies, left office defeated by Ronald Reagan. Upon leaving, he went home and slept for twenty-four straight hours, exhausted from his four years as president. He had endured chronic shortages of gasoline, uncontrollable inflation and interest rates, and the healing of the nation from the Watergate scandal. His last year was mired in the tragedy of hostages held in Iran against their will. In spite of all his efforts, they were not released until after he left office. What had promised to be a presidency of change and national renewal ended with failure.

“In 2002, Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his decades of untiring efforts to find solutions to international conflicts.”

Jimmy Carter, a soft-spoken Christian, was well known for his honesty and ability to find difficult solutions to most problems. Jimmy Carter turned his life to helping other nations and the poor of our country. Future presidents would use him to help with difficult negotiations in foreign affairs. He became a driving force in Habitat for Humanity. Using the Carter Center as his platform, he got involved in numerous humanitarian efforts. He became one of America’s most successful former presidents. In 2002, Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his decades of untiring efforts to find solutions to international conflicts.

“Our most important assets are our God-given abilities, our experience, and our faith.”

Jesus points out that change is inevitable. Very seldom do we stay in the same place. Many times change strips us of who we were; it bares us to a life of uncertainty. We are left without a past we can count on. At this crossroads we have to decide to try another way. Go in another direction. Our most important assets are our God-given abilities, our experience and our faith. From here we can either try to regain the past or move forward to a new life. The stones of the past have been thrown down. Our lives are begun anew.

“With God in our lives, our future lies in front of us and our past becomes a forgotten road.”

Jimmy Carter always dreamed about being a great president, but ended up humiliated and beaten when he left office. With the encouragement of his wife, Rosalynn, and his deeply rooted faith, he struck out again to try another way. His new way worked. Many times we have to try a new way. Our lives that seem permanent are not. Many times God puts us at these crossroads. It is here that we have to try a different path, ignoring the bad from the past and remembering our gifts. With God in our lives, our future lies in front of us and our past becomes a forgotten road.

The stones of our life become rebuilt.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How permanent is today?

How do we and can we change?

What qualities, given to us by God, help in this transition?

people connected

“Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

— Luke 20:38

GOD OF THE LIVING

Daniel Ornellas, a worship leader for a church in South Africa, tells a story of the youngest of his three daughters, Frankie. On any road trip where Frankie was having a hard time, Daniel’s wife would play on her phone, “Spirit of the Living God.” For the most part it would soothe Frankie. Over time it became a family worship song and lullaby. It drew the family closer.

The second stanza of “Spirit of the Living God” frames the meaning.

                                                          When you come in the room
                                                   When you do what only you can do
                                                             It changes us, it changes
                                                      What we see and what we seek

The spirit of the living God changes us. It makes us look into different places and through different lenses. We become able to see what we should see. For Frankie, it is a soothing of the soul. For others, a new direction.

“Jesus implores us to seek God out in our lives, whether we’re a family on a trip or a person looking for meaning in day-to-day life.”

This profound message from Jesus in today’s verse, extends God’s presence beyond just salvation. Jesus implores us to seek God out in our lives, whether we’re a family on a trip or a person looking for meaning in day-to-day life. It creates a different point of view. A point of view that is less worldly and more spiritual. It helps us to see that the latest fashion trend pales in comparison to the living God. It reframes our lives.

When we let the spirit of the living God in, it begins to slowly seep into our vision. We begin to see things differently. It acts like a powerful vapor that over time creates differences. We begin to be kinder to strangers. We begin to hold doors, even when we don’t have to. We begin to not get frustrated while standing in line.

“When we begin to see events of lives connected to God, the random events of our lives become connected.”

When we begin to see events of lives connected to God. The random events of our lives become connected. We begin to connect the events of our lives to God and become thankful for God’s presence. We become more aware of the answers to our prayers.

We begin to know Emmanuel, “God is with us.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What song brings God to your surface?

How does the spirit of the song open your soul?

How does the song soothe you?  

sunrise over mountains

“But he looked at them and said, ‘What does this text mean: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”?’”

— Luke 20:17

JOE BONGIORNO THE CORNERSTONE

When I first started at Foot Locker, we needed to fix a lot of things. Much was broken or tied up in excessive rules. I discovered hidden away a person named Joe Bongiorno who could help. Whatever I needed, he figured it out and fixed it. Joe was a castoff, working for someone who hadn’t realized Joe knew everyone and could get anything. Tucked away where the pretty people couldn’t see him, he was a sled dog and not a poodle. But when I needed help from the masses, Joe stood in. When I needed a special project done, Joe completed the project. When it was review time, though, his managers wanted to give him an average review. You see, Joe didn’t graduate from Stanford and was plainspoken.

There was Joe at every critical juncture of our recovery from near bankruptcy, largely discarded but always standing on the wall defending his company. His company that he had worked for his entire career. He was always there. When we had an opening for the vice president of supply chain, we promoted Joe. Many of the elite scoffed at his promotion. But Joe performed well. He reorganized the system and allowed us to get products into our stores within three days. Our vendors loved working with Joe; he got right to the point and overcame their hurdles. Our stores became appreciative of Joe’s ability to listen. Through all this he was always better than budget. He made our company hum.

“In today’s verse, Jesus is talking about himself as a cornerstone, but also many others like Joe.”

In today’s verse, Jesus is talking about himself as a cornerstone, but also many others like Joe. How often in our work lives do we see someone neglected, but who works hard? That person stays until the job is done. He or she remains committed to the team, even when shinier models get ahead. Do we always know who we are rejecting? Do we listen to what others say or do we discard them? How many hours do we put in that aren’t recognized? Buried in every company are those people who are the cornerstones. They labor without glory and just seem to get things done. They are the sled dogs of corporations.

“Jesus liked people, who were sled dogs and not poodles. Consider his disciples, common people from the working class of an ancient Judean workplace.”

Joe went on to retire from Foot Locker, proud that he and his team had built a great supply chain to keep the stores stocked. Joe left with little fanfare, which was what he liked. He just “did his job.” Jesus liked people, who were sled dogs and not poodles. Consider his disciples, common people from the working class of an ancient Judean workplace. None were from the religious elite; they were tax collectors, fishermen, and everyday folk. With their help, Jesus accomplished his mission. Joe accomplished his, too, not in as dramatic a fashion, but silently and with little fanfare.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Who are the Joe’s in our lives?

Do we feel like Joe at times?

Who are our cornerstones?

sunrise

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

— Luke 22:42

THE PRICE JESUS PAID FOR HUMANKIND

Late at night in an ancient Judean garden, a man in his early thirties asked, “Are you sure this is the only way?

It was the third time that evening the young man had returned to the garden, each time with the same request: “Are you sure?

He was met by silence, but the answer was clear. The fullness of his humanity exposed, he was sweating to the point of bleeding. “Not my will but yours,” he reluctantly assented. He knew what lay ahead. Betrayal by his friends and humiliation in front of his community. An agonizing beating that would tear the skin from his back. A trek carrying his cross to a hill. Death by crucifixion. All this he and he alone had to undergo in order to connect humanity with God. 

In fact, he was creating a flower for humankind called Easter.

Excerpt of the opening to Jesus & Co. Due for release on March 20th. Available for pre-order on Amazon.com

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman