“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

— Acts 2:46–47

HOW DO CHRISTIAN BUSINESS PEOPLE DEVELOP BELONGING?

Everyone wants to belong to something that is good. It is part of the human condition to want to be a member of a group that has meaning. We search for this in book clubs, in the companies we work for, in our neighborhoods, and within the church. When we belong to a group that is good, we anticipate the meet-ups, we immerse ourselves in helping the other members, and we care. We want to be part of something that important.

When we recruit people to work at our companies, we try to convince them that we are a good group. We have them meet others in our company. We work hard to get them to feel they belong.

Belonging turns into believing. Believing in the principles of the group. Believing in our company. Believing in our book club. Believing in our Christian faith. Believing comes over time; belonging comes first.

“Jesus is not a condemning Lord. Rather Jesus gives life and enriches our lives.”

Many Christian evangelists skip over the belonging part in the process of helping a person to live his or her life through Christ. They espouse the notion of “believe or be doomed.”  Jesus is not a condemning Lord. Rather Jesus  gives life and enriches our lives. Jesus frequently says the word “with.” He strives to bring us into relationship. Jesus knows we are on a journey to find faith together. And the groups that we belong to are there to help us with this journey.

Today’s verse discusses the fellowship of the first-century Christian life. These events occurred shortly after Easter and the passage describes the sense of belonging to the early Christian community. The verse describes a happy, generous, and well-respected group. They were filled with goodwill and had the goodwill of others. Who wouldn’t want to belong to this group?

“With the help of Jesus, we help others to believe.”

From this small early Christian community grew a group that is today the largest in our world. As Christians we all evangelize; in the way we live, in the way we act, and in the way we talk. With the help of Jesus, we help others to believe. And creating a sense of belonging is the first step.

Creating a sense of belonging in others starts with universal acceptance and affirmation of their humanity. Making others feel welcomed starts with listening. Followed by our own commitment to Christian values that is shown not through words, but by action. By listening we give people a voice. BY walking through our lives with a rigorous adherence to the words of Christ we create a model to follow. Doing both creates in others a sense of belonging.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we make other people feel welcomed?

Do we let them explore our values at their own pace?

What voice will they have after they join?

“ One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

— John 9:25

THE “AMAZING” STORY OF JOHN NEWTON’S JOURNEY TO WRITING AMAZING GRACE

John Newton, the former slave ship captain, wrote the famous Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.” Included in the lyrics is the verse from John 9:25, “Was blind, but now I see.” However, John Newton’s past was very checkered. He was known for extraordinarily bad language. One sea captain considered his vocabulary the worst of any seaman he had encountered. He frequently was disobedient and  even was forced to spend time as a slave in Sierra Leone. In spite of his life’s circumstances he continued to be drawn to the sea. Because he was an extraordinarily good seaman, his faults were often overlooked. He endured a number of close calls at sea, where his ships were either close to sinking or in such bad weather that men were washed overboard. Even though he had turned away from God, during these difficult moments he would still cry out, “God have mercy.”

It was through these moments that Newton began to turn to a different life. He became associated with the early Methodist movement in England and became well known to John Wesley. Wesley encouraged him to write and become a pastor. Later he became a rector at a small Anglican church. While at this church he helped write hymns. Included with these hymns was the song “Amazing Grace.” Later in his life,Newton became an avowed abolitionist and was a good friend of William Wilberforce, the person largely responsible for ending the slave trade in England.

“Overtime, the continued proximity to death and a restless heart forced him deeper into his relationship with Christ.”

John’s conversion occurred over a number of years. He would come close to turning his life around and then fall back. Overtime, the continued proximity to death and a restless heart forced him deeper into his relationship with Christ. And then it became inevitable and it eventually took hold. It was at this point that he was no longer blind, but could see. The words to “Amazing Grace” were many years off, but he could see.

“Jesus’s healing of the blind man symbolizes our own moment of seeing and giving in to having a relationship with God.”

Today’s verse is about a blind man Jesus healed. The local religious elite, seeking to discredit Jesus, were questioning the blind man, whose sight had been restored. Today’s verse is the blind man’s answer to his questioners. Jesus’s healing of the blind man symbolizes our own moment of seeing and giving in to having a relationship with God. Like Newton we fight back and sometimes have to endure a great deal of hardship before we see. We struggle at times to pursue this relationship with God. Sometimes we are in and at other times we are out. But God persists through Jesus to bring our sight back. We get close and fall back.

Then at some moment the events of our lives tip over our resistance and we are now no longer blind.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How is our story similar to John Newton’s?

What holds us back from accepting Jesus?

When do we see?

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

— Romans 7:19

FOUR WAYS TO RESOLVE THE INNER CONFLICT OF DOING GOOD

When I first read this verse, I was stunned. How could Paul think this about himself? The Apostle Paul was the earliest Christian writer of the Bible. Inspired by God, he is credited with thirteen of the books in the New Testament. He was largely responsible for starting the Christian movement outside of Jerusalem. His travels to spread the Gospel were extensive, dangerous, and met with skepticism wherever he went. How could this man of extraordinary faith write this verse?

“We all want to think of ourselves as good, but are inherently disappointed when we aren’t.”

In reflection, I realized that Paul is answering one of the most basic questions each of us has with ourselves. We all want to think of ourselves as good, but are inherently disappointed when we sometimes aren’t. We don’t always do the things we know we should, and later in our internal dialogue we question our actions. We go to an important business meeting or interview, full of hope on what we want to accomplish and say, and at times we fall short of being perfect in doing what we hoped. This is the dilemma Paul is talking about. How come we can’t  always be who we know we should be?

The verse gives us hope in the natural human condition, that we all know good. The test is converting this knowledge into action. When we are in an interview, we hope to get the job. But when confronted with a tough question, do we answer completely honestly or do we shade our answers slightly? It is the lure and need of the job that begins to twist us away. Our failures arise from things we want and have the freedom we have to spin the truth to get them. Perhaps it’s also taking a shortcut when no one else is looking. Perhaps it’s massaging some numbers to make our projects look better. It is these points that cause us sometimes to drift into not being who we want to be.

“Through a life of connected prayer and reflection, Jesus helps us move away from our internal conflicts.”

There are many solutions to this dilemma.

  • The first is to become more aware of these temptations.
  • The second is to see the benefit to our reputation of being honest over the long term.
  • The third is to recognize that our responsibility is to helping others.
  • Lastly and most importantly is the realization that we are inherently good and that our feeling of personal want in these situations needs to diminish to create this greater sense of self-worth.

Even Paul, the greatest of all evangelists, struggled with this concept. It is the natural human condition.

Through a life of connected prayer and reflection, Jesus helps us move away from our internal conflicts.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How often do we reflect on our inner condition?

What are the things we do to diminish our goodness?

How do we strengthen ourselves to avoid the natural state of want?

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit . . .”

— Luke 12:35

DRESSED FOR ACTION

On 9/11 two planes hit the World Trade Center, causing them to collapse. When they collapsed, thousands of lives were lost and our country was thrown into mourning. It was a great national tragedy. Not only were lives lost in the towers, but the buildings surrounding the Trade Center were crushed. One of the buildings was the Verizon communications center. In that moment Foot Locker lost its ability to communicate with our four thousand stores throughout North America. Immediately we were in a position of mourning for our neighbors and had lost the ability to run our business.

“Bill was always prepared and dressed for action.”

Bill Johnson, who worked for me and was in charge of our communications network, was ready. I called him by cell phone and asked him what his plans were for recovery. Bill informed me that he had already put his plan in place and by eight the next morning we would have full communications online again. This was classic Bill. He constantly surprised all of us with his ingenuity and thoughtfulness. Regardless of the situation, Bill was always prepared and dressed for action. As he had told me, the next morning our multibillion-dollar business was running normally.

“Jesus tell us, always be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. We never know what each day will bring.”

Jesus tells us to be prepared for anything. Jesus tell us, always be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. We never know what each day will bring. It could be joy or unique sorrow. But if we are to react well, preparation must be a lifelong commitment. Whether in our business, personal, or spiritual life, this should be how we think, live, and pray. We never know when an important event will occur. Each day is a day of possibility. Each day a sharp turn can occur. Jesus asks us to be prepared.

Two years later, the Northeast was hit with a major electrical outage. With it, our corporate headquarters went dark. We had many people stranded in our building who couldn’t go home. We needed power to keep them safe. I called Bill again. He replied, “My guys are reversing the power on the phone system and you can run the building off the battery.” It didn’t surprise me this time that Bill had the answer.

As always he was prepared.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Are we prepared spiritually?

What events have been sharp turns in our lives and were we prepared?

How do we prepare on a daily basis?

“And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.”

— Matthew 21:19

DO THE FRUITS OF OUR EFFORTS PRODUCE GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE?

I was talking with the business manager of a large automobile dealership and asked him, “How many cars a month does your best salesman sell?” He replied, “Thirty a month, month in and month out.” I was stunned. That was almost one and a half each day he worked. Considering the immense amount of paperwork and government forms that had to be filled out for each car, it was even more impressive. The salesman’s name was Steve, and not only did he sell a lot of cars, but he always achieved very high customer service scores. I queried the business manager about how and why Steve was so consistent. His reply was that Steve’s steady business came almost entirely from past customers’ referrals. He had gotten to a point where he only had to provide good customer service and no longer needed to  make cold calls.

“The fruit of his efforts was a steady stream of loyal customers.”

Steve sent out birthday cards to all his customers. He advocated for them when there was a problem. He would take their cars and get gas for them. He knew everyone by first name. In short, he put his customers first. The fruit of his efforts was a steady stream of loyal customers. His fig tree bore fruit because he cared. Customer first and himself second was the only way to accomplish this amazing feat.

How many times have we felt like a salesperson just wanted to sell something to us to make his or her goals? How many times have we felt cheated because of an extra add-on charge? How many times have our interests been put last? We are left feeling used and just there for people to get our cash. Many of us walk away silently and never do business with that person or company again. The salesperson may have won that day, but lost a future customer and many referrals. For a short-term gain there is a long-term loss.

“Do we really listen to the customer or are we only interested in the sale?”

In today’s verse Jesus condemns the fig tree because it bore no fruit. It provided only leaves. Its purpose was to produce fruit, but it bore none. Many of us are guilty of this as well. We strive for that big sale. It makes our numbers good and our bosses happy. But silently we ignore the customer and in turn choke off our future. Our withered fruits become our reputation. Do we really listen to the customer or are we only interested in the sale? Would we continue buying something from someone like that, knowing we don’t come first? Jesus knew that good business is great customer service.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we listen to our customers or do we push our goals?

How many repeat sales do we get?

How do we show value to our customers?

“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

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

– Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)

HOW DO WE TREAT THE LEAST OF THESE?

When my sister was in her early teens and then living with my parents in a distant and poor part of the world, discovered a stray cat. She patted the reluctant cat and earned its trust. Then brought the cat home and pleaded with my parents to keep the cat. My parents, always kind and accepting, welcomed the cat and named it Casey. My sister at this early age showed unique compassion for the disadvantaged, which carried into her adult life. Today, as a professionally trained social worker helps children in distress. The cat that my sister brought home was no ordinary cat. After years of abuse and having to fend for itself in the streets, it was ornery! If you sat on the couch Casey was sleeping under, Casey would reach out and scratch your leg. We would howl and complain. My sister would kindly remind us that she has had a tough life and to forgive her. A reminder of our Christian attitude.

Over time, Casey became a legend in our house. She was known as the unsociable cat. People would come to visit and we had to caution them where to sit. Generally, Casey kept to herself unless her space was invaded. In spite of her unsavory behavior, she always found food placed for her in the morning, she had the freedom to roam the yard and a warm place to sleep every night. She also had a protector, my sister. Casey lived for another ten years, but during this time became part of the fabric of a family, whose lore is still discussed today.

“Jesus makes no distinction about a person based on race, gender, socioeconomic circumstance or locale. All are members of his family without bias in any direction.”

In today’s verse, Jesus reminds us that “all” are part of God’s family. Even the “least of these.” Jesus makes no distinction about a person based on race, gender, socioeconomic circumstance or locale. All are members of his family without bias in any direction. Jesus cares about the person and their hearts. Jesus knows our life circumstances and chooses to help us in spite of our pasts. Jesus knows our hidden terrors and past disappointments. Jesus knows our blind spots and continues to accept us. Jesus is very protective of his flock and cautions us to treat everyone, as he does, equally. He asks us to treat people, as he does, with an awareness of people’s life circumstances.

“Jesus wants us to treat people as if we are talking to Jesus, himself.”

Many times we meet people who are troubled and we turn away. Or we hear about a person from another walk of life and make our judgments without knowing the person. We see people who don’t wear the best clothes, have the latest technology or speak differently, and we judge. We see a homeless person late at night and assume danger. Hidden beneath these non-conforming images are people of Jesus’s family. Jesus wants us to treat people as if we are talking to Jesus, himself. We can do this by ridding ourselves of what we want to see and move to what is there.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

— Luke 23:46

COMMENDING OUR SPIRIT TO GOD

James Cash Penney, the founder of the  JCPenney stores, was nearly bankrupt as a result of the 1929 stock market crash. In fact, he had to use his own personal assets to make payroll for a period of time. For nearly thirty years he had built his company from one store in Wyoming to a large chain of fourteen hundred stores. The financial toll weighed heavily on his health, and he eventually checked himself into the Battle Creek Sanitarium. While attending a church service at the sanitarium and after hearing the hymn “God Will Take Care of You,” Penney became a Christian.

“His last years were spent helping others, which was the model for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

Penney returned to run his business, and after successfully guiding it through the Great Depression and World War II, he left active management of the company. He turned his sights to giving back. He fought for laws to have all stores closed on Sunday. He set up the J. C. Penney Foundation, an organization that supported human rights, community economic empowerment, government accountability, and environmental sustainability. He was one of the founders of 40Plus, an organization that helped those over forty find jobs. His last years were spent helping others, which was the model for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“When we commend our spirit to God, we release our bonds from a life of worries.”

In the Book of Luke Jesus’s last human act was to commend his spirit to God. An act that created a model for others to follow. An act in which we give up our pursuit of earthly gains and turn to helping God and our neighbors. An act that changes our focus. An act that moves our spirit to a different purpose, one of giving. When we commend our spirit to God, we release our bonds from a life of worries. We begin to be able to focus on a different path. Our business lives change from fretting to hopefulness. We change from restless sleep to a passion for waking up. Our step is quicker and our hearts are lighter. We have released ourselves.

“We move to a spirit that keeps life in perspective.”

Penney dropped his worries and realized that a bigger force than himself was involved. He began to understand that business cycles occur here and there. He grew to know that all he could do was work hard. He grew to know that worry was an impediment. As the country recovered, so did his business. The recovery became an afterthought, and after he had safely guided his business home, he moved to a new mission. In all of our lives we will have successes and failures. Some as a result of our efforts and some not. When we commend our spirit to God, we change our perspective from worry to hopefulness and helpfulness. We begin to recognize what we can do better and who the real creator of our success is. We move to a spirit that keeps life in perspective.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.”

– Matthew 7:14 (NRSV)

TAKING THE NARROW ROAD

In business and in life, it’s the little things that make a difference. Many of us in business do what we think we should do or are asked. 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. It is in this spot where we have to 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 by Orson Welles who said, “The enemy of art is time.” It is here  that we have to decide if we are to move on or eliminate obstacles like time. Great art or great business decisions require quality not quantity. How often do we say, “I can’t do any more” and move on? It is this decision that separates greatness from just being good.

The founders of Airbnb were struggling, they were running out of money and homestays were not coming as they had planned. Everything had been thought out. The website was built and the homeowners discovered. A few customers had caught on, but gaining traction at the rate they had hoped wasn’t occurring. It was here that the founders stepped back to figure out why. They decided to step back and talk to many customers and homeowners to identify how they could get better. They stayed in people’s homes and interviewed customers. The founders manned the helped desk to find out more. What they discovered was that a traveler wants more than just a place to stay. They wanted to experience the city where they were staying. In turn the founders expanded their efforts to create a five-star experience in every stay. They made their site easier, became more accommodating to the home owner and began suggesting places to visit when you arrived at your destination. As we all know the  Airbnb business took off. They tried one more thing, they dug deeper into the customer’s needs and discovered another level. They didn’t quit – they stepped back.

“Through just a little more effort we unlock the solutions to our faith and business lives.”

Jesus implores us both in our faith and business lives to work harder, to take the narrow road. Jesus points to a path that is harder than what we want to do. Like a good coach, Jesus is telling us try just a few more things. Pressing on we discover around a turn a deeper level of understanding. Through just a little more effort we unlock the solutions to our faith and business lives. Instead of just being busy, we become successful. Jesus asks us to dig a little deeper and we find a life we desire.

“Jesus suggests we avoid becoming slaves to our to do lists and focus on what counts and worry about quality.”

For many of us, we are pressed for time. Our to do list piles up if we tarry too long on a project. We are besieged by an endless list of tasks. Jesus suggests we avoid becoming slaves to our to do lists and focus on what counts and worry about quality. Jesus wants us to trade off the trivial for the important, to avoid distractions and not stop until we find the answer that settles our souls. Many times, it is around a corner that looks steep and hard. But when we take the time and find it, life becomes revealed and we are for the moment contented. We no longer feel defeated or harried. We have climbed a long hill. To rephrase Orson Welles quote, “The great enemy of art is time.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

– Matthew 11:29 (NRSV)

FOLLOWING JESUS TO A NEW IDENTITY

My friend Bill, who left the corporate world to help the poor for the Catholic church in the northwest part of the United States, called me in distress. He had left a well-paying job in the corporate world for two years to help those less fortunate. Upon his return he was finding it hard to find a new job. Many interviewers didn’t understand why he left and many were put off by the fact he was sixty. He kept meeting dead ends in all his searching. Confused by doing good and then being rebuffed had created a crisis in his life. He didn’t need the job for money, he just wanted to belong again.

His self-esteem plummeted and he began to feel worthless. His searching kept leading him to disappointment.

Over the next two years, he searched for a place to work. He prayed on a regular basis. He even went away for a week to a retreat center looking for his answer. He wanted desperately to belong again. His self-esteem plummeted and he began to feel worthless. His searching kept leading him to disappointment.

We talked on a weekly basis at an appointed time and during these, I would often probe him about why a job in his old world was so important. He would reply, because it was his identity. For years he had worked hard to provide for his family and built a wonderful resume. But now he had lost that ability.

He kept waiting for Jesus to answer his prayer of finding him a job.

During these two years, Bill would still help others. In fact, he helped a group of Nuns create a shelter for pregnant women. Many days he put in many hours painting and fixing. Within this community he found acceptance. But not what he wanted, he wanted to go back to his old life. Often times I would tell him how much I admired his caring and giving efforts to others. I would relay to him that when I told his story to other people, they became amazed at his giving nature and life. For two years, this wasn’t enough for Bill. He kept searching and not finding. Eventually, he decided to become an EMT, while he waited for a new job. He kept waiting for Jesus to answer his prayer of finding him a job.

Typical of Bill, he was one of the best students. In spite of some physical limitations he was able to stay up with the younger people in his class. He began to thrive. Many times, I would get a text from him, “I can’t talk tonight, I am going out with my classmates.” I was used to this, as many of the people I help, eventually find their answer and move on to their new life. It is a very familiar process. They search and then they find their answer.

Later, in one of our final conversations, Bill relayed to me that he had prayed for an answer many times. But he kept looking in the wrong spots.

Later, in one of our final conversations, Bill relayed to me that he had prayed for an answer many times. But he kept looking in the wrong spots. The answer to what was his identity, didn’t lie in the old spot of the corporate world, but in helping make the world a better place. Jesus had been answering his prayers, he just hadn’t paid attention.

Jesus asks us to take his yoke. Jesus reminds us that he is “gentle and humble of heart,” and that his yoke is light. How many times do we all pray for something that we want, but Jesus gives us something different. A life plan that soothes our soul and gives us meaning. Many times, it is about following a new path and away from the familiar. A path of uncertainty, but on this path, we become guided by a “Gentle and humble heart.”

Bill is peaceful now and I miss our weekly calls. But I am happy that Bill is on path of giving.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman