“Go out and stand on the mountain, before the Lord . . . and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence”

— 1 Kings 19: 11–12

HEARING THE SHEER SILENCE OF GOD

A friend of mine, Bob, was in the process of selling an important asset. The sale would be a crucial part of his future and success. Bob was determined to be a good seller. To not hide anything from the buyer and provide the buyer with a product that exceeded their expectations. Bob responded faithfully to all the buyer’s requests and went further than his lawyer or broker expected him to go. But the requests didn’t end. After each obstacle was resolved, another popped up. A meeting was scheduled between all the parties to find a clear path to resolution.

“He prayed for God to give him the wisdom to make the right decisions with his business and to help his wife.”

The day before the meeting Bob’s wife announced that the doctor had found something during her checkup that needed a radiologist’s opinion. The appointment with the radiologist was scheduled at the same time as my friend’s important meeting. His wife told him to go to the meeting and she would be okay. Bob felt besieged. How can I ignore my wife? But how can I secure our future? He prayed throughout the day. He prayed for God to give him the wisdom to make the right decisions with his business and to help his wife.  Then he went to the meeting and his wife went to the radiologist.

During the meeting, there were many questions. Tough questions. My friend answered them all honestly. At one point the broker for the buyer became unrelenting. Bob felt a spirit of resolve fall over him and became quietly serious. Normally Bob’s mannerisms were friendly and engaging, but now he became dead serious and firm. Looking firmly into the eyes of the buyer’s broker and without hesitation he stated firmly and in a quiet tone, “If there is a problem, I will pay to have it resolved. It is what I have done to this point and will continue to do.” He left the meeting wondering about his wife and at the same time about the state of this important sale.

“A wave of joy overcame him. While Bob had waited in silence, God had answered his prayers.”

At home he sat in his favorite chair and waited in silence. A short time passed and he got a call. The broker said, “It is done, you have done everything and had no more to do. The sale is going forward.” Shortly after, his wife called and stated that the radiologist had found nothing serious and she would need some minor medical attention. My friend rested. A wave of joy overcame him. While Bob had waited in silence, God had answered his prayers. No great bell was rung, no fireworks,  the quiet winds of life had brought his answer. Life was back in balance.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“. . . just as the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

— Matthew 20:28

SERIOUS AND FOCUSED ON BEING A SERVANT

I remember him from early in my career. Don was the CEO’s chief assistant. I also remember that he never used the power of his title to accomplish his tasks. When he came to a meeting to discuss an item, he was focused and serious. Don’s goal was resolution: How could he help? Over time he was sought out by all of us for help. He was calm, insightful, and asked good questions. He knew his role, to help the company. Seldom was the solution about him; his only concern was solving the problem.

Don helped us get many things done. His contacts and relationships could broker many solutions. His reputation transcended the title he owned. His day was spent going from meeting to meeting. Sometimes one-on-one meetings, sometimes large meetings. Don waited to hear everyone’s point of view. His solutions came in the form of questions. He would say things like “What would you think if we did this?’” or “How about trying that?” Don could go anyplace in the company and be well received.

“Jesus knew his role, to help humankind and ultimately to pay the highest price for humankind.”

Notice in today’s verse that Jesus refers to himself as the son of man, not the boss of man. This perspective of servitude opened many doors for Jesus. Jesus knew his role, to help humankind and ultimately to pay the highest price for humankind. All of his activities were serious and focused on this goal. Throughout his short period of service, three years, he touched many. He performed miracles. He healed the sick and comforted the poor. Overtime, his reputation grew and became sought out by others. Jesus developed a great reputation.

His reputation was so good, Jesus could borrow a donkey for entry into Jerusalem. For his final staff meeting called the Last Supper, he was able to secure a room at no charge. In fact, his burial tomb was given to him by a rich merchant. His actions of service got many things done and, as with Don, allowed him to go into many places.

“When we serve, where are our hearts?”

When we serve, where are our hearts? Are they set to help or express our desires? Do we have a clear view of our true role and do we stay focused on that role? When we do, doors open up. Not all will agree with us, but all will welcome us. In the marketplace, producing honorable results should be our primary goal. Each of us has a role to play in this, and when we stay within that role we succeed. The hardest part is remembering we are a servant in our roles.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

When we work, does it have to be our way?

How do each of us serve in our work?

How do we search for the common good?

Jesus in silence

“Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’”

— Luke 17:19

USING FAITH TO GO ON OUR WAY

It is easy to say, “Get up and dust yourself off.” Many of us have heard this encouragement. But it isn’t so easy to do. Perhaps we have had a major financial setback or are struggling with a relationship. In those silent moments by ourselves, we twist and we turn, searching for answers. We head down various mental paths and look in each corner. Perhaps we cry out and silently yell it’s not fair. And it probably isn’t. It is true we should just get up and dust ourselves off and go on. But it isn’t that easy for everyone.

Faith is like that. Sometimes it’s easy to go into the building of faith and hit the elevator for the top floor and just arrive. But other times in our lives we have to investigate every room in the building of faith. To find out what’s there and see if it helps us. We have to walk up each stair and see what’s on the next floor. With the spirit of Christ in us, we know the answer is on the top floor, but we have to press back our doubts by exploring. Others may say, “Just have faith.” But these journeys help us have faith. They allow us to cross off what doesn’t work. They allow us to let our heart catch up with our intellectual knowledge.

Our faith will make us well. But we have to first move to that place where we can get up and be on our way.

Jesus says, “Move on. Your faith has made you well.” Jesus has to say that, because it is right. Our faith will make us well. But we have to first move to that place where we can get up and be on our way. It is at this point where we have to decide that our progress must be forward. Our investigation has to propel us to a conclusion. It is faith that we can hang on to after we have investigated every floor, but the investigation process itself can be revealing and strengthen our faith. It is when this strengthening has occurred that we can truly get up and be on our way.

“The journey in the inner building of our self with Jesus will reveal and teach us to have faith.”

With Jesus in our hearts, we can have confidence that our journey will be well. Regardless of our inner investigation, all paths will lead back to faith. All thoughts of ill will will disappear. All thoughts of self-pity will wither away. We will return. The journey in the inner building of our self with Jesus will reveal and teach us to have faith. Jesus will be with us on this journey regardless of our despair. And when we are done, we will be able to get up and be on our way.

Have faith!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do we do when we fall down?

How do we restore our faith?

How long should it take?

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

– John 1:12

FINDING SELF-WORTH

Many of us in the marketplace are pushed to believe our value rests in our net worth not our self-worth. We spend a lifetime surrounded by the message that our value lies in how much we earn, what are car looks like, or if we have the latest and greatest. We never seem to reach that golden ring these messages tell us exists. The effect of all this is a reduction in confidence and self-worth.

“Many of us in the marketplace are pushed to believe our value rests in our net worth not our self-worth.”

We are influenced subtly by our culture, our friends, our family, and even our thought life. They all conspire both innocently and purposefully to undermine our confidence. As we continue our journeys, we find ourselves stuck in a world that lionizes size-two Hollywood starlets or people with ten thousand-square-foot homes. We over analyze ourselves and find we don’t match up to these images. The overly analytical critique sears our souls and drives us deeper in the wrong direction.

Like all formulas, if the input is wrong, the answer is wrong. We have all heard the expression “garbage in garbage out.” In many of my counseling sessions I hear the silent voice that says, Why don’t they want me? But I see a different picture in these people. I see bright and enthusiastic people who want to lead a good life. God sees the same thing and says so in Genesis 1:27, where it states “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the Image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This is a powerful assertion of the value God places in each of us. We are like God.

“We need to reach down and change the input from our own to God’s.”

So how do we from the marketplace defend ourselves from our own overly critical analyses and cultural influences? We receive Jesus and believe in his name, as the Book of John advises us. But we also have to live out this inheritance both internally and externally. We need to reach down and change the input from our own to God’s. We are made in God’s image. Our outward expressions to our neighbors should simulate this same act of love that God expresses to us. At Starbucks, build up the life of the barista and from our hearts wish him or her a good day. At the grocery store thank the clerk for their hard work. Never tire of doing good with a heart formed in love. Both the inner expressions to ourselves and the outer expressions to others will gird our self-worth. Over time the importance of net worth will fade and be replaced with the value of self-worth. Our priorities will change, and life will seem brighter. We are all children of God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Where do we spend our money? Is our credit card statement a reflection of our self-worth or net worth?

Do we allow others to make us forget how God thinks about us?

Do you treat everyone like a child of God?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”

– Matthew 5:8

QUIETING OUR HEARTS

Saint Augustine, one of the church’s early leaders, said, “Our hearts are unquiet until they rest in God.” A powerful statement from a man who in the first half of his life engaged in much debauchery. He was a great lawyer and orator in his early life. His fame was so widespread that he was recruited to go to Rome to teach aspiring students about oratory, reading, and philosophy. During this period of his life he was in constant pursuit of the “truth,” while engaging in a life of sin. Encouraged by his mother, he met Bishop Ambrose in Milan. Through these meetings Augustine discovered that he was on the wrong path to truth. In a garden in Milan he heard a child’s voice that he felt was the voice of Jesus, and knelt to accept Jesus as the truth. From this point he became a bishop, and he went on to become a key figure in firmly establishing the church.

“Jesus asks us to not give in to our personal power, but to our hearts and the existing human desire to do good.”

Today’s verse is one of the Beatitudes delivered to us by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us in this verse to have a pure heart. A heart led to do good. One that avoids the temptation to give in to our fears, desires, and schemes. A heart that reaches outward to our neighbor. A heart that has faith in God. A heart that endures momentary losses and looks to the future. A heart of hope. Jesus asks us to not give in to our personal power, but to our hearts and the existing human desire to do good.

A friend of mine named Donna talks about this state of being as it relates to her business. After a difficult period early in her life that involved alcoholism and challenging times with her parents, Donna found Jesus. She took her savings and bought a building, and broke it up into small offices to start an “office share” business. Competing against bigger companies, she has over time built a successful business that includes numerous other buildings and many customers. She let go of her fears and thrived. At the various crossroads of this amazing story of revival, she focused on two things. The first was to make ethical decisions;the second, to listen for God’s direction. She tells me that over time at each of these crossroads, the decisions got easier and her business grew.

“If our hearts are God-centered and faithful, we will survive and more likely thrive.”

Jesus asks us to trust our heart and follow its direction. There are times when our hearts appear wrong or we are beset with worry. If our hearts are God-centered and faithful, we will survive and more likely thrive. Decisions that are made with the wrong intentions, however, will nag us in the future. Sleeping and our overall sense of being improves when we act with a pure heart. The momentary losses that sometimes stand in our way will disappear over time. Our hearts will become quiet and not restless.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we incorporate God in our decision making?

Do we fret over decisions we have made?

Can we make hard choices?

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”

– Matthew 19:24

WHERE ARE OUR HEARTS?

In our modern marketplace we are taught and encouraged that the measure of our success is how much we make. Corporations are rewarded for increasing their earnings per share. We all want our raises and bonuses to be bigger. For many who read this verse in Matthew it appears that Jesus is saying that if you are rich you won’t be able to go to heaven. However, if we use the discipline of historical context, we can see a different message. A message that refers more to where our hearts reside.

“Jesus desires for us to turn our hearts humbly to the purpose of God.”

In ancient Jerusalem there were two gates to enter the city. A large gate where all could pass and a smaller gate used at night to prevent entry by potentially dangerous invaders. The smaller gate was called the “Eye of the Needle.” For camels to get through this gate they had to kneel and be relieved of all their baggage. The camel was the largest beast of burden in ancient Judea, suggesting its purpose in Jesus’s analogy. The act of kneeling is a humbling act. An act of submission or honor, both in the ancient world and today. Jesus desires for us to turn our hearts humbly to the purpose of God.

A writer friend of mine engaged with a well-connected literary figure who signed a contract promising to help my friend get his book published. For a sizeable amount of money from the aspiring writer, the literary figure promised to introduce him to publishing firms. A contract was signed and the literary figure sent off an e-mail to an agent, who replied to the writer with a rejection. From the literary figure’s point of view, an introduction had been made and therefore the money was due. While technically the literary figure had provided the contracted service, he did little more than send a random e-mail to a random agent. The aspiring writer was on the hook to pay the contract fee but had little to show for his money. While everything was done legally according to the contract, the heart of the literary figure was in making money and not in providing substantial help to the writer. His actions were legally correct, but not correct within the context of intention.

“Jesus cautions us to be humble and careful in pursuing wealth…To decide between a short-term gain and being fair with our neighbors. He is saying that when we stand at this crossroads, we should follow a heart that wants to help others.”

In this story lies the point of Jesus’s message. Is our goal to make money regardless of who we affect? The lure of wealth often times puts us in this position, to decide between a short-term gain and being fair with our neighbors. In the marketplace we often stand at this crossroads. Jesus isn’t saying that being rich is bad. He is saying that when we stand at this crossroads, we should follow a heart that wants to help others. Jesus cautions us to be humble and careful in pursuing wealth. He is well aware of the temptation of riches and the delusional effect of wealth. He is advising us that the pursuit of wealth, while intoxicating, can be harmful to our hearts. Are we following the command of Galatians 5:13 to put aside our own worldly desire and instead using what we have to serve others in love?

Earning a living isn’t the issue; where our hearts reside is the issue.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we make decisions that are made with a heart that wants to help?

How do we protect our hearts from the delusions of wealth?

How do we stay humble?

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companions of fools suffer harm.”

– Proverbs 13:20

OLD, BUT WISE FRIENDS

I met Tony Marone very early in my career. While only a year older than me, he possessed the wisdom of someone decades older. At the company where we worked, he was considered a rock star and was often promoted by leadership. Everybody liked Tony, myself included. I worked hard to gain his friendship and over time we became very good friends.

At a casual lunch, I once told him how impressed I was by the fact he had so many people that liked and respected him. He stunned me by replying, “Bruce, I have a lot of acquaintances, but few friends.” I was quick to refute, “It’s not true, everyone wants to know you.” He went on to explain, “Sure they do, but as soon as a cold wind blows most will be gone. If you can count on one hand the friends who will be with you in tough times and give you honest advice, consider yourself lucky.”

Tony’s words seemed dire. I was still young and impressionable. I thought to myself, How can this be true?

Tony was a street wise Catholic from a tough neighborhood. Most of what he got in life he earned on his own. He didn’t go to a top college or have great mentors. His lessons came directly from the streets of New York City. He learned how to survive in a tough environment, quickly figuring out who to trust and who not to trust. He also learned how to influence others. He was always positive and avoided making enemies. But most importantly, he learned to sift through advice and only follow the words of wise people.

THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

The book of Proverbs is one of the “Wisdom Books” in the Bible. It contains the words of advice that God wants us to hear. The thirty-one chapters take only an hour or so to read and are void of long discourses and extensive theology. They contain simple lessons with simple words. Proverbs 13:20 is an example of the practical lessons hidden away in this Old Testament book.

Eventually, we all learn to better discern between the ill-advised and wise counsel we receive. When we need counsel from a wise friend like Tony, we can look to Proverbs. When we read the verses openly and have a desire to learn, they become our friend and trusted advisor. Memorizing Bible verses allows the words to become our anchor during life’s most ferocious winds.

“Memorizing Bible verses allows the words to become our anchor during life’s most ferocious winds.”

ADVICE FROM AN OLD AND WISE FRIEND WHO CARED

Tony went on to have a successful life. He became a CEO of a regional retailer and later started his own business. When the cold November winds of my life blew, I could always call Tony to get his kind and honest advice. It was not always what I hoped to hear; but it was always what I needed to hear.

I learned what Tony meant about good friends as my life unfolded. I would get a lot of advice—some was well-intentioned but lacked candor. Others advice was self-serving and not in my best interest. Then there was other advice that was simply off the mark completely. Tony was a wise friend, whose counsel always demonstrated that he cared about my well-being. I miss Tony, he died a few years ago. But I will always remember his words.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we know whether a person’s advice is good?

How often do we read the wisdom book called Proverbs?

How many friends do we have that will tell us the truth?

More importantly, who can consider us as among that list – their wise friend, the ‘Tony’ of their life?

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.”

– Psalms 73:25

NEW ORIENTATION

In life, it isn’t a question of whether we will become disoriented, but when. We will lose our sense of stability at some point. The world will become confusing, and we’ll struggle to stay remained on our intended path. We will scramble for a purpose, and search for firmer ground. The Book of Psalms can help us regain our footing. The Book of Psalms describes the human condition in a remarkably intimate yet universally relatable way. It is the largest book in the Bible, and took over a thousand years to complete. Famed Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann views the Psalms as each being centered around one of three states of being: orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Orientation occurs when our world is in harmony. Disorientation occurs when we encounter obstacles and lose our way. New orientation occurs when God reveals to us the mystery of faith and answers our prayers. We always exist in one of these three states.

In Psalm 8 (NRSV), King David asks, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

While this is a statement of praise, it also shows that David is in a state of contentment or orientation.

But in Psalm 13, King David asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

David is clearly in distress at this point, and feels abandoned by God. This is the state of disorientation, the state of a lost soul, overwhelmed by life and circumstances.

Later, though, in the same Psalm, we see a new orientation when David declares, “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

“In life, it isn’t a question of whether we will become disoriented, but when..The Book of Psalms can help us regain our footing”

Circumstances have changed and David has newly oriented himself. His path—and his world—have been corrected.

Our lives are often disrupted, whether by circumstance or by our own doing. When this happens, we pray. We search. We feel empty and abandoned. Then, suddenly, we find that our prayers have answers. Life makes sense again—we are back on course. The Psalms offer us comfort, reminding us that we are not alone, offering us encouragement and giving us the courage to newly orient ourselves. We are comforted by the intimacy with which we explore our soul’s journey, and we are reminded that God is always with us, speaking to us through the verses of the Psalms.Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanDo we include Psalms in our daily prayers?

Can we feel how God reaches directly into our hearts through the Psalms?

“And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.”

– Matthew 9:10

THE COMMON PERSON IS LOVED

I was asked once to help a dying church grow. Over the years, its membership had declined from three hundred congregants to just fifteen. The neighborhood in which the church was located had changed, and down the street, a homeless shelter had popped up. Half of the children in the town went to school hungry. Transients and young thugs appeared on the street corners. The church had begun to lock its doors to prevent theft or vandalism. Its circle of leaders had grown smaller, and those who remained were resistant to change. Slowly, the church had collapsed in on itself.

By the time I arrived to help revive the church, money was low and its leaders and congregants were worn out from their efforts to save their place of worship. I recruited some friends and a recent graduate of divinity school to help out with the cause. As a group, we felt that the mission of the church needed to be to address the needs of the neighborhood’s new population. We collected clothing donations and distributed them through the church.

We began preparing a free breakfast on Sunday mornings and eventually established a soup kitchen that provided free meals throughout each week. My friends prepared the meals in their homes early each morning, and I visited local restaurants to request food donations.

Soon, the pews were filling up each Sunday. Homeless moms with children would come to eat, then stay to attend church. Homeless men with significant substance abuse problems came as well. We became a haven for people who had nowhere else to turn.

Many old parishioners didn’t embrace the change and left, claiming their church had been ruined. They refused to break bread with the new members. Nevertheless, the new congregants loved the new pastor, who made an immediate positive impact on her parishioners.

Those who shunned the church’s new reality would not have met with Jesus’s approval. In fact, Jesus commonly dined with “sinners,” even tax collectors, who were among the most deeply and widely maligned of people. Sinners would approach Jesus to receive guidance and instruction—they desired a different path, but knew not how to find or travel it. They wanted to know how to live up to God’s values. Despite the fact that the religious elite openly criticized Jesus for his behavior, he was steadfast in his love for and acceptance of everyone, no matter the individual’s sins or occupation.

“Jesus didn’t give up on people who wanted a new life. He saw holiness in everyone, regardless of social status, race, or gender”

In reading today’s verse, in the first century, a “sinner” was considered to be anyone who was different from the religious elite. These sinners may have moved away from the values of God, but they might also have just been “common folk” who struggled and toiled to feed, clothe, and care for their families. Because they were perceived to be inferior by the elite, they were viewed as sinners. But, as we know, we are all sinners, even the highest in the social strata. The sinners Jesus broke bread with were just regular people who faced difficult circumstances.

Jesus didn’t give up on people who wanted a new life. He saw holiness in everyone, regardless of social status, race, or gender. He helped all those who wanted to be helped. While many of those he helped had self-inflicted wounds, many simply had challenging lives. But they all shared a common desire—a better life.

Today, the common folk, who are holy in Jesus’s eyes, work in mailrooms, serve food, deliver the paper early in the morning, wash floors late at night, and do what many others won’t. They might not wear the bright new clothes or have the latest iPhones, but are made in the image of God and are holy.Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanHow do we treat the “common” person?

Do we see what God sees or do we see what society tells us to see?

Can we look all people in the eye and show them care and compassion?

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”

– Matthew 4:23

A LIFE-AFFIRMING ELIXIR

We sometimes spend too much time in our inner castles. Many times in my counseling work, I will confront despair. A client will say, “Why don’t they want me?” or “I had a bad week.” When I probe why people feel this way, I often detect that they have spent most of the week by themselves, reflecting or doing self-analysis. It is hard to be alone, and sometimes we are alone even when we are with people. My clients will confess that they didn’t get much done on their “to do” list, which drove them further into themselves, over analyzing and being overly self-critical.

Jesus would sometimes go off to silent places to pray and meditate. Away from everyone. However, he preferred to be among the people. His ministry was dining with other people, walking to distant towns, curing the sick, or helping an individual with insight. It is moments like these moments that remind us most of Jesus. His ministry was an outward expression to others.

“When we walk among people, we receive an elixir.”

When we walk among people, we receive an elixir. An affirmation of ourselves. When we look someone in the eye and ask “How is your day?” we are affirming that person. An inner moment of joy occurs that tells the person he or she is good and worthy. When we ask and then listen, we hear stories about life. We get to know other people. They can share their dreams and worries with us. They are affirmed because we listened. For a moment they have a voice. We gave them a voice. And the sense of our own joy increases also. Our outward interest in other people provides us energy for our own tasks. When we are with others and listen, we receive.

“God wants us among the people, and we are created to interact with one another.”

People like people who like people. I often say this in my sessions. At first it may appear to be self-serving. But if we are sincere about it, we can create a mutual bond. When Jesus walked among humankind, he knew his mission. To heal, and proclaim the good news, but also simply to be with humankind. Our inner castles are good places to rest and pray, but we can only stay for a while. God wants us among the people, and we are created to interact with one another. Through outward expressions we find healing. Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. HartmanAre we sincere when we say good morning?

Do we ask or do we state?

What is the value of questions?