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

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

– John 14:6

ACCEPTING THE COMPELLING FORCE OF GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

– Genesis 13:17

WALKING THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF OUR FAITH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

— Genesis 1:27

IMAGO DEI

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we see people when we first meet them?

What does the imago Dei look like?

How do we feel when we are labeled?

“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