Nativity Scene

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

– John 3:16 (NRSV)

JESUS, GOD’S CHRISTMAS GIFT TO HUMANKIND

For many of us we have seen the people holding up signs that say, “John 3:16”. We have seen it at the World Series, at the Masters, at All Star games and on street corners. Long held as the principle statement of Jesus’s purpose. For some this message has been associated with crazy people and for some as an enduring statement of their faith. It is both a controversial and revealing statement. But many things have been missed in this statement.

“When we look at this statement with this revelation, it expands who Jesus is to us. He is God.”

Jesus is making this statement about himself. This wasn’t a pronouncement by a well-known leader or religious scholar. This verse was said by Jesus. When we look deeper into the statement, we see that the word Son is capitalized. In the Bible, we always see the word God Capitalized. In fact, any reference in the Bible that refers to God is always capitalized. Son is capitalized in this statement and Jesus is referring to himself as God. Jesus, is making a bold statement that he is God. When we look at this statement with this revelation, it expands who Jesus is to us. He is God.

“Through Jesus, God has revealed God.”

Jesus is God. Through Jesus in human form, God is revealing God to the world. Revealing God’s values and expectations. Revealing God’s purpose and God’s purpose for humankind. A revelation that God is with all humankind. A generous gift for all humankind,  whom have been created in the image of God. A revealing of the values that God wants us to live by. A revealing of our purpose, to love God and love our neighbor. A revealing that through believing in the Son of God we will have eternal life. This revelation extends beyond just a life of eternity. It extends to a way of life that when followed provides eternal peace. It reveals a life of confidence that our lives and our purpose matter. Through Jesus, God has revealed God.

“Jesus is God; and is God’s Christmas gift for humankind.”

This simple statement said by Jesus reveals who He was. A wonderful Christmas present for all of humankind . Many of us Christians spin off into different directions when we try to describe Jesus. We have our theories and we have our arguments. Some think he was a great teacher and he was. Some think he was the “Lamb of God” and he was. Scholars spend years describing a single aspect of Christ. Theories are developed. Jesus is all these things we labor to describe. Jesus is God; and is God’s Christmas gift for humankind.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Who is Jesus to you?

Why was God revealing God to us through Jesus?

snow covered morning

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and by my works I will show you my faith.”

— James 2:18

FAITH AND WORK

I love the snow. As I was getting ready to shovel for the last time the driveway of the house we had just sold, I thought about why I loved shoveling in the dark of an early morning. It is a time when I can be alone in my mind. The systematic process of shoveling snow inspires my thoughts. The stillness of the morning, surrounded by a moment of pure white. I am bundled up and warm and I know my driveway well. I know where to start and how to finish. This rhythm allows me to reflect on God. I connect the events of my life and silently both pray and am thankful.

“I ask, is this the way Jesus would want me to do it?”

I am glad to do this task that helps my family. When they wake up, the cars are clean and they can safely go about their day. Both my parental and husbandly instincts are satisfied. I take pride in making everything just right. I work hard to do the best job. I ask, is this the way Jesus would want me to do it? And when I finish, I rest and look at my good work. I make the sign of the cross and move toward the house. My work is done.

“Through faith we receive the grace of God. It manifests itself in our good works for others.”

Buried deep in the New Testament is this seldom read verse. We venture into the Gospels. Talk about the mighty writings of Paul. We recite and memorize the Psalms. But this little verse contains both the assurance of faith and its outcome. Through faith we receive the grace of God.  It manifests itself in our good works for others. This grace is bestowed upon us from God without merit. But with this grace and faith we work, and our works become a reflection of this faith and grace.

Over the centuries many wars have been fought over whether it is through grace that we are saved or through works. Martin Luther believed that it is only through grace. This became one of the major tenets of the great Protestant revolt. But others will say it is only from our works. However, two things are clear. We are given unmerited grace, and our faith inspires our works.

“While none of us will always be completely faithful and none of us will always do good work, we are saved by the good work of God through grace.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How strong is our faith?

How does this faith manifest itself in our work?

Are we always faithful and do we always perform good work?

What does grace mean?

long distance running

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

— Romans 7:15

ARE WE WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE?

One of my clients is trying to lose a substantial amount of weight. We have been working on it for some months, with stop-and-go results. Finally, she revealed to me, “I just can’t give up the food, but I want to give up the food.” It would be easy to judge her and say “you have to” or “you are not hard enough on yourself.” But it is more complex than that. There is an underlying issue that won’t let her move forward. It is two things. First, it is the natural human condition that Paul talks about in the book of Romans. We all try to do what we should, but often fall short. Second, it is giving up control. For my client it’s about control. In everything she does she needs that feeling of being in charge. Food is a form of that. The food is hers; no one can tell her what to do with it.

“I asked her, ‘Are you willing to pay the price?”

After a long discussion, I suggested her husband start buying the groceries. That her husband be allowed to control what gets ordered and what gets brought into the house. A huge sigh came out at that suggestion. Enough to terrify her husband. I asked her, “Are you willing to pay the price?” We debated the issue for a long time. I pointed out to her that it was this sense of controlling everything that had led to her overeating. It appeared in everything she did. I also showed her this verse, which comforted her. The great apostle Paul had the same issue she had. He also didn’t do what he should. My client was amazed and strengthened to discover that her affliction was a natural human instinct. It gave her hope. She agreed to let her husband shop for their food and to live with what he bought.

“Our natural human instinct prevents us from reaching our goals.”

Today’s verse sums up the natural human instinct of avoidance, procrastination, and the delusions and misdeeds that go with it. It is those things that prevent us from having a fuller life. Our natural human instinct prevents us from reaching our goals. It is actually the mind playing tricks on us. Telling us what we deserve. Telling us it’s okay, just this once. It tells us that we are justified, even when we know we are not. Afterward, the  results reveal the full impact of our misdeeds. And then we dive into remorsefulness. We chastise ourselves silently. We vow to never to do it again. But we do. Even Paul did.

“Change will happen when we give up the control of a natural life.”

We want to go the extra mile. We want to be the best. We want to have faith. We want all this. But we have to pay the price. Thankfully, we have Jesus, who lives among us. Who is always with us. When we begin the cycle of doing what we don’t want to do, we should try praying, with and for Jesus. Ask for a brake on our actions. For within us we also have the spirit. When we turn from what we don’t want to do, to Jesus and the spirit of God within us, we begin getting off the merry-go-round of leading a natural life. We begin leading a life led by the spirit. Change will happen when we give up the control of a natural life.

“Through our faith we begin to notice that we are now willing to pay the price.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do we do that we don’t want to do?

What are the things we rationalize?

How do we manifest the spirit within us?

path through the woods

“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

— Luke 17:20–21

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AMONG US

One of my clients, Bill, had been on a long search for a job. Each day he met disappointment with this search. He is skilled in his craft and has an amazing amount of insight. He would be a great person for someone to hire. But each door got shut and he was thrown into despair. He was well off, with enough to allow himself to not work. But he wanted to do something and searched every day. He prayed and asked Jesus to help him. He went on long retreats and asked Jesus to give him answers. One retreat at a Catholic center required him to be silent for three days. It was a place with little to distract him, which would allow him to be in a constant state of prayer. Where was his answer?

“His gift was of a bounty that would allow him to be whom Jesus wanted him to be.”

Bill was looking in the wrong places. His answer was right in front of him. He had been given a gift. He didn’t have to go back to the old life, and in fact he didn’t really like his old craft. He just wanted to work. His despair was centered on doing the same thing he’d done before, which he could no longer achieve. His gift was of a bounty that would allow him to be whom Jesus wanted him to be. He had freedom to go wherever he wanted. To be whoever he wanted. Letting go was causing his despair.

“It is the spirit of God that lets us know what our gifts are.”

In today’s verse, the Apostle Paul talks about the gifts bestowed on us by God. It is the spirit of God that lets us know what our gifts are. At times we may forget them, and other times we may try other things. But knowing them becomes our purpose. Given by God and centered by God. How many of us can write a life plan that capture our gifts and fit it into seven words.  Our talents are the gifts bestowed upon us and worth writing down.

When I was working as a Fortune 500 CFO and responsible for hiring people, I used an approach called the “profile employee.” While their gifts were important, it was who they were that mattered the most. It was how well they understood themselves that counted. In review meetings the managers would say that he/she was a “profile employee.” To an employee it was the highest compliment. We didn’t care about any “ism”; we hired anyone who was positive, wanted to learn, and wanted to do “good.”

“The Kingdom of God can be found down a new path in our lives, which we don’t know. One that isn’t familiar. But that has always been among us.”

Many of us look in the same places over and over again for what we want. Those familiar places of our past. We know the path and it is comfortable. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, but it is among us. It is here! But we cannot see it.

Our journey in life will often send us down the old familiar paths. A path we can see and trust. It is like an old friend whose every nuance we know well. The Kingdom of God can be found down a new path in our lives, which we don’t know. One that isn’t familiar. But that has always been among us.

“He had a different purpose now. Not to be given to, but to be giving.”

Bill finally got his answer, by asking a different question: “Jesus, what do you want from me?” Not “what can you do for me?” Bill knew he had to become an inward person and not look outward so hard, because he had already found the Kingdom of God. His new job was to be among people. To help them. He had a different purpose now. Not to be given to, but to be giving. It cheered him up. It gave him value and joy to know he was helping God. His Kingdom of God was to help, and that was the way his heart was quieted. A sense of peace. Many times we look and the answer is among us.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Where are we looking?

What questions are we asking in prayer?

How do we feel the Kingdom of God?

waves over rocks

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”

— 1 Corinthians 2:12

OUR LIFE PLAN AND OUR GIFTS FROM GOD

Sitting in Starbucks with a friend I was helping, I saw it. There it was, a perfect seven-word life plan. It said, “Be happy, continue learning, and do good.” Simple, but complex when I got to know  Richard, the man who wrote this plan for his life. Richard is a happy person, but very thoughtful. He is a person you can trust and is extraordinarily humble. He serves as crew chief for his local EMT squad. When he shows up to help you, you are in good hands. He won’t panic, and for those moments he is in control, you can trust he is with you. He does good in places where others would cringe. He knows a lot. He can perform expert activities on Excel. He knows how products flow in business. He studies a lot and has an incredible desire to learn more.

“Be happy, continue learning, and do good.”

Richard is also unemployed. Why won’t anyone hire Richard? Simple: He is over fifty. He isn’t the  latest model. He is part of the largely ignored sector of our workforce that is considered too old. We have all kinds of “isms” for all kinds of biology. Some real and some perceived. But ageism is real. People like Richard have to work harder to find a job. When people find out their age, the phone line goes dead. Ironically, people like Richard will stay working for companies longer than the newer models. They offer experience that is time tested. They know how to tell their bosses the hard answers. In Richard’s case, many in the workforce who are younger and amazing, profess skills with Excel, but let me assure you they are not as capable with Excel as Richard.

But Richard has a life plan, and it fits him. He will continue looking for a job without bitterness. He just wants to work. He will continue to exist not being the new shiny penny. He will continue to be happy and do good. He will continue to look for a job.

“It is the spirit of God that lets us know what our gifts are.”

In today’s verse, the Apostle Paul talks about the gifts bestowed on us by God. It is the spirit of God that lets us know what our gifts are. At times we may forget them, and other times we may try other things. But knowing them becomes our purpose. Given by God and centered by God. How many of us can write a life plan that capture our gifts and fit it into seven words.  Our talents are the gifts bestowed upon us and worth writing down.

When I was working as a Fortune 500 CFO and responsible for hiring people, I used an approach called the “profile employee.” While their gifts were important, it was who they were that mattered the most. It was how well they understood themselves that counted. In review meetings the managers would say that he/she was a “profile employee.” To an employee it was the highest compliment. We didn’t care about any “ism”; we hired anyone who was positive, wanted to learn, and wanted to do “good.”

Richard is a profile employee and I am happy helping him find a job.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are the most important characteristics in a life plan?

What are our gifts?

Do we allow others to define us?

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?

praying to God

“No slave can serve two masters: for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

— Luke 16:13

WHOM DO WE SERVE?

John Tyson, CEO of Tyson Foods, has hired more than one hundred chaplains for his workforce. The chaplains deal with family issues, drug and alcohol addiction, and faith issues. The company employees regularly serve meals to those affected by disaster, under a program called “Meals That Matter.” The company has won the International Spirit at Work Award. Not all the employees are Christian, but all are accepted.

“What convinced the board to promote John was his deep faith.”

When John was younger, he dealt with his own demons. He suffered from alcoholism and was far off his path. Through his Christian faith he recovered. However, when his father was set to turn the company over to John, the board of directors had very serious concerns. Through a number of conversations, John was able to convince them of his worthiness. What convinced the board to promote John was his deep faith. He was made CEO and in 2000 implemented the chaplain program at Tyson Foods.

“Jesus points out the pitfalls of being self-interested in the workplace.”

Today’s verse is from the parable of the Dishonest Manager. In this parable Jesus points out the pitfalls of being self-interested in the workplace. The pitfalls of not serving God and your company first. It is a parable not about whether being rich is good or bad, but about whom we serve. When we work, do we keep Jesus’s tenet of “Love your God and Love your neighbor” foremost? Or do we dive deeper into our own ambitions? When we work, do we think about benefiting our customers? Do we think about fair play with our employees and other employees? Where are our hearts and whom do we serve is the critical question.

“When we serve God and our neighbor, we begin to do what we ought to do.”

The temptation to serve ourselves and money is persistent. It pervades the workplace in each day, hour, and minute. We are constantly beset with the choice of serving money or something greater. Serving money and ourselves may have significant short-term gains, but will usually end poorly. When we serve God and our neighbor, we begin to do what we ought to do.

Jesus is clear we can’t serve both. The decisions we make are always choices between one or the other. When we decide our path, we decide on wealth or God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What are examples in our work life of a choice between two different goals?

How do we handle these choices?

Are we willing to forgo short-term gains for the benefit of others?

“What is impossible for mortals is possible for God”

— Luke 18:27

IMPOSSIBLE ODDS

On October 31, 2003, Bethany Hamilton was surfing along Tunnels Beach in Hawaii. As she lay on her surfboard, a tiger shark swam by and bit her arm. The shark severed the arm and left Bethany bleeding profusely in the water. People from the beach and other surfers hurried to help her get back to shore. The father of one of the surfers applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. A doctor who lived nearby rushed to help and attended to her during her trip to the hospital. She lay in the hospital with 60 percent of her blood gone. Her dad was scheduled to have knee surgery that morning, so he gave up his slot and Bethany was successfully operated on. She was only thirteen.

“With one arm, she did participate in the world surfing championship, and she won.”

While she was in recovery, she and her mother prayed. They prayed that God would use this accident for His glory. After a week Bethany was released, and she began to think about the national surfing championships that were scheduled in three weeks. She recovered with remarkable speed and continued a state of prayer. With one arm, she did participate in the championships, and she won. All with one arm and being only one month removed from her accident. She had come close to dying, and a remarkable set of events had saved her life. To have won the surfing title with one arm was even more remarkable; in fact it seemed impossible.

Jesus points out that we as mortals can view things as impossible, but to God all is possible. When we pray, we have a chance. When we pray with the right heart we can succeed. Bethany and her mom asked God to help, not for their glory, but for God’s. Theirs was a heart designed to show that in spite of overwhelming odds, God could do the impossible.

Jesus knows our wants and prayers. Jesus hears. Setting our hearts to the right attitude, and recognizing that God can surpass all human understanding, completes our prayer.

We have all had those times when it seemed like doom awaited us. We worry and we pace. What is the answer? How do we overcome? We overcome when we change the perspective from us to God. When we turn it all over to God and leave behind our deep thoughts of despair, we give God space to fix our lives. Maybe not as dramatically as Bethany Hamilton’s, but it will be dramatic. God’s answer will be unique. We will know God’s answer belongs to us. Like a great present given to us on Christmas by a close friend, it will be deeply personal. We will know it came from God.

“When we worry, our heart does not leave room for God. When we trust God, there is space for miracles.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What do we do when we face obstacles, do we pray first and worry last?

What miracles have we experienced and how did we know it was from God?

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

— Luke 14:11

HUMILITY

Bob showed up at my door to fix a few things around the house. After many weeks of trying to make an appointment, Bob had been able to fit me into his very busy schedule. What I noticed quickly was his humility. A quiet man of Mohawk heritage, he lived among us without fame, but he was sought after. He looked at my work, took pictures, and was remarkably thorough with his inspection. As our visit wore on and he got comfortable with my openness, he told me about his heritage. The heritage of being one of the very few Native Americans who lived in a mostly white community. A heritage where he and his brothers served their country. A heritage that made it hard for him to understand why they had to run a gas pipeline through a besieged group of people in South Dakota. Not judgmental, but seeking answers.

“He always paid him more than what he had assumed he would, because Bob was good at his craft and humble in his requests.”

Bob worked most days for fourteen hours. As I said, he was highly sought after. His request for payment was always “Pay for my materials and whatever else you think I am worth.” The friend who referred him to me, Chris, explained that this was Bob’s way. He always paid him more than what he had assumed he would, because Bob was good at his craft and humble in his requests. I am sure this unusual way of billing exposed him to being taken advantage of by others. But I am also sure that his humility and high quality of work inspired others to overpay. Bob is humble, thorough, and busy.

“When we humble ourselves, we invite God’s recognition of our humanity.”

In today’s verse Jesus makes an important life statement. He instructs us to be careful with how we view ourselves. To not make our successes higher than they are and to be humble in who we are. My friend Dick explains it by saying, “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.” Jesus also issues a warning, that when we act higher than others, we invite downfall. When we humble ourselves, we invite God’s recognition of our humanity.

“Hubris is an untrustworthy companion, Humility can be trusted.”

Many times in my own career, after I had achieved a great success, I believed I was better than I was. Almost immediately these thoughts of greatness were erased by a calamity. In my youth I didn’t tie in the connection as well as I would later in life. But this pattern was consistent. It took me  many years to realize that my success was the result of others and God. Later in life I would make the sign of the cross on my chest to thank God for recent successes and acknowledge others for their help. Hubris is an untrustworthy companion, humility can be trusted.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we act when we succeed?

Do we take the time to recognize others and God for our successes?

“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

— Luke 14:34–35

SALT AND HONOR

When my daughter was a sophomore in college, Wells Fargo gave her a credit card. She had no income, other than what her parents sent her as an allowance. Not knowing that the credit card existed, I was surprised to receive the bill. When I asked my daughter the circumstances, she told me she had been pre-approved, and when she went to the local branch, they gave her the credit card. How did they do their income check? How did they know if she could pay them back? They didn’t, and my daughter had just learned a hard lesson. My question was, why would one of America’s largest banks be so sloppy?

“Wells Fargo had lost its saltiness and honor in the pursuit of profits at any cost.”

Wells Fargo had survived the great bank crisis of 2008, better than all the other banks. In fact, they needed no government help. This was largely attributable to their CEO, John Stumpf. His steady hand guided through and around all the pitfalls of bad lending practices in the early 2000’s. But in 2016 the bank was exposed as issuing bad credit cards to people who neither wanted them nor could afford them. Five thousand and three hundred people were fired. John Stumpf, the once great icon of responsible banking, lost his job as well. A lifetime’s impeccable reputation down the drain. Wells Fargo had lost its saltiness and honor in the pursuit of profits at any cost. A corporate culture emerged away from responsible business practices and toward treating customers like they were apples to be picked. After the news of the scandal broke, the bank’s stock fell very far.

“Jesus cautions us avoid those paths that take us away from our core value of honor.”

Jesus cautions us to retain our saltiness. Jesus cautions us avoid those paths that take us away from our core value of honor. To avoid giving in to a short-term solution that takes advantage of others. Ethically, Jesus tells us our actions will have consequences. These consequences can be severe. Severe enough that a lifetime of honorable work can be wiped out. Our honor and how we handle decisions is our salt.

“There will be times we have to let the other person win. But we will remain with our biggest asset, Our salt and our honor.”

Many of us face decisions like this every day in our work and daily life. Decisions that seem small but that, made without honor, can be disastrous. For most of us our reputation is our greatest asset. We don’t have large trust funds or a big inheritance. We earn our living based on who we are. Our honor is our salt. It is what makes us good. For all our decisions, our salt should come first. Surely there will be times when that means we lose a big sale or big client. There will be times we have to let the other person win. But we will remain with our biggest asset. Our salt and our honor.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

What is our decision-making process, do we take our reputation into account?

How do we evaluate our next steps and does it include “fairplay”?

Whom do we admire that is admirable?