“Freely you have received; freely give.”

—Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

THE DEEPER STORY BEHIND WHY WE GIVE

A friend of mine, Tom Locke, runs an extraordinarily successful organization called the Texas Methodist Foundation, based in Austin Texas. Tom is a premier networker and is very open about his faith. It is not uncommon to get a call from Tom where his only objective is to stay connected. An unusual trait in our busy world. Tom starts every conversation with, “How are you doing?” A sincere question with a desired interest in hearing your answer. Gracious and giving in all that he does, Tom is an advocate for God. In the meals I have had with Tom, he asks that we pray. When Tom makes this request, it lifts my spirits and heartens my soul. Also, Tom frequently expresses his gratitude to God for the wonderful life he has been given. He is an earnest man with a sense of responsibility to his work, that those of us who know him greatly admire. He leads a blessed life, with a wonderful wife, children and grandchildren.

Tom has run the Texas Methodist Foundation for decades. Over that period, it has grown from having a few million in assets to close to a billion dollars in assets. It lends money to churches, helps the poor and provides leadership training for the church. Tom has been able to blend his faithful life with great business acumen. Tom will quickly tell you that it is not because of him that his organization has thrived, it is because of the many people who work with him. It is true that Tom has surrounded himself with extraordinary people, however, he has also created an environment where they can excel and express their own faithful desires. Tom attracts good people because he gives.

“When was the first time you gave in your life?”

One of Tom’s jobs is fund raising to support the many giving programs of the Texas Methodist Foundation. His approach to this effort is highly unusual. First, he asks one question to everyone he meets, “When was the first time you gave in your life?” This demonstrates his sincere interest in knowing the story, and also to learn more about the individual.

In these answers, he finds very deep and personal stories about faithful Christians. He finds a deepness of gratitude that will bring many to tears when they tell Tom why they first gave. A cleansing that occurs as people reflect on all they have received. He discovers that they give because they have received from God. To most, it is an overwhelming response of gratitude at both knowing God exists and a very intense appreciation of what they have been given.

Tom does not ask this question to stir up the emotion that lies beneath the surface but is always amazed at its intensity. Many of these conversations become a therapeutic response to his simple question. As Tom and I talked about why this happens, we are both amazed at the strong current of emotion that exists when people are in a safe environment to discuss their faith. I saw this same emotion in many of my interviews for this book. A drawing out of the gratitude that simmers beneath the exterior of all who believe.

As I reflected on therapeutic responses received, I went back to Genesis 1:27 where it states, So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” As we are made in the image of God, one of the wonderful attributes acquired is that of generosity. A desire to give and to help injected in each of us from our birth. When we give, we act in the spirit of God. We live into our image of God and whenever we give, we satisfy this spirit of generosity. We are left with a joy that is directly connected to our birthright of being made in the image of God. Tom’s questions draw this sense of joy to the surface and invokes the strong human emotion that is directly connected to our desire to have a God-like sense of compassion. We are in this moment connected to God.

Tom gives us a beacon of responsibility to our Lord that inspires each of us to give freely.

Tom continues to work as hard today as he did yesterday. Each day Tom is driven by his sense of responsibility to his organization’s wonderful mission of serving God and his desire to help. Tom has many friends who trust him because he cares first and asks second. He inspires us because he gives each of us space to be creative and express ourselves. In addition, Tom gives us a beacon of responsibility to our Lord that inspires each of us to give freely.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Jony Ariadi on Unsplash

“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?

Five Traits of Great people:
• Gets things done
• Warmly Assertive
• Listens to learn
• Analyze Effectively
• Develops others

FINDING THE RIGHT PEOPLE

When I first got to Foot Locker, I needed to find friends quickly who had these same five characteristics. But I had to be careful in my approach. It’s easy to come into a tough situation and announce you’re going to change everything; easy to be disparaging of the past, your employees, and your predecessors; easy to think you know the answers without the full set of facts at your disposal. But that’s the wrong approach.

I discovered it was easier to find out what was already working and look for current employees who could help, on the theory that it’s easier to make progress with allies than with enemies. Joe Bongiorno, Peter Brown, Peter Cupps, and Mike Zawosky had all had consider-able careers at Foot Locker before I arrived, but all had been largely overlooked by their superiors. When I talked to them, I found they had the five qualities of good employees. I merged them with people I knew from my own past, like Lauren, Kevin, and Marc, and we developed a team that promoted the message of the company and avoided self-interest. When we found employees who exhibited these shared traits, we labeled them with a term we developed, “profile employee,” meaning they had the requisite five characteristics. They worked for the company, not themselves. Everyone we thought of hiring or bringing into our circle was evaluated. If the candidate was a “profile employee,” we brought that person in. If a candidate didn’t possess the five traits, he or she was ruled out.

Our circle soon expanded to form a powerful group that could work on its own, for our values became the culture. The culture worked because we weren’t trapped by tradition or hemmed in by our personal status or power. For Foot Locker this group became the team that held the goal line when things looked the bleakest. We survived because of these common values.

Jesus knew that in building teams, success depended not only on hiring the right people, but on training those people to live up to their God-given talents.

He recognized that all people have blind spots to go along with their gifts. Jesus concentrated on maximizing people’s strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses. Sometimes the effort was simple, other times intense. The aim was always to help the team become more effective and live into their mission.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

mountains

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

(Genesis 13:17)

WALKING THE TRAILS

On a recent hike on the Appalachian trail in Massachusetts, a friend of mine, exclaimed, “This is boring! Aren’t there any sights to see?” We were on a stretch of this famous route, which stretches from Springer mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Encompassing well over two thousand miles. This stretch had no waterfalls or great vistas or flowing streams. A seven-mile stretch, that flowed over small rises and descended into valleys filled with ferns. Nothing existed on this silent path except the large green trees, rocks to avoid and a brown path. That’s all there was. A place to wander to get to the next segment.

“During our walk through life we will meet ordinary people and walk by ordinary places. In these ordinary people and places exist extraordinary stories.”

It took me back to my own professional career and reminded me of the many days and months where all I had to do was my job. Ambition always pushed me to want the next great step in my life. Just doing my job wasn’t enough. What was next for me would ramble in my mind, luring me to put my focus on the excitement of a new promotion and accomplishment. But most of my days were spent walking through these stretches of my career that were no more than just doing my job, being a faithful employee and helping my company. When we are young we are told of the great things that lie at the end of the segment of the trail we are on. We look expectedly to that future. Along the way we hope that our efforts lead to an extraordinary life. During our walk through life we will meet ordinary people and walk by ordinary places. In these ordinary people and places exist extraordinary stories. We only have to stop and observe to find them. They frame our lives, values and friendships. It is in these moments we find extraordinary things.

“Surely, Abraham would see great vistas, running streams and waterfalls. But most of his journey would be with the ordinary.”

Today’s verse is about God’s promise to Abraham. God was about to give him a land that would be the source of our great faith. But first, Abraham had to walk its entire breadth. To see the ordinary and learn about its ways. A walk where observing was more important than the finish. Surely, Abraham would see great vistas, running streams and waterfalls. But most of his journey would be with the ordinary. Jesus himself, wandered thousands of mile in his great mission to reveal God’s values to humanity. We read about his miracles and those he helped, but most of his time was walking the trails of life.

“God’s promise is an extraordinary life, when we have walked the length and breadth of His land.”

Surely, when we walk with faith and an eye towards the values of Jesus, we will see great things. But most of our walk will be in everyday life. Our careers will have those days of great success, but most days will be spent doing ordinary things. Just doing our jobs, raising our children and living a life. God’s promise is an extraordinary life, when we have walked the length and breadth of His land. Not in just what we see in the end, but in what we see along the way.

Enjoy the walk and observe all you can!

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How often do we reflect on where we are?

How often do we wonder about the ordinary things of life and see a deeper story?

How often do we take the time to go beyond a quick hello and discover an extraordinary person?

sunrise over mountains

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

— Luke 20:17

JOE BONGIORNO THE CORNERSTONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Who are the Joe’s in our lives?

Do we feel like Joe at times?

Who are our cornerstones?

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?

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?