“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

Philippians 2:3

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM HUMBLE PEOPLE

Brian Flores is not well known and humbly does his job every day. He is the son of Honduran immigrants and grew up in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn. Protected from the wrong path in life, by his hardworking parents and uncles, he became a scholarship athlete that played college football at Boston College. Where he was known for his quiet leadership style and team-first attitude.

Brian had an injury while at Boston College and his chances for playing in the NFL where eliminated. Instead, he chose to become a coach. His first stop was as an assistant in scouting for the New England Patriots. Essentially, his job was that of fetching. Getting coffee or delivering important papers to the scouts were his primary responsibilities. Nothing remarkable and mostly his days were spent getting things for others.

Brian stayed loyal to this job and eventually became recognized for his quiet, but effective execution of his job. He rose up the ranks from his mid-twenties to mid-thirties to becoming the de facto defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.

His Claim to Fame

His biggest claim to fame was being the person who sent Malcolm Butler on the field in the final minutes of the Super Bowl, that won the Super Bowl for the Patriots in 2014. He recognized an unusual formation by the Seattle Seahawks as they were posed to score and win the game. Immediately the coaches changed the defense and Brian said, “Go Malcolm Go.” Malcolm had been told about the play and proceeded to intercept the pass that saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots.

He has since been promoted a few more times and this year was given the chance to be the lead defensive coach for the Patriots, a remarkable climb for the son of hardworking immigrants.

This year, no less than four NFL teams have asked him to interview to be their Head Coach. Yet Brian is little known outside of New England and likes it that way.

He was recently asked where he discovered his quiet but effective leadership  style. His reply, “The Bible. There’s plenty there as far as how to lead and how to forgive and how to love. I think that’s all qualities of a great leader.”

Wow! What a remarkable quote that is so different in our age of bombastic leadership impressions. Leadership through the Bible that is focused on forgiveness and love. A humble expressions of leadership as a servant.

While I was at Theological school for seven years, I would often hear other students complain that the great leaders of the Bible were flawed and were not great leaders.

In many cases my fellow students were right in describing the flaws of the great leaders of the Bible. Certainly, there is Abraham who many times lost faith in God and went his own way, even lying to Pharaoh that Sarah wasn’t his wife. There is David who committed adultery. Or Rahab the prostitute. How many times did the great Peter ignore Jesus? Or Moses who refused and pushed back with God about his leadership role.

The Bible is littered with stories about leaders who failed at one point. God’s response was one of forgiveness and love. It is God’s response that we find the leadership lessons of the Bible. God loved and forgave these great people in the Bible.

The great stories of the Bible wouldn’t have existed without these two important Christian qualities. Moses never would have led the Israelites to the promised land. Abraham would never have become the father of three great world religions. Rahab would never have become the person who saved the Israelites. Peter would never have become the founder of the church.

God leadership lesson is that of forgiveness and love.

The knowledge that we are human and we all will at times become victims of our own human frailties. The lesson Brian refers to in the Bible is not about the frailties of our human nature, but God’s appealing to the better nature of our humanity. Appealing to our role as forgivers and our responsibility to love our neighbor.

Sure myself and other future theologians missed this point at times. Victims of our frailty, but recovered through our better nature. God waited for us and never let go.

Maybe this year a Brian will become a head coach in the NFL. A remarkable climb from a meager start as a son of immigrants from a tough neighborhood. If not Brian will still be a humble servant leader for God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Timothy Eberly

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

JOHN 1:1

DOES FACEBOOK HAVE TOO MUCH POWER?

Has Facebook gotten too big? Almost seventy percent of Americans have a Facebook account. Of those three quarters visit the site daily. Almost half of Americans use Facebook as one of their sources of news. Facebook has become the largest hangout in America.

In corporate terms they are close to a monopoly. At the very least they have become an important part of the information flow and an influencer of our society. But has their growth stayed consistent with their controls and morale maturity?

Recently, Franklin Graham was banned from Facebook. Why? Because of a post protesting North Carolina’s position on bathroom access. Franklin Graham is the son of Billy Graham and certainly has conservative Christian views that not all agree with. But he is an American and has the right to express his opinion and practice his religion.

When the leadership of Facebook discovered their misstep, they immediately apologized and restored his status. Their explanation for the ban was that one of their fifteen thousand content moderators had determined that Graham’s post was hateful based on his viewpoint.

Wait! They have fifteen thousand people reviewing posts every day to decide if what gets posted is appropriate? Seems like a little bit of Big Brother.

As Facebook has grown to become an important influencer in American life and thoughts, it needs a closer look at its policies of determining what is appropriate and isn’t. At the very least it shouldn’t be left to a one of fifteen thousand hidden in a cubicle with their own views of morality to decide.

Certainly, any post that promotes violence or contains offensive words should be questioned. Certainly, any conversation that derides or is discriminatory against any race, creed, religion, gender or age group needs to be questioned. But what are Facebook’s boundaries? Have they left content decisions up to a single person who has more power than their position dictates?

Facebook is definitely having growing pains. From allowing Russian influencers to impostor as average Americans and post false news in our last presidential election. To allowing Cambridge Analytica the ability to acquire sensitive information about Facebook users. They have grown so large that they can no longer control content without making a misstep.

Franklin Graham has a belief that the truth lies in the word of God and more specifically is a devout Christian. While we may disagree with Graham on his interpretation, we can all agree he is a Christian. Throughout most of his adult life, he has supported worthy causes and helped his neighbor. He hasn’t been one of those evangelists that take advantage of others or preached selfishly. He has always said what he believed with his only agenda of speaking his truth about God. He certainly isn’t a hate monger. He just believes what he believes and loves his neighbor.

But Franklin Graham has a big following and a bigger voice than most Americans. When he protested his ban, it made national news. But what about other Christian’s who don’t have an influential name or base. They become powerless against a hidden force that can ban them because they don’t agree with their views on faith. There is no one you can call at Facebook to protest. They only answer emails. In fact, most responses from Facebook are form letters. No real answers, just frustration. Their truth gets lost.

It makes us wonder in this age of identity politics and political correctness, has some unknown figure taken on the role of deciding what the truth is about Christianity without recourse? In America today, according to Pew Research, seventy five percent identify themselves as Christian and two thirds of this group prays daily. If identity politics is the current way of thought. Why would we ban Christian input on a site where the vast majority identify themselves as Christian?

As Facebook has grown, it also has unwittingly become a powerful forum. A forum of ideas and points of view. It has become a forum that can be manipulated by insiders and outsiders. A forum of national debate that needs more openness. But it should also be a forum where those who intend harm are better identified and those who express views not to harm, are not restricted.

Facebook does provide valuable resources and contains wonderful content. Most companies have learned that Facebook advertising is a very effective way to promote products. For many, it is a way to keep up to date on family and friends. For shut-ins it is a window to the outside world. Many who post on Facebook have content that is insightful and sometimes down right humorous. We may not always agree with what we read, but more often than not it helps us keep track of our world.

Facebook does help us every day, seventy percent of Americans use it frequently. But Facebook can’t be the decider of our religious beliefs or morality. It certainly shouldn’t be left to some unknown person sitting in a far off cubicle deciding what is the truth and what isn’t. It certainly shouldn’t be selling our private information to unknown entities. It should also know when twelve million messages and users from a foreign country are trying to influence our elections. It has gotten so big that it needs to be more focused on what counts and what doesn’t.

Recently, many people have opted out of Facebook and their membership is declining. The reason, the impersonal and ambiguous way they decide what content can be presented. They have not protected our privacy, in attempts to generate more profits they have sold our information. Unwittingly they have become a source for false news and allowed their immense influence to be appropriated by those who seek their own mission.

Facebook stands at a crossroads of either hearing the complaints and changing or stubbornly continuing a path of profit accumulation that will eventually cause them to fail. Not an uncommon dilemma for those who gain remarkable success, but a crossroad that needs humility.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Glen Carrie

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.

 

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”

Matthew 7:1

SHOULD WE JUDGE OR OFFER HOPE?

Stephen A. Smith, the highly controversial sports analyst of ESPN, was the first to criticize Josh Gordon, the suspended NFL wide receiver. In a highly insensitive way Smith showed no sympathy for a man who has suffered with mental illness for most of his adult life. In a highly critical rant, he was dismissive and unsympathetic of Gordon’s journey. So uninformed was his rant, that many spoke out, not about Gordon’s latest failure, but by the way Smith carried on. A rant so insensitive, that it sparked an enormous backlash on Twitter.

In late December, Josh Gordon was suspended for the fifth time, for using substances banned by the NFL. Gordon, earlier in the year had been given another chance at playing in the NFL. He was traded by the Cleveland Browns to the New England Patriots. The Patriots, a team who have in the past been successful with dealing with troubled players, was seen as Gordon’s last and best chance. For a while Gordon performed well and was becoming an important part of the famed Patriots offense.

The Patriots put his locker next to Tom Brady’s and Brady worked closely with Gordon to fit in. The assigned a security crew to help him deal with drug use. In fact, the entire locker room worked hard at accepting their new teammate. Bill Belichick, the coach and Robert Kraft, the owner, had a number of conversations of support for Gordon.

Then he let them down. What was interesting, there was no harbinger of ill will from the team. The team made statements about their desire for Gordon to overcome his mental illness. All the players spoke out in support of Gordon and commented on what a great teammate Gordon had been. Both Tom Brady and Julian Edelman came out and posted public support of Gordon on their social media.

But what we heard from the national press, notably from Steven A. Smith was insensitive remarks of condemnation. When the Patriots picked up Gordon in the trade, I heard many judgmental comments that said, “don’t get too excited he will fail again.” Sure he failed again and maybe this lesson in life will not be his last.

But should we judge a man with documented mental illness issues, who grew up with sketchy surroundings or should we offer hope. Not hope that is enabling, but hope that he will heal.

Gordon’s issue is symbolic of how we should view all those who struggle. Should we attack and issue judgmental comments or should we lend a hand. Is it fair that we isolate people who make a mistake and become defined by that mistake.

Let’s be clear Steven A. Smith is controversial for a reason, not to help. But to increase ratings. His livelihood is based on his ratings and the more he attacks the higher the ratings.

Today in America, bad news sells and good news is a yawn. Encapsulating those who stray and giving them a scarlet letter. What is missing in this discourse, is we will all fail. Sometimes in spectacular fashion and sometimes not. But part of the human existence is the hard lessons we all have to learn.

Jesus warns to be careful in judgement, because it will be returned when we have our day in the inevitable refinery of life.

Others personal tragedy is not a reliable predictor of someone’s future, many have gone on to turn their story of tragedy into a story of hope.

Consider first lady, Betty Ford, who was an alcoholic. She recovered and went on to establish the Betty Ford clinic that helped thousands recover from alcoholism.

Michael Vick, who was involved in the terribly inhumane sport of dog fighting. Who went to prison for two years and then had to file bankruptcy. After he served his time, thanks to Andy Reid and Tony Dungy was given a second chance in the NFL. With his second chance he once again became an elite quarterback. He paid back every dollar he owed to those who had lost out in his bankruptcy. Today Vick is actively involved with the Humane Society to help prevent cruelty to animals.

What is not reported about Vick, is that for 544 nights he went to bed in prison reciting Psalm 23 and falling to sleep with his Bible under his head.

I have friends who have also suffered from alcoholism, but recovered through wonderful programs run by organizations like the Salvation army. All who have gone on to productive lives.

Chris Carter the former NFL great and TV personality, admits he is an addict and states, “I have been in recovery for twenty eight years.” Today, Chris helps those needing to be in recovery.

We can turn to Ray Rice, the standout running back from the Baltimore Ravens, who savagely beat his wife in an elevator. He was cut from the NFL and lost his livelihood. Becoming a symbol of a spousal abuser. What’s not reported is that both he and his wife have reconciled. He got the treatment he needed to reconnect with his family and become a reliable husband. Where is he today? He is a spousal abuse activist, and speaks at many functions discussing the impact of spousal abuse. His football career is over, but his life isn’t. He feels he got a second chance, not a second chance at football, but a second chance at being a great husband and father.

Those of us who failed, have regrets and many are willing to pay the price of our failures. I have walked with many who have disappointed and let people down. I have seen them grow.  I have also walked with many who don’t give second chances. I have seen a hardened heart. I have seen it is easy to kick someone when they are down. I have seen that more good comes from hope than judgement. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to pay back what we did or that those who failed should be enabled.

I pray for Stephen A Smith to view life as good and not as another chance to gain fame at someone else’s demise.

We can sit in judgement of people who have failed or we can offer prayers that they will overcome. We know as Christians what is required. Not judgement or enabling behavior, but prayers of hope for recovery.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben Hershey

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.

 

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:39

 

TONY DUNGY, BELL RINGER FOR THE SALVATION ARMY

Every year, from late November until Christmas, the Salvation Army has volunteers to ring a bell in front of grocery stores and on street corners. Tens of thousands volunteer every year to ring a bell in front of the iconic red kettle. In New York city, one thousand people volunteered this season. Millions are collected throughout the country, supporting the Salvation army’s programs to feed the poor and help families in duress.

This year in Central Florida, Tony Dungy was spotted ringing the bell. Yes, the Hall of Fame ex-football coach and player, Tony Dungy. Soon a crowd gathered to meet Tony and his family. It was posted on social media and went viral. When Tony was asked why he was ringing. He said, “I heard there was a shortage of Bell Ringers this year, so I volunteered.” This type of helping behavior is not unusual for Tony Dungy, he has spent a lifetime of  “doing the right thing.”

On most Sunday’s you will find Tony Dungy on TV, Football America to be exact. Tony teams with Rodney Harrison and analyzes the upcoming games. What is interesting in this age of “shock and be famous media”, Tony smiles and is extraordinarily respectful. He provides no shocking revelations to draw attention to himself or is unnecessarily over the top with his humor. Just an ever present smile and good well thought out opinions. In just a few minutes of viewing you can quickly tell he is a decent guy.

Tony has been a life-long Christian, where he played and coached he hung on to those values. His job was always to help out first and be taken care of second. With his players, he asked them to put their faith first, followed by their family. Football came last. This attitude created a team committed to a strong work ethic and values. Tony’s teams made the playoffs ten years in a row and he won the Super Bowl coaching the Indianapolis Colts.

As a player, Tony played as a starter on the famed Pittsburgh Steeler team of the seventies. He was the safety on a defense nicknamed the Steel curtain. Tony wasn’t a high draft choice, in fact he wasn’t drafted. The Steelers asked him to come in for a tryout. He did and became an undrafted member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tony is also a community activist and has been involved with past president’s leadership council of Faith-based neighborhood partnerships, as an advisor on fathership issues. Tony is a public speaker for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in action. Today he continues to work with Big Brothers/Sisters and the Boys/Girls club in Indianapolis. Tony is frequently heard on Christian radio and has several regularly scheduled shows.

Some things you might not know about Tony Dungy:

  • Among sports figures, he ranks second behind Hank Aaron in polls on respect.
  • He was the first African American coach to lead a Super Bowl winner.
  • He developed the “calm coaching” technique for other coaches.
  • He is one of the few people to win a Super Bowl as a coach and player.
  • He is the most recent NFL player to have and throw an interception in the same game.
  • He was the youngest coordinator for an NFL team at the age of 28.

Tony is a decent man and a role model. He goes about his craft, whether it is playing or coaching football differently, he puts his faith first. As a broadcaster, he doesn’t want to be known for outlandish comments, only to be known as thoughtful and decent man. Helping his neighbor has and was his main goal in life. He is a man of character not a character.

It’s refreshing to know that some good guys do finish first. It’s nice to know that in a polarized world we have a symbol of rational thinking. It’s nice to know that we can openly speak about our faith and succeed.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by frank mckenna

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.

 

 

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Matthew 5:44-45

REVEREND WANG ARRESTED FOR PREACHING IN CHINA

Communist nations are atheist and in general are against any formal religious gathering. While the aggression against Christians has become more subdued over the past few decades, through events like the fall of the Iron Curtain. However, China’s recent movement to an open society and a more open view of religious practices has stalled and appears to be regressing.

Today there 100 million Christians in China, many attend an in-home church to avoid government interference. However, this Christmas, the Government in China has stepped up its efforts to control religious practices. Earlier this month, 60 police raided a church taking artifacts and questioned those attending.

Of particular interest is Pastor Wang Yi, who was arrested with his wife on December 9th. He sits in jail today with the potential of having a fifteen year prison sentence. His crime was no more than being more open than other pastors by actually having a formal church.

Prior to his arrest he suspected that there could be an incident where he would be detained. Knowing this he drafted a letter to his congregation to be released if he was arrested. He was and the letter was distributed. In his letter he said, “I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use nonviolent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God.”

During the next few days, the congregation gathered to protest the arrest and held a church service at a nearby park. 60 of the protesters were arrested as well. Many of the congregation have had police come to their homes and been asked to sign a document declaring they have left their faith and taken their children out of the church run school.

After years of a slow movement by the Chinese government to religious tolerance, a return to practices from a few decades ago has started to prevail. The new President Xi has begun to push this agenda harder. Besides Reverend Wang, the Catholic church has been at odds with President Xi over the disappearance of Bishop Zhuang Jianjian, whose whereabouts is still unknown.

But it goes deeper than just the persecution of Christians, China is moving back to a society similar to one from George Orwell’s book, 1984. President Xi appears to be trying to create a controlled society similar to what existed in the fifties. We see this in a number of recent incidences. Their lack of agreement that charging tariffs on other countries imports is wrong, while they refuse to have tariffs charged on what they export.

They have been persistent in stealing other countries technology. President Xi himself ended the term limit for his presidency, setting himself up to be a life time ruler. These are dangerous times for a country that had up to recent past created a chance for its citizens to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Previously it was possible for their citizens, through hard work and ingenuity to better their lives. Chinese citizens had been given the freedom of travel and private ownership. With President Xi, there appears to be a different direction from the recent past.

Like most despotic activities from the past, they center on the person in charge and their ability to control its citizens. Inevitably, Christianity and other religious beliefs are attacked during these descents into despotism.

While President Xi can try to eliminate religious practices, the only result will be a movement that will reside hidden from those who try to control religious practices. The movement will go deeper underground. History is littered with these movements. In Nazi Germany, where they gained control of the national Lutheran church and silent approval from the Catholic church, religious activity didn’t disappear it became clandestine. In fact it created the forming of the Confessing church. In ancient Rome, before the acceptance of Christianity, the church literally went underground. Into the catacombs under the city. During the Cold War, the church in the affected eastern bloc countries still met and practiced their beliefs.

The lesson is that many that try to control religion don’t see that Christ does not go away. Our beliefs don’t die because a despot say they must. We are all free in our minds and in our beliefs, no state can control God’s connection to the hearts of the masses.

As Reverend Wang stated, our resistance is one of non-violence, but also of firmness. Many have walked before Reverend Wang and provided the example of civil disobedience. Our prayers today are for his safe return. Perhaps he will become a martyr like those from the past and for that we pray for his peace.

I write this article today to ensure his story is heard by a few more and maybe our collective voices of those who write to support Reverend Wang will help. Perhaps as a group we can start pushing the wheel of religious freedom a little further along.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Hanson Lu

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.

 

 

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

Revelations 3:20

 

SEVEN NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS IDEAS FOR OUR FAITH

Every year we all make New Year resolutions. We want to exercise more or perhaps lose some weight. Essentially, we want to change in some way. Sometimes it’s big changes and sometimes small. The start of anything that makes us better is always a good thing. Staying the same not only will produce the same results, but in many cases we will go backwards.

So it is with our faith lives. Our faith should be nourished every day. Without this added attention, our faith will dim and the ways of the world will take up a bigger piece of our thoughts. Here are seven simple things we can all do to help our faith this new year. Any one of these will move us forward as Christians.

Read the Bible Everyday

Most Christians have a Bible, why not set aside 15 minutes a day to read the Bible. For instance, at a normal reading pace, if we read the Bible for 15 minutes a day, by the end of the year we will have read the Bible from cover! When we are done, we will be changed.

Sure there are hard parts, but there is also a richness in the difficult sections. Perhaps start with the New testament or even just the Gospels. After a week or so, it will become part of our daily routine. The hardest part is starting and continuing. But we will be surprised how important it becomes after just a week or two.

Go to Church More Frequently

Life is busy and our priorities can be overwhelming. Fitting in going to church every Sunday can be a difficult task. Perhaps our current church isn’t meeting our needs or our schedule. Perhaps Sunday morning comes up to quickly. Perhaps we need to find a church that better suits our lives. But going to church helps us, even in small ways.

Going to church helps our faith lives. There is more to church than just the sermon. There is fellowship with other Christians. It is a wonderful time to think about our upcoming week and how we can bring God into our lives.

Listening closely to the prayers being said and thinking about the words being expressed, will add to our faith. Likewise songs lift our souls, but also included in the songs are important statements that are similar to prayers.

God will speak to us when we are in church, maybe through the sermon or through a song. Or even a person we meet. I can honestly say, that each time I go to church, something new and surprising happens that helps my faith life.

Make Prayer a Part or Our Daily Routine

For some of us the best time to spend a few minutes praying, is in the morning. For others it may be at night. Regardless of the time and place, a short conversation with God through Jesus becomes a haven when it becomes part of our life routine.

Prayer is an important part of our faith lives, it is through our very personal conversation that we begin to see the connection between our prayer life and God’s answers. God will answer, our only task after we have prayed is to watch and observe. In the observation we will see God’s answer.

There are three types of prayers. The first is when we go to God with a request. The second is when we ask for help for someone else. The third and final is a prayer of thankfulness. Perhaps in each prayer, we can use all three types. The only caveats to daily prayer is consistency and being in a quiet place.

Read the Verse of the Day

Many Christian websites have a verse of the day. Some of my favorites are www.biblegateway.com and www.christianitytoday.com. Both have verses of the day. I particularly like going to Bible Gateway, as the first thing you see is the verse of the day. Many times, I will note how it applies to me or a situation I am familiar with.

Christianity Today, has daily newsletters that will can be sent directly to our emails. There are many sites that doing something similar. Over time, it will become part of our daily routine.

Join a Bible Study Group

Most churches have a Bible study group. If not, your local pastor can lead us to some in our communities. Most Study groups have a theme, like Christian mothers or Christian business people. It might take a few visits to a different groups before we find the right one, but there is one for all of us.

Bible study groups are a great place to be with people that share common life circumstances. Hearing others views is important as each person has a unique perspective. Many times I will hear a comment or statement about a verse that changes how I think. But we also share lives at Bible studies, we get to know other Christians and their lives. Not every Bible study group will fit, but there is one out there for us as individuals.

Join a Helping Based Organization

In every community there is an organization that helps those in need. Initially, it may just be volunteering your time. Perhaps later it can be serving on a committee. But in every community there are ways to help others. Most communities have a hospice program or a tutoring program. Certainly every community has a food bank or clothing center.

Spending time helping others, fulfills the second commandment of Jesus, by loving our neighbor. Surprisingly when we help others, we help ourselves.

Each Day Make a Difference in a Person’s Life

This is perhaps both the easiest and hardest one to accomplish. When we go to a store, say “Thank you” to the person waiting on us. Practice holding the door for someone else. Let other cars go in front of us when we are in a traffic jam. Essentially, slowing ourselves down helps others. Sure it might be inconvenient, but is the second or two we lose really that important?

Lend a hand to someone who is struggling, even when we are busy. Perhaps spend a few more moments listening to their story. Listening is our easiest gift to give.

These seven things can all be accomplished or perhaps one at a time. But in some way they all push us to be closer to God. In some way they affect how we treat others and strengthen our faith. Some can be hard to start, but after a few weeks, we find ourselves with a new routine.

This New Year, besides our normal resolutions, why not add a few resolutions that strengthen our faith lives. Jesus is waiting for us to answer his knock on our life’s door.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ian Schneider

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.

 

rosary beads

A Humble Leader of His Flock

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

James 4:6

 

On Sundays, my wife, Connie, and I make church part of our routine. When we are home, Sundays involve a later breakfast, church, grocery shopping, and cooking. The cooking Connie does out of joy. And the meal prepared usually lasts a few days. For us Sunday is usually a simple day of recovery. Recently, we went to a new church near where we live. It was a Catholic church that we wanted to try out as we explore our options for Sunday church near our new home.

When do I kneel?

For me, going to a Catholic church is always a bit overwhelming. There are a lot of moving parts for a lifelong Protestant. When do I kneel? What book has the songs to sing? And which book do I use to follow along with the service. I am getting better at this, thanks to my brother-in-law and Connie. They patiently show me when to stand or kneel or which book I should be looking at.

But I am always observant in church—not just from an attendee’s point of view but as an observer of the different practices and people in the churches I attend. The Sunday we attended this new Catholic church, I was drawn to the pastor. He was not particularly interesting in his appearance. His head was shaven, and he was a bit portly. He walked and talked slowly as well. At first glance, you might say he was sloth-like.

But he was a Catholic priest, and knowing the education process of becoming a pastor, I knew he was well educated and had to have a high sense of motivation; otherwise, he couldn’t have made it through seminary school.

As the service wore on, I saw that his slowness was deliberate and the way he liked to lead the service. He was not slow and boring but slow and contemplative. He was careful with what he said and how he said the words.

He didn’t rush

During the homily (the sermon equivalent for Protestants), he was precise, factual, and deliberate. He made sure he looked up frequently, not showing any favoritism to one side of the church or the other. He had carefully researched the Bible passage for the week and added a lot of historical context, explaining the background and history to the congregation. He didn’t rush and had just the right cadence. There were no political assertations, just his observations. He delivered the message of loyalty to God remarkably professionally. He wasn’t looking for approval but to deliver a well thought out message to his flock.

When he sat, he observed. I could tell by his facial expressions. They were not obvious or exaggerated but were simple acknowledgments of a well-sung song or a well-spoken prayer.

He observed everything, and I could tell he kept a mental list of what was good and what could use improvements by a simple raising of the eyebrow or small smile. This was his church to lead—not through charisma but carefully and committed to its sacred purpose.

I felt a bit of empathy for him.

He wasn’t flashy and probably would never rise to the position of bishop. He lacked self-promotion and presence. He would be a great bishop or even a cardinal but will likely just remain a simple pastor.

His goals that Sunday weren’t to impress us with his knowledge. He just wanted to make sure we were cared for and that he professionally delivered the message of God and Jesus. No big fanfare occurred when he announced the Sunday spaghetti lunch, just: “please attend if you like.”

Later at home, we reviewed the church bulletin, which gave all the updates to next week’s church life. It included who to call, what time daily prayers were, and the nightly events. They were listed orderly and precisely. But Connie noted something simple that said a lot: the church’s donations exceeded their expenses. Why would I have guessed anything different? When most churches are scrambling for money, this very organized church had its finances carefully under control, reflecting the same values of the pastor.

He was a simple man

I imagined this pastor in budget meetings, espousing conservative estimates and carefully thinking through every expense. Not to cut corners, but to spend the Lord’s money wisely. He is a realistic and effective manager of both the church and his flock.

He is a simple man performing a sacred task, not just out of a sense of duty but also to do the best he could. He wasn’t interested in the glory of fame. His sole focus was on helping our Lord provide a place and sanctuary to worship. He wasn’t hurrying for a reason—his humility in his craft dictated his every action.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

We love to give credit to budding photographers

Frank DeVita

The Greatest Generation: Patriotic and Honorable

For each one will bear his own load.

Galatians 6:5

For fifteen trips on June 6, 1944, he ferried men from troop transports to the beaches of Normandy. After eighteen hours his day was done. He learned a lot about himself and life that day. These were things he couldn’t and wouldn’t verbalize for seventy years until a chance meeting at the seventieth reunion in 2014, coaxed by Tom Brokaw while standing on the very beach to which he’d delivered scores of very young men.

On his first trip at dawn, German machine guns were sweeping the beach, and bullets made repeated clanging noises on the side of his boat. When it was time to lower the ramp, he was nervous and unsure how the soldiers would escape the bullets. As the ramp went down, he got his answer. Many wouldn’t escape.

Most died or were badly wounded.

He saw horrible mutilation. One young man lost part of his head and fell at his feet. Another mortally wounded man fell next to him. All he knew to do was to hold the young man’s hand and say The Lord’s Prayer. As he softly spoke the words, the wounded soldier calmed and squeezed his hand tightly, dying quietly while listening to the prayer.

To get the ramp back up, this 125-pound soldier had to remove bloodied bodies and ninety pounds of equipment from the ramp. Miraculously avoiding the bullets, he was only able to move them two to three inches with every tug.

When the ramp was finally raised, he and the pilot saw a Red Cross hospital ship and steered for it as opposed to their troop transport. Leaving the wounded there, they headed back to the transport. When the boats all were gathered, they asked for a volunteer to brief the generals. But this was a job that would take this brave soldier out of harm’s way. Instead, he said to himself, “This is what I trained for, and this is what I am supposed to do.” On his face in a later interview when he relayed this moment, you could see the seriousness with which he’d made this decision.

A burly sergeant visited him before the second trip and put his massive hands on the man’s shoulders to calm him. The sergeant told him to wait for the bullets to stop before putting the ramp down during the next trip. Machine guns had to change barrels every few minutes. During the quiet period would be when he knew the barrels would be changing. It was a simple method that would give the brave young men a few more seconds and a chance to get off the boat safely.

Seventy Years Later

He remembered how young the soldiers were—barely adults. These were young people with a life ahead of them. Many were less than twenty years old and had less than a year’s training. These brave young men were jumping out of a boat onto a beach to fight German soldiers who were much older and with as much as four years of combat training and experience.

He explained that the American soldier fought for peace and to free Europe while the German soldier’s cause was significantly less noble. They fought for tyranny, which weakened their resolve. General George Patton would later explain that once you were at the back of a German soldier, they would surrender. They fought not for humanity but because they were told to.

Buried

After his interview with Tom Brokaw, many said this man should write a book. He tried, but the first few pages he wrote became soggy from the tears he shed—tears he had held back for seventy years. He had seen death and the gruesome reality of war. He’d buried it and come home, married, and raised a family.

Later, he found a way to communicate his story. He visited colleges and schools. He spoke at large organizations. Wherever he could, he spoke. He had only one goal—to tell the story of those brave men he carried to the beaches and to share the stories of gallantry and heroism he saw. Each time he told his story, he shed tears. The spoken memories squeezed the grief out of this humble man.

His generation suffered through the great depression, a period when 25 percent of Americans were unemployed. They were dragged into a war that nearly cost the people of the world their freedom. This generation carried the cross they had to bear and did it nobly—not because they were told to but because they were raised to care about right and wrong.

Thankfully, we all have a better life because of them.

Later the Baby Boomers and Millennials became the new models. As time passes, the reality of how great that generation was dims. Remarkably, when this man was asked what he thought about the new generations there was no scoffing. He simply said, “They are better and more intelligent than mine.”

Maybe we are little smarter, but we are not more noble. Neighbors and neighborhoods were places of strength for that generation. Mothers raised every child in the neighborhood. Being earnest was more important than being flashy. Humble was in vogue and “meism” was frowned upon.

He is ninety-four today.

Being ninety-four today, he looks decades younger than his age. He is serious, and his eyes are tired now, but they still show the honor of this great, everyday American—a man from a generation that carried the burden of saving the world.

If you want to meet him, you can! Click the hyperlink https://youtu.be/5Zx3X08saO8. This footage is very raw and emotional, but it is a wonderful and serious conversation by a true American hero. Sorry about the ad at the beginning; this is YouTube’s new policy.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo original posted by the History.com

sitting behind an elderly couple

The Beauty of Sitting Behind an Elderly Couple

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:2-3

 

We had just gotten into our seats when I noticed a woman guiding her husband down the row of pews. The slightly disheveled man walked slowly, his sight-impaired. His wife graciously guided him to the seat in front of us. As she sat, she bowed her head and went to a place of prayer.

As the church service went on, I became extraordinarily interested in this couple and their interactions. They were a study in a lifelong marriage—a study in duty and commitment. I was struck by how kind and gracious they were to each other. She was strong and in good health; he was frail and slightly hunched over. No longer did their health or their faculties match. Beyond being a wife, she was also a caregiver, responsible for the man she’d married many years ago.

I imagined their lives.

Both seemed conservative, so I imagined the awkward first dates, which ultimately led to a marriage. It was likely a marriage that had produced large, extended families. They were of Latino descent, which made me envision joyous moments with many aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. I wondered about their children. I was sure they were well-behaved and strong citizens. While these observations may or not have been true, I was imagining a life for them prior to this moment, with an expectation and hope that they’d had a happy earlier life.

When it was time to pass the peace of Christ, I was so happy to shake their hands. She was forthright, and honor exuded from her. I was struck by his humbleness and exposed humanity. He was a gentle soul besieged by the terrible effects of aging. He clearly had aged faster than her. In a moment of grace, they kissed for their passing of the peace.

Gentle Guidance

When it was time to take communion, she helped him out into the aisle. She did not push but gently guided him. Even though we went up after them, they arrived back at their seats after us. She again helped him to sit, but as she did, she tapped his back in a gesture of love. It was a simple touch to a treasured partner.

Throughout the service, these two humble people showed small glimpses of affection for one another. Each were pious in their posture and attitude in a sacred place they shared. Their marriage was nearing its end. Perhaps even in its final years. But their loyalty and commitment to one another were still very present.

I thought about their early vows.

I thought about the following statement:

I, ____, take you, ____, to be my wife (or husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn vow.

Now, here those vows were in front of me being lived out. I am sure they had tough moments—all marriages do. I am sure there were moments of anger, perhaps not many, but I am sure there were some. But I am more than sure that God helped these two people chisel out a life of deep devotion.

I wondered about their after-church practice. Would they go to brunch? Was shopping on their list? Perhaps a visit to family? Or perhaps it was to just go home and live a connected life.

I have been blessed in my own life to have a mom and dad who lived out these same values, as well as in-laws who likewise live their lives connected. My own mom struggles to leave my dad alone, out of a sense of duty. Each night before my dad goes to bed, he gives my mom a gentle kiss or says something like thank you for driving me today. My father-in-law still calls his wife my bride. They are inspiring people who show how marriage should be for all.

Observations

There was much for me to observe in that quiet hour behind these two beautiful people. Maybe I read too much into this experience. But I don’t think I did; there were far too many gestures of kindness and love for me to not know the lesson. Marriage is both hard and wonderful. Hard in submission to compromise and the everyday skirmishes with a beloved, lifelong partner. It is wonderful to share a life with the person of your dreams while performing a duty of commitment promised in front of God.

I am thankful for this God-sent reminder of my duties to my own wife. I was reminded of what I’d promised God and Connie. I only wish I could send all a picture of these two lovely people connected by love and God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

We love to give credit to budding photographers

marquis goodwin

Living to be a Father

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who know and follow him.

Psalm 103:13

The ball was headed right for him as he swooped downfield past the only person covering him. As he looked up, he watched the perfectly passed football drop into his hands. In front of him was open space with no one to tackle him. With extraordinary speed, he raced for the touchdown.

When he arrived in the endzone, he quickly kneeled and gave the sign of the cross and blew a kiss to heaven to acknowledge who had given him that moment of glory and to a now-lost son. As an NFL player, it was his first touchdown for his new team in a game that would become their first win of the season.

He had experienced God

His teammates surrounded him as he collapsed with emotions that ranged from joy to thankfulness to sorrow. Each teammate patted him on the back and joined him in this emotional experience. They stayed with him far longer than any usual celebration of a touchdown. They all knew what he had gone through that day. It had been both a dark day and one where God had visited him. Marquise Goodwin had experienced God and the loss of a son on that sad day.

Earlier in the day, his wife had delivered a stillborn son. Goodwin had wanted to be a good dad and husband and wanted to stay with her instead of playing football. Goodwin’s own father had abandoned his family when he was young, leaving his mother to raise the family. That family had included a disabled child. At a young age, Marquise Goodwin became the male figurehead in his family. He vowed to himself throughout his life that he was going to be the father he’d never had.

Marquise was a blessed athlete.

He as not only a standout football player but also a speedy track star. As a senior in high school, he recorded the second fastest time in the 100-meter dash. His long jump became the national high school record.

Goodwin received a scholarship to the University of Texas and became a two-sport star both in track and field and football. He qualified for the Olympics in 2012. It was through track that he met his future wife, Morgan Snow.

When the two first dated, Marquise dropped by his mother’s house to introduce his new girlfriend—a step way too early in any relationship. While a bit put off by this, Morgan still hung around. She would later notice his commitment to his family and especially to his disabled sister. Their bond grew, and at halftime on senior day, Marquise proposed and Morgan accepted.

After college, they moved to Buffalo, where Marquise was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. For four years, he played with the Bills, never really making progress despite his unusual speed. He only started ten games during this period.

The following year, in 2017, he went on to the San Francisco 49ers. On a very weak team, he was inserted into the starting lineup. That year, his wife became pregnant and was due during the football season. Early Sunday morning of November 12th, his wife woke up with discomfort and knew her baby was in trouble. They quickly went to the hospital and received the devasting news—their son wasn’t going to make it. Still, she was able to deliver the baby and the two were able to hold him. Marquise wanted to call the 49ers and say he wouldn’t be able to play that day. But his wife said no—go play for your son.

Marquise protested.

As he’d grown into adulthood, one of his main life goals was to be a good husband and father, driven by the absence of his own father. The decision to play cut across the grain of an important life goal, but his wife persisted. He left her and the baby to play football that Sunday.

When Goodwin arrived, the coaches and players knew about the events earlier in the day and told him it was okay if he wanted to go home. Despite his grief, he suited up and assumed his normal starting role. His team had played poorly to this point in the season, but Marquise was having his best year as a pro, though still with no touchdowns to his name.

Then he made the catch and ran into the endzone. He knew God was watching over him, and he gave praise and recognition to his lost son.

Later, Morgan and Marquise had the baby cremated, and the ashes today sit in a vase on their nightstand where they can touch their lost baby.

We read many stories about over-selfish athletes.

They are the ones that make the headlines. But most are like Marquise. They give back to their communities. They visit the hospitals with sick children. Some ring the Salvation Army bell at Christmas. They aren’t looking to be self-important heroes. They just want to be good parents and community citizens. We don’t always get to know about the backstory of these types of athletes. They are still human beings with tragedies and joys in their lives. They raise families and help communities.

We won’t see the football players who meet in the center of the field after each NFL game and hold prayer sessions. The networks won’t show that scene, assuming it could be offensive to some. In a spirit of political correctness, the networks don’t show the more human side of these athletes.

Attached is the NFL 360 film featuring Marquise’s story. Click the link to know more. https://www.49ers.com/video/nfl-360-tells-the-story-of-marquise-goodwin

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.