“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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This is my Father’s World, to Share

We have crossed over into the northern part of the trail.  We are excited to be in more familiar lands. Looking forward to the many places we have visited in the past. We have now been in nine states and walked well over the eleven hundred mile mark. We have also found a new sense of joy and an added purpose to this walk, to share this world with others.

Friends and family who have expressed a desire to see and experience what we have seen. To try out the climbs and cross milestones with us. To see the changing states and walk by the mile markers of each one hundred mile marker.

Into this world, we invite them to hear the birds singing praise, dine with other hikers and experience God’s creation in person. While this sharing will slow our progress, it also provides us with a new and added reason to walk. To share “Our Father’s World.” It is the joy in their eyes we will see. For them a new sense of nature. It reminds me of a song I often played on my piano, “This is my Father’s World.” Whose lyrics are:

This is my Father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres

This is my Father’s world
The birds their carols praise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their maker’s praise

This is what we see and feel every day. It is now our turn to share. From old friends to daughters and grandchildren to brothers and sisters. A special joy will be felt when we see my parents and walk a few steps with them. Sure we will have to adjust our schedule, but it also provides us with a chance to share. Other hikers we have gotten to know will march forward on their glorious journey of discovery, while we share.

We will share and be glad we did.

When Myron Avery helped create the Appalachian Trail, he wanted to create an accessible place for people to visit, even if it is only a few miles. A place that is pure in its expression of the beauty that is nature. A place that all, young and old can see. We now have this chance to share in this dream. A journey not measured by marching many miles, but a journey of experience. Exposure to a place that changes our perspective of what is important.

We look forward to being with, Bern, Taylor, Kenny, Doug, Chrissi, Luke, Ashley, Roger, Ann, Bob, Dot, Jimmy, Penny, Greg, Betsy, Spencer, Nevin, Anna, and Eva. These are the people we hope to see. They won’t slow us down, but give us a chance to share.

Our first companions were Chrissi and Kenny.

Connie’s twin sister and her husband. It was a treat to have Kenny, a professional pastor, say our morning prayer. We taught them how to climb a mountain without stopping for a rest. With a steady pace that was within their ability, by using short steady steps. In this day they covered a variety of terrain that is similar to our typical day. They got to experience the wonder of majestic views. They were with us when we crossed the 900-mile mark. We had lunch on a rocky outcrop that provided views of the Shenandoah’s. At the end of the day, we were proud of what they had accomplished and glad to have shared.

The picture today is one of Kenny and Chrissi, at the outcrop where we had lunch.

Below is a picture of Luke walking with Papa Bruce.

Luke, my grandson, and Ashley my daughter have also come to visit as well. In this visit, we were able to walk a few miles on the trail to a rock outcrop with views of the Shenandoah valley. A visit where Luke reached beyond his fear of heights to see this glorious view and show his dad by FaceTime his achievement. Moments which we get to share that reshape our journey.

 

 

 

 

Below is a picture of Bern and Connie.

Our most recent visitor was Bern, a long and dear friend. Bern walked with us in Maryland and West Virginia, near Harpers Ferry.  Bern was with us for the start of the rocks that are strewn across the paths on the northern part of the trail. In two days Bern covered 18 miles of tough terrain, climbed a 1300 peak and was there for the walk into Harpers Ferry while crossing the Shenandoah River footbridge. An amazing feat on Bern’s part.

This is not a typical event on the trail.

It is hard for visitors to maintain the same pace of hikers who have walked many days. But sharing is now part of our journey. One we will enjoy, helping others share in what we have seen. Our hiked morphed long ago into one of experiencing the trail and not just walking the miles. We met people much earlier in the hike who told us they wished they had experienced more in their thru-hikes. They wished they had stopped a few more times to see more than just the miles. Some have returned, like Magellan, who hiked the trail in 2016. He told me this second journey was not about time tables or the miles. Later this summer he will join his son in Maine to climb Mount Katahdin.

We welcome our visitors and thank them for helping create a wonderful experience. This trail is for all to hike and experience. These are visits to “Our Father’s World.” Moments that immerse people into the glory of creation.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

The Geology of the Appalachian Trail

We decided to take a one week vacation from walking the trail. After arriving in Pennsylvania, our seventh state, we found our knees worn out and suffering from our third sickness. We will be skipping the rocky terrain of Pennsylvania and moving up to New Jersey to stay on schedule. We will come back to PA in the fall.

In just a few days of resting, we found ourselves missing our trail life and having a defined daily purpose. We missed the other hikers we have grown to know and the simple daily existence. But we found our ankles and knees were sore from the daily grind. Before we took our mini hiatus we had walked almost 14 days in a row. Mostly finding rocks that litter the trail.

We had been told that when we hit Virginia that the trail got easier. Certainly, the climbs were lower and our legs were much stronger. But we kept asking ourselves, “when does Virginia get easier?” The further north we walked, the greater the number of rocks and large boulders. Slowing our pace and creating unwanted falls. One day, in particular, we had to descend a half mile rock fall. A steep drop where each step had to be strategically thought out. It made me wonder, why the difference in terrain conditions versus the southern part of the trail.

In my research, I discovered why.

It wasn’t that the trail was less maintained, but by the geology of the trail. The Appalachian mountains are close to five hundred millions years old. Some geologist claim they are the oldest mountains in the world. They are four times as old as the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada’s.

Erosion and glaciers have reduced the size of the Appalachian mountains over these many years and created the steeper up hills and down hills. The average grade on the trail is over two hundred feet per mile, while the Pacific Coast and Continental Divide trail are far less, at over one hundred feet per mile. While the Rockies are higher and its largest peaks are fourteen thousand feet high, the trails are graded to handle livestock movement. As such most climbs are no greater than 11%. Whereas on the Appalachian Trail, many climbs are 20% in total with some sections reaching 40%!

So while the highest point in the Appalachian Mountains is Mount Mitchell at 6,600 feet, the steepness of the grade is the difficulty. Added on to this is the many years of erosion and the effect of numerous glaciers.

The erosion in the southern part is not as severe as the northern part, as the glaciers only reached the Ohio Valley. Their effect was to remove the topsoil and leave the rocks. Many of the rocks were pushed forward during the many ice ages. When you look at the topography of the Appalachian Trail on a map, which we did in Harpers Ferry, you see the Appalachian mountains are wider in the south and generally much higher.

The northern two states, Maine and New Hampshire, have some high peaks but are generally a thousand feet smaller. What these two states do have are much steeper climbs. In many places the climbs are over a thousand feet per mile, making both the ascent and descent hard. Even experienced hikers slow to a pace of one mile per hour.

Virginia Discovery

What we discovered in Virginia was not an easier trail, but a different trail. Our new obstacles were granite rocks that were left behind from the erosion. We also discovered the ridges were narrower and the valleys more fertile. Farms dotted the landscape and on some days we even walked through farms.

As we entered the three states of West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, the rocks became more frequent. The boulder fields were longer and bigger. In the southern part of Virginia and Tennessee, we could easily walk well over 2 miles an hour, or the average speed of the typical hiker on the Appalachian Trail. We actually slowed going north to just at 2 miles an hour. While not as exhausting as the steep climbs in the south, our hiking is more technical. Each step has to be carefully watched.

What we have learned is not to trust the small rocks, they will move and cause you to roll your ankles. Connie discovered that looking for the big boulders and charting a course among them was far easier. When the rocks are wet, they are greasy and rounded or sharp rocks need to be avoided or a slip and fall will occur.

So while we were told, when you hit Virginia the trail gets easier, we did not find this to be true. Sure the climbs weren’t as high, but the walking was harder because of the rocks. While our legs are much stronger, our walk is more measured.

We missed the trail and have returned this week. We needed the time off, to rest and let our knees recover. Our lesson we learned, is to be more careful with what we try to accomplish. To be more careful in planning out our days. To bring to the trail more from the outside, like friends and our other interests. A blending of the outside world with trail life.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Weather on the Appalachian

No day starts without knowing the weather when you hike the Appalachian Trail. Recently, I was sitting on the side of the road at a trailhead waiting for a ride. The rain was hard and soaking everything, causing temporary streams to flow in front of me. My pack was covered with my rain cover and I had my rain jacket on. Those parts not covered got extraordinarily wet. My shoes filled up with water and my pants completely soaked. Trees couldn’t protect me, it rained hard. Still, as the water dropped off my cap, I was peaceful and admiring the gift of water. I was comfortable in an uncomfortable spot.

I had checked the weather before I set out and knew it would rain about the time I finished. Sure enough, it arrived as predicted. I was glad I had seen the weather report because the trail was very rocky that day and rain would turn the rocks into a slippery obstacle. A place no hiker would want to be.

It was good that I checked the weather. I knew what was ahead that day. For us, we have walked into and out of the seasons. Many times the weather is different below in the valleys, then at the top of the mountain ridges. So we use the Appalachian Trail weather report. As we walk and the seasons change, we also change our daily preparations.

In hiking the trail, you experience all four seasons; late winter, spring, summer, and fall. At the start, you walk through winter for a few weeks. It’s biggest weather threats are cold, ice and snow. There are days that are delightful in the late winter, any temperature above 50 with no wind or rain is ideal hiking conditions. But we had those nights of cold, where sleeping outdoors is hard. Any exposure of skin was uncomfortable. Early on in our hike, we walked in a gusty wind with temperatures just below freezing, that caused the ice on the trees to pelt us like an unseen machine gun. We had to flee the Smokies just before an unforeseen winter storm, where winter reminded us of the unpredictable nature of its season.

In the spring, we got to see the trail turn from a stark brown to a colorful green. At first, we saw it coming in the form of flowers emerging and in the valleys below that turned green. Slowly it came up to the mountains, day after day. Until one day all the flowers had bloomed and our world was green. Winter doesn’t give up easily and the spring weather will diminish for a few days until it finally takes hold. Hiking in the spring is wonderful, with its just right temperatures and its soft gentle breeze. We no longer had to wear three layers of clothes, on many days walk with only one shirt. The arrival of the newness spring brings excited us and became a tapestry that got more complete every day.

Summer brings warm weather, humidity, and late afternoon storms. The summer causes us to drink more and Gatorade becomes an elixir. The hiking pace slows and requires more stops. The heat and humidity drain our bodies of fluids, causing lethargy that is only solved through good hydration. Summer caught us by surprise. Late in the Shenandoah mountains summer arrived. Humidity and temperatures above 85 became the norm. Some days were above 90. Our only protection was our green tunnel and easier climbs.

Every day we discuss the weather and the forecast. We try to schedule rest days on rainy days. This is not always possible. On the days it rains the trail gets very greasy. Stepping on rocks is like stepping on ice. The ground itself causes us to slip. Cold rain is dangerous and if we aren’t protected, hypothermia can set in.

Every day we look at the weather on the Appalachian Trail site. We have found it to be more accurate than the local weather. The site focuses on the mountains and is arranged by state and shelter. For all of us, it has become the most valuable tool.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

— Acts 2:46–47

HOW DO CHRISTIAN BUSINESS PEOPLE DEVELOP BELONGING?

Everyone wants to belong to something that is good. It is part of the human condition to want to be a member of a group that has meaning. We search for this in book clubs, in the companies we work for, in our neighborhoods, and within the church. When we belong to a group that is good, we anticipate the meet-ups, we immerse ourselves in helping the other members, and we care. We want to be part of something that important.

When we recruit people to work at our companies, we try to convince them that we are a good group. We have them meet others in our company. We work hard to get them to feel they belong.

Belonging turns into believing. Believing in the principles of the group. Believing in our company. Believing in our book club. Believing in our Christian faith. Believing comes over time; belonging comes first.

“Jesus is not a condemning Lord. Rather Jesus gives life and enriches our lives.”

Many Christian evangelists skip over the belonging part in the process of helping a person to live his or her life through Christ. They espouse the notion of “believe or be doomed.”  Jesus is not a condemning Lord. Rather Jesus  gives life and enriches our lives. Jesus frequently says the word “with.” He strives to bring us into relationship. Jesus knows we are on a journey to find faith together. And the groups that we belong to are there to help us with this journey.

Today’s verse discusses the fellowship of the first-century Christian life. These events occurred shortly after Easter and the passage describes the sense of belonging to the early Christian community. The verse describes a happy, generous, and well-respected group. They were filled with goodwill and had the goodwill of others. Who wouldn’t want to belong to this group? 

“With the help of Jesus, we help others to believe.”

From this small early Christian community grew a group that is today the largest in our world. As Christians we all evangelize; in the way we live, in the way we act, and in the way we talk. With the help of Jesus, we help others to believe. And creating a sense of belonging is the first step.

Creating a sense of belonging in others starts with universal acceptance and affirmation of their humanity. Making others feel welcomed starts with listening. Followed by our own commitment to Christian values that is shown not through words, but by action. By listening we give people a voice. BY walking through our lives with a rigorous adherence to the words of Christ we create a model to follow. Doing both creates in others a sense of belonging. 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman


PARTING THOUGHTS

How do we make other people feel welcomed?

Do we let them explore our values at their own pace?

What voice will they have after they join?