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

– John 14:6

ACCEPTING THE COMPELLING FORCE OF GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

 

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:7

FAITH AND DISTRACTIONS

Our faith is something that must be nurtured and sought after. The world reaches out to us and pulls away through life’s temptations, setbacks, and imagined responsibilities. At times the world will convince us that God isn’t with us, that he’s just some imaginary human construct. We will begin to blame others for our problems and to seek easier paths. But it is at exactly this spot that we should turn from our human instincts and dig deeper into our faith.

The recognition of the sovereign nature of God ebbs when we pay too much attention to the ways of the world and give in to despair. Faith must be practiced and nurtured despite our present condition, not because of it. There are few roads that are easy with faith. Jesus explains this, with a call to stay steady with our faith, when he says, “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

In life, it’s the little things that make a difference. Our faith lives are similar. For instance, many of us in business do what we think we should do or are asked to do, and then for some reason it doesn’t work out as well as we hoped. Inevitably it takes longer and there are a few more things to do than we’d expected. It is in this spot where we must decide between quality and quantity.  Do we finish our task because time is telling us to move on, or do we dig deeper to resolve those nagging feelings? This spot reminds me of a quote I used many times in my career, “The enemy of art is time.” Likewise, our faith life can become the victim of the suffocating drumbeat of time. It is here that we must decide if we are to move on or stop worrying so much about obstacles like time. Great art and our faith both require quality not quantity. How often do we say “I can’t do any more” or “I don’t have the time to nurture my faith” and move on? It is this internal decision that separates great faith from faith that is just an afterthought.

Our faith is in investment of ourselves in combination with God. God is not a genie that solves our problems alone. Our God is a loving God whom desires a relationship with us. Like any relationship it requires mutual acts of support. There are times when we need more from God than we can give, and God responds. Other times God only needs to stand by and watch us succeed. This continuum of faith varies from moment to moment.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

 

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be known to God.”

– Philippians 4:6

 

THE SIMPLE ELEMENTS OF PRAYER

Prayer is an essential part of developing a strong faith. Through prayer we converse with the sacred and begin a dialogue about our life. We either hear or see responses. At first there might not appear to be answers, but over time they begin to become revealed through the events of our lives as we move deeper in our relationship with God. Our prayer life expands and we stretch out the boundaries of prayer.

As we go deeper, prayer becomes a regular part of our day and our faith is strengthened. We also begin to expand the context of our prayers, leading to a richer prayer and faith life. We begin to see that there are four elements of prayer that can be said as individual prayers or in many cases included together in a single prayer. They are:

  • Prayer of Adoration to God. This element reflects our faith in God and the sovereign nature of God. It is also a praising of God. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see it expressed as “Hallowed be thy name.”
  • Prayer of Petition. This is where we request and ask for God’s help. Simple words expressing our needs. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see this expressed as “Give us our daily bread.”
  • Prayer of Intercession. It is here we are being a good neighbor. We are asking for life assistance for a friend. We are asking God to intercede on behalf of our neighbor. In the verse “Give us our daily bread,” by using the word “us” we are not only asking for ourselves, but also for our neighbor. Prayers of intercession that stand alone usually contain a more direct request.
  • Prayer of Thankfulness. This element of prayer is when we take the time to thank God for his involvement in our lives and reflects our gratitude for all that God has done for us.

God wants us to pray with our hearts. Accomplishing this requires an emptying of our thoughts or emerging somehow into a state where we are uniquely alone with God. A place that soothes us and frees our minds for this sacred conversation, centering ourselves to only be focused on God. It is our heart that God wants, free of daily tasks and our to-do list. Many people find a quiet, comfortable place to pray, a routine in the morning that moves them away from the world.

God wants us to be in prayer continuously, and he wants to hear our desires. Being overly prescriptive with our prayer life can make it rigid and meaningless. There are only a few guidelines that I can offer to people who ask me how to pray.

  • As it is in the Lord’s Prayer, I suggest always starting with a praising of God. In this statement we recognize the sovereignty of our relationship with God.
  • Always treat prayer as a sacred act.
  • Ensure that you are in a place and mindset that will be free of distractions.
  • Pray through Jesus and recognize the redeeming aspect of Jesus.
  • Pray truthfully—God knows the truth about you already!

Praying seems hard at first. We ask what we should pray for? How do we pray? By following these simple steps we can engage in a healthy prayer life. While we should pray in desperate situations, we should also remember to pray with thanksgiving. God wants a full relationship with us, not just in those times of stress, but in all our joys as well. When we pray as if we are an open book we allow a richer conversation with God. A powerful faith is developed through a rich prayer life that in turn honestly observes God’s response.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

 

“They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’”

— Matthew 8:27

 

WHAT SORT OF MAN IS THIS?

Jesus is sleeping in the cargo hold of a boat that also contains his disciples. From seemingly nowhere the wind picks up and the seas begin to roil. The waves begin to become so large that they threaten to swamp the boat. The disciples begin to panic. Trembling, they awake Jesus and with terror in their voices say, “Lord save us! We are perishing.” Jesus arises and rebukes the disciples by saying, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Immediately Jesus stops the wind and calms the sea. Upon seeing this,  the disciples say, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

What is amazing in this story is the lack of faith of the disciples. By now they had witnessed healing and other miracles by Jesus.  They had seen demons cast out, had heard the wonderful Sermon on the Mount, and seen destitute lives changed. We can well wonder, how could they still doubt that they would be saved from the sea? How had they let their human fears override their knowledge of who Jesus was? We in turn can wonder, would we be any different?

Jesus replies with, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” His reply contains a universal message about the difficulty of faith. In spite of all they had seen from Jesus, they still allowed their worldly fears to swamp their faith, just as with us, despite all we have seen we allow ours to do the same.

Each time Jesus visits any of us we are left with amazement, many times wondering why we doubted.

Also in this story is a universal question of “What sort of man is this?” Who is Jesus that he calms the wind and seas? Who is Jesus that we can have confidence in him as our savior? While the answer to this question exceeds all humankind’s understanding, we are shown on a regular basis Jesus’s value to humankind. We are told to have faith, because we should. This is easy to mouth, but a simple platitude isn’t enough. Faith, in part, is experiencing and knowing what sort of man this is.

Jesus never gives up on us and will always pursue us to have faith.

 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

 

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

—John 17:17

 

COLORING OURSELVES WITH TRUTH

I met Bishop Earnest Lyght at Drew University. He was the resident bishop for Drew and was frequently available to the students. When you talked with Bishop Lyght, you could feel his truth. Whatever he said, he meant. When he talked, he talked without agenda. What he believed came from his heart. Not varnished, just a humble recitation of what he believed. He said what he believed with the knowledge that he needed to know more. A conversation with Bishop Lyght was a mutual dialogue. I am sure in silent moments of prayer, he searched his heart and desired only to tell God what was right.

Bishop Lyght was one of the early black bishops of the Methodist Church. He grew up at a time when the Methodist Church was segregated. It wasn’t until 1968 that these separate entities of race were dissolved and black pastors were welcome throughout the church. In spite of this obvious racism, Bishop Lyght continued his ministry with grace and truth. He commonly spoke out for the denied. He worked hard for equal rights of women and the poor. He wrote four books. But when you sat with him, you were with him. He listened and replied. His “thank-you’s” and “good days” were sincere. If something had to be fixed, regardless of the cost, he fixed it. His heart was always centered on the truth.

“Jesus says that our word is the truth.”

Jesus says that our word is the truth. That all we do should be centered on a sanctifying truth. A truth that courses through us to be the only thing we speak and do. In today’s world of fake news,  quick thank-yous that are said as an obligation and sleight of hand, Jesus’s ancient statement still applies. When we meet someone, we should be glad to meet that person. Our thanks in our emails should be sincere. When we tell a story, we should tell the whole story. What comes from us should always be the truth. 

“When we do embody the truth, we set ourselves apart. We create a tapestry of ourselves that reflects the color of truth.”

It is sometimes hard to tell the truth. It can compromise our lives. We worry and fret about the consequences. When we do embody the truth, we set ourselves apart. We create a tapestry of ourselves that reflects the color of truth. We need to be always on guard about where our stories are leading us. Is it to gain favor? Is it to get something? When we say thank you, are we sincere? When we leave out facts, what is our purpose? Each day we struggle to be sincere. Each day we struggle to say what we mean. Each day we desire to be truthful. Some days we accomplish our tasks. Some days we don’t.

I am glad to have met Bishop Lyght. He is, in fact, a beacon of light. He is one of those people we aspire to be. His truth guides us. 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

What is truth in conversation?

What is truth in action?

How do we feel after we have been sincere?

 

 

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

— Genesis 1:27

 

IMAGO DEI

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

How do we see people when we first meet them?

What does the imago Dei look like?

How do we feel when we are labeled?

 

 

“So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!

(2nd Corinthians 5:17 NRSV)

LEAVING THE PAST BEHIND

A client of mine had a very personal self-inflicted catastrophe. After living a life that was driven to pursue power, money and fame, he took a step too far. As he achieved more and more, he began to cut corners in all aspects of his life. He began to see his friends and family as a way to get what he wanted and ignored their human value. He had become trapped in the lure of power and took the fateful step that went to far. Exposed by sin as an impostor, he began the process of re-evaluating his life and began the long road back. He turned to Jesus and accepted the yoke of being born again.

He changed his priorities. He began to work to provide for his family and not for himself. He re-entered the church and began to be a person of service. He relearned the values of “loving his neighbor.” He came home to be with his family and avoided late night meetings. With these changes he received forgiveness from those close to him. While the climb back was hard and uneven, he persisted and stay riveted on the values of Jesus. In our meetings, I noticed he had one hard step left to climb, he had to forgive himself.

“The Apostle Paul tells us that when we fully turn to a life with Jesus we become a new person or creation.”

In today’s verse attributed the Apostle Paul, we see the term new creation. The Apostle Paul tells us that when we fully turn to a life with Jesus we become a new person or creation. Our priorities change and we change. Life is new. It is not that we don’t have to pay for the consequences of our past, but the past no longer defines who we are. When we reconcile with God and our neighbor, we are forgiven. However, the hardest person to forgive for our past is ourselves. We drift back and fall into despair when we think about our past. We question who we are and become embarrassed at what we have done. We can’t release ourselves from our past.

“It is in the present, as a new creation with the Lord, that Jesus wants us to reside.”

For my client his hardest critic was himself. He tried to over achieve in his new life to escape his past. Every error in judgement brought on harsh self-criticism. He couldn’t forgive himself and tried to outrun his past. He over helped and over apologized. He hadn’t released himself, in spite of the renewed acceptance from friends, family and Jesus. He couldn’t move away from the regret of his past and his recovery wasn’t complete. Each journey he took to review his past brought horror and self-loathing. Eventually, he believed the words of Paul and moved forward. Eventually, he accepted the love of his family, friends and Jesus. Eventually he stopped judging himself based on the past and looked to the present. It is in the present, as a new creation with the Lord, that Jesus wants us to reside.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

 

“My Father is still working, and I am also working.”

– John 5:17 (NRSV)/p>

THE CEREAL TYCOON

Henry Parsons Crowell, was the founder of Quaker Oats. He lost a lot in the early part of his life. His father died at thirty-six of Tuberculosis. He himself nearly died from the same disease. He wasn’t able to get a high school diploma, because of his father’s death. His first wife died after two and a half years. The first part of his life was hard. By 1885 he had started to have some success in business and bought a company called Quaker Oats. He made one small change to the company. Instead of selling his cereal in large barrels, he introduced the smaller containers we are familiar with today. Soon Quaker Oats became available in grocery stores throughout the country. During the depression of 1893, it served as a staple for many American families.

“If my life can be lived so as to please Him in every way, I’ll be supremely happy”

Soon after, Henry remarried and began to use his faith life to help others. He introduced God into the business world and others tycoons, such as John Rockefeller. He and his wife would travel the country, contributing to many organizations. In some years he would donate to  one-hundred organizations. He is famously quoted as saying, “If my life can be lived so as to please Him in every way, I’ll be supremely happy”. In the last years of his life, Henry was constantly working for the Lord.

“Every action, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, that helps God and humankind is in concert with God.”

Jesus makes a statement about working for God. The back story to the verse is that he has just healed a person on the Sabbath. The religious elite complained mightily and tried to use this activity against Jesus. Jesus’s reply speaks directly to our Christian behavior. He extends our work for God to Sunday. We have our work lives, that we use to pay our bills. From that we should have a Sabbath.  We also have the work of the Lord, which never ceases. Every action, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, that helps God and humankind is in concert with God. We need our rest and we should take it, but not be wedded to legalism, but to the spirit of God.

Henry Crowell died in 1948. He left a large trust. The trustees of this trust have a clear directive, “To carry out the Mr. Crowell’s wishes to honor the Lord who he loved and served during his life on this earth.” Over the years the trustees have kept this wish alive. Each year they issue close to one-hundred and fifty grants, totaling millions of dollars. Well past his death he is still working for the Lord. He was dubbed the Cereal tycoon. A life of riches created by one small change to his business. But also a life that worked endlessly for “the Lord he loved.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

 

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

– Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)

HOW DO WE TREAT THE LEAST OF THESE?

When my sister was in her early teens and then living with my parents in a distant and poor part of the world, discovered a stray cat. She patted the reluctant cat and earned its trust. Then brought the cat home and pleaded with my parents to keep the cat. My parents, always kind and accepting, welcomed the cat and named it Casey. My sister at this early age showed a unique compassion for the disadvantaged, which carried into her adult life. Today, as a professionally trained social worker helps children in distress. The cat that my sister brought home was no ordinary cat. After years of abuse and having to fend for itself in the streets, it was ornery! If you sat on the couch Casey was sleeping under, Casey would reach out and scratch your leg. We would howl and complain. My sister, would kindly remind us that she has had a tough life and to forgive her. A reminder of our Christian attitude.

Overtime, Casey became a legend in our house. She was known as the unsociable cat. People would come to visit and we had to caution them where to sit. Generally, Casey kept to herself unless her space was invaded. In spite of her unsavory behavior, she always found food placed for her in the morning, she had the freedom to roam the yard and a warm place to sleep every night. She also had a protector, my sister. Casey lived for another ten years, but during this time became part of the fabric of a family, whose lore is still discussed today.

“Jesus makes no distinction about a person based on race, gender, socioeconomic circumstance or locale. All are members of his family without bias in any direction.”

In today’s verse, Jesus reminds us that “all” are part of God’s family. Even the “least of these.” Jesus makes no distinction about a person based on race, gender, socioeconomic circumstance or locale. All are members of his family without bias in any direction. Jesus cares about the person and their hearts. Jesus knows our life circumstances and chooses to help us in spite of our pasts. Jesus knows our hidden terrors and past disappointments. Jesus knows our blind spots and continues to accept us. Jesus is very protective of his flock and cautions us to treat everyone, as he does, equally. He asks us to treat people, as he does, with an awareness of people’s life circumstances.

“Jesus wants us to treat people as if we are talking to Jesus, himself.”

Many times we meet people who are troubled and we turn away. Or we hear about a person from another walk of life and make our judgments without knowing the person. We see people who don’t wear the best clothes, have the latest technology or speak differently, and we judge. We see a homeless person late at night and assume danger. Hidden beneath these non-conforming images are people of Jesus’s family. Jesus wants us to treat people as if we are talking to Jesus, himself. We can do this by ridding ourselves of what we want to see and move to what is there.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

 

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

— John 3:8

]WINDS OF COINCIDENCE

I met Wendy Paige at Drew Theological School, a tall and powerful black minister, with an up-front spirit. She was exceedingly friendly and enthusiastic, a powerful orator of the Christian faith. She came to me one day to ask about coincidences that were happening in her life. “Do you have them?” she asked. I said, “All the time.” We continued the conversation with her asking how I knew it was God speaking to me through those seeming coincidences. I replied, “I am a math person, so I used the laws of probability to discern. If it happens once it could be a coincidence, but when it happens many times it is the Spirit.” These moments of unusual events were common to both of us.

“The Spirit spoke with her, because she spoke with the Spirit.”

Wendy would pray frequently, and frequently she would get an answer. An answer that was always better than she’d expected. And sometimes an answer that was revealed in a way so unusual that it was startling. Many people would tell her that such an answer was just a coincidence. But the events continued and they filled her faith. Her question to me was more of confirmation; she knew the answer, it was the Spirit. The Spirit spoke with her, because she spoke with the Spirit. Her experiences over time overwhelmed the outside world’s knowledge. The physical world could not explain these events, other than to say they were coincidences.

“Jesus says that when we live with the Spirit, we see God at work.”

Jesus, near the end of the dialogue with Nicodemus, explains this phenomenon by comparing it to the wind. Jesus says that when we live with the Spirit, we see God at work. We see God’s influence in our lives. We see that the events of our lives are not just random, but are a well-crafted response to our prayers. We begin to expect them. We begin to see them not as our desired answers, but as reflecting God’s desire for us. They are always unusual and very personal. Answers that only we can recognize. Answers that are so extraordinary and intimate they defy the laws of probability.

“Wendy felt the wind. She felt it because she answered the compelling voice of the Spirit.”

Wendy felt the wind. She felt it because she answered the compelling voice of the Spirit. She prayed and engaged in a spiritual dialogue. A deep and rich dialogue with God. Her heart was ready for answers and they appeared. Maybe through a random Bible verse. Or maybe through an innocent conversation. Or even maybe by an unexpected visitor. They were always unusual, deeply personal, and responsive. They were real for Wendy. The answers connected together over time defied the laws of probability. The coincidences became overwhelmed by math.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman