mister rogers

Mr. Rogers and His Neighborhood Could Help Change America’s Discourse of Anger

Fred Rogers, or more commonly known as Mister Rogers, died in 2003 of stomach cancer. In his lifetime he produced almost nine hundred TV shows for children. He wrote over one hundred original songs for the show and created thirteen operas. Each morning, from 1968 to 2001, children throughout our country were invited into Mr. Rogers neighborhood.

In 1997 Fred Rogers received a Lifetime achievement Emmy. During his speech he mesmerized the crowd of famous actors and actresses with his speech and brought many to tears. He created one very special moment when he asked them all to take ten seconds to recall all the people who had made them famous. He said, “I will watch the time.” And did so, as all in the audience thought back on all those who had helped them. Fred turned his moment of glory into other people’s moments of glory with this simple gesture.

He ended his speech by saying, “Thank you for allowing me all these years to be your neighbor, God be with you.”

Fred was forty before he became Mr. Rogers in 1968. Prior to this Fred had worked at NBC studios in NYC as a manager. Where he learned his craft of production and show management. Later he moved to WQED, a PBS affiliate in Pittsburgh. Over a few years he slowly developed the concepts that would come to be known as Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

He had graduated from Rollins College in Florida as a music major, which became an important part of the show production. In the early sixties he went to Bible college and graduated as an ordained minister.

Fred’s faith was always evident in his actions. His humble way of speaking with his head cocked subtly to the right endeared many to love him. While Fred was mild mannered and gracious in his speech, his show addressed difficult societal issues. Early on in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, he addressed civil rights. Sitting by a wading pool he invited an African American Policeman to put his feet in the pool with him.

They talked about life as equals.

At the end as they were leaving the pool, Fred Rogers dried his companion’s feet. On the issue of divorce, a serious issue for the children who watched the show. He used his puppets to explain divorce and ensure that the children who were watching and affected by divorce learned that it wasn’t their fault.

On the difficult issues of life, Fred stood up and addressed them. Not with bombast or highly charged language of blaming. But with a mild manner that explored issues from all sides and allowed the viewer to grow threw the truth.

Mr. Rogers for President

Perhaps Mr. Rogers should have been a presidential candidate. He had all the right qualities. He listened to learn. He talked softly, but firmly. His first concern was always to encourage and make people better. There was no self interest in Fred.

Today, we see many of our leaders divided on the lines of identity. Some are Republicans and some are Democrats. Some are conservatives and some are liberals.

These are secondary classifications to that of being Americans. Yet our leaders use their secondary identities to dictate their speech, not patriotism. We have become a country mired in partisan identities. Fred would have showed them how to play well in the sandbox. Perhaps a trait we so dearly need today.

The great divide

Our country today is mired in angry discourse, in a recent Pew Research poll, it shows 67% of Americans are tired of the one-sided positions of our leaders. They are an “Exhausted Majority.” Fed up with the arguing and rancor.

As a country where 90% of its populace believe in God and over 70% are professed Christians. Many of our citizens are afraid of stating their religious views, fearing they will offend someone. Saying “Merry Christmas” invites rebuke. Yet Fred Rogers would say Merry Christmas and in many of his speeches he mentioned his faith and wasn’t afraid to say, “May God be with you.”

In my book, Your Faith Has Made You Well, it spells out the value of loving your neighbor and the impact on an individual’s outlook. And neighbors were important to Fred, on his show constantly asked, “Won’t you be my neighbor.” A phrase right out of the Bible. It was Jesus’ second commandment. Fred didn’t pick and choose his neighbor, all were his neighbor.

He was bullied

Sure people made fun of Fred, he was used to it. As a child he was bullied and set apart. Forcing him to spend many hours alone. He retreated into a world of puppets, that would later become the hallmark of his show. His puppets didn’t produce rancor, but kind conversations.

In those dark nights of his life as a child, he created a world that he felt we should all live in. A world that sought understanding and led with kindness.

He never backed down from his gentle wholesomeness. Yet he powerfully educated a generation or two of children.

If I could, I would have voted for Fred to lead our nation. He wasn’t weak, even though he was mild. He was firm in his beliefs, when others mocked. He stayed on his course and saw every moment as a chance to uplift and encourage.

He was loved because he loved.

Dr. Bruce L Hartman, Christian Author and Story Teller. A former Fortune 500 CFO who left the corporate world to engage in a ministry of “Connecting The Lessons of the Gospels to the Modern Life.” His life mission is “Helping People Walk into a Brighter Future.” He is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Article originally posted in Reactionary Times

One Final Walk On the Appalachian Trail (For Now)

“Be careful how you live, live like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity and understand what the Lord wants you to do.”

Ephesians [5:15]-17

 

Final Walk

On a clear and humidity free summer day, I made the final walk of our journey on the Appalachian Trail, in a remote part of Maine. Along with me was my mother and sister-in-law, Penny. The ending was perfect; the weather, the trail, great companions and no bugs! These were the final steps on a journey that began in March.

We decided to stop the hike in New York, and go to Maine. Beset with sore knees that no longer recovered in a day or two and having endured a fourth illness, it was time to stop and rest. We went to Maine to be with my mother on her birthday and visit family. After which we will travel to Ohio to visit Connie’s parents and sisters. Then a final trip to visit our daughter, Savannah, in Seattle.

The rocks proved too much for us

The constant grind of stepping carefully over the many obstacles injured our knees. We had also noticed a different demographic over the last month. Young and fit hikers were all we saw. Sure there were a few people over forty, but those left from a journey that started many miles earlier, had much younger legs. They glided swiftly by us, on an appointed mission. While we were tired and worn down.

Family became a draw for us, as well as a publisher who wanted to become very involved in my new book release on September 3rd. So we packed up our memories and moved forward.

For the last hike, I chose to go to a place of my first walk on the Appalachian Trail forty one years ago. The remote wilderness of the Bigelow Range. Forty one years ago, with my good friend, Steve, I entered this wilderness and created a life-long love for the trail. On a three day hike with much heavier equipment than exists today, we walked the entire length of this difficult section, which followed many other journeys. Life of raising children and pursuing a career filled in this forty year gap.

But this day, was for sharing.

Mom and Penny

Bringing Penny and my mom to see the wonderful life that exists, away from the bustle of modern life. A day to show them how to use hiking poles and what to observe when you walk. We went up a few moderate climbs and they learned the technique of climbing and that descending was much harder. I was especially proud of their zeal and willingness to try.

They did well.

My mom, at eighty six, stepped carefully and skillfully down the declines and after a few steps looked like a seasoned hiker. Penny embraced the woods and gleefully looked at the trees.

We had lunch sitting on the rocks on the shore of Flagstaff lake. A simple lunch that I packed in the morning, consisting of peanut butter, triscuits, raisins and a cookie. Just like what Connie and I had every day. We sat observing the peacefulness of a blue lake without the roars of motorboats and few sounds of civilization.

On the way home, we had no cell service and the car navigation system broke. Leaving us to find our way home, the old fashion way. By remembering landmarks we had seen on the way up and an atlas that Penny used. My mom did most of the remembering and helped keep us on course. Revealing a keen mind for the little things we often miss when we use modern navigation. Teamwork at its best.

I am sad we didn’t finish we what started out to do, and know some will say we failed. But I don’t feel like we failed. We hiked hundreds of miles and climbed countless peaks. On some days we marched over twenty miles. We strengthened our endurance through the many days of hiking six to eight hours.

We stepped close to three million times on this journey. Climbed close to a quarter of a million feet or the equivalent of Mount Everest 10 times.

We were in the arena that Teddy Roosevelt talked about many years earlier. We were not victors, we can only claim that we participated. But life isn’t about the critics who sit watching those in the arena, it is about those who try. These words by Teddy Roosevelt resonate today.

Remembering Our First Day

I remembered our first day, which opened our eyes to what this trek required. How hard the day was and the encouraging people that propelled us forward. Or the third day, when we were pelted with ice. Or the day in Virginia when we climbed five thousand feet. The day we went to “Fat Man Squeeze” and I actually got through. Or on one of our final days, climbing up a steep rock formation. We changed from the first day to today, and I suppose that is the purpose of this trek.

We learned the subtleties of nature.

I personally, began to lose my fear of exposed heights. We learned that those who shared the wilderness with us, are an optimistic and pleasantly polite people.

We also learned that a good life can be led simply. Away from the distractions and lures of modern life. We learned life doesn’t have to be a life surrounded by things, but a life of purpose. Not looking for things to do, but a guided life to do good and help others.

I will miss the morning routine of getting ready to hike. I will miss climbing up steep hills, lunch by streams, the surprising encounters with wildlife and the fatigued feeling at the end of the day.

We learned about the importance of water and how to get water many miles from a faucet. We learned about staying fueled, not with a lot of food, but just the right amount.

We met amazing people with wonderful names, like Single Track, the Caribbean Queen, Camel, Coldfoot, Pippi Rambo, The Rev, Journeyman and so many others. Each visit involved smiles.

My last hike was one hundred and sixty miles from our goal, Mount Katahdin. But now it is time to return and move forward with our lives. As Connie once asked, “Who knew we would love the mountains and lakes?” We will return to a life that involves continuing to hike and mountain bike. But also a life to help our children, help others, write and visit family.

Perhaps I will return again next spring to the trail I love.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Leave No Trace, The Seven Rules of Life on the Appalachian Trail

While walking the trail in New York with our daughter, Taylor, I realized that one of the important lessons about walking this trail, was to Leave No Trace.” There are no trash cans on the trail, maybe some at a trailhead. But as hikers we are asked to carry out our own trash. As part of the literature produced by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, it highlights these rules. There are seven rules.

The first is Plan Ahead and Prepare.

This means to know where you are going and prepare for extreme weather. Simply, let others on the outside know where you will be and to know the weather and terrain. This rule is designed to avoid the impact of being rescued. While in the Smokies we witnessed this first hand. A major storm was brewing and winds of over sixty miles an hour would occur, along with severe cold and snow. It was a surprise storm and thankfully we were prepared and able to flee from the storm. Others weren’t as lucky and some had to be rescued.

The second is Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.

Essentially stay on the marked travel or camp in existing/designated spots. By doing this the existing fauna and vegetation is undisturbed. It meant many times we had to walk in small groups and single file. For the most part of all the existing campsites were well marked. This was a rule we seldom saw broken and showed the respect for nature by the hikers.

The third rule is Dispose of Waste Properly.

Simply, pack it in and pack it out. But it also meant that when you had to go to the bathroom outdoors away from designated areas, clean up when you are done. Put human waste in a six inch hole that you dig with a trowel. As well as, be at least two hundred feet from water.

 I usually carried a plastic bag and would put my paper waste in a bag, along with litter I found on the trail. Disposing of the bag when I found an appropriate receptacle. Interestingly, away from the roads or trailheads there was little litter, speaking to the respect other hikers had for the trail.

The fourth rule is Minimize Campfire Impacts.

Hikers love campfires, but they can be dangerous. Generally there was a campfire ring at most of the campsites, and that is the place to have a campfire. But also to keep it small and only include sticks that can be broken by hand. As well as, ensure the fire is out before you leave and diffuse the cooled ashes. It also means not bringing wood from home, as this might introduced pests or other diseases that could affect the environment.

The fifth rule is Leave What You Find.

In other words, examine but don’t take, including rocks! It also means to not build structures or dig trenches. If you have been away from the trail for a while, to clean your boot soles. Simply, leave the environment the way you found it.

The sixth rule is Respect Wildlife.

This includes not feeding wildlife or leaving food when you leave. Habituating animals to food is dangerous for them and fellow hikers. Bears in particular become easily attached to food and will become more aggressive. Sometimes it means waiting a few moments for a snake to leave the trail or a deer to stop feeding. We actually had to wait ten minutes once for a deer to clear the trail before we passed. Never approach any wildlife and always observe from afar.

The seventh rule is Be Considerate of Others.

Simple things, like on a single lane trail allow the uphill hiker to pass. If on a flat stretch be the person who stands aside. Keep pets under control and especially with dogs, have them on a leash. The hikers we met with dogs were especially courteous. We only had one encounter with a dog that made us leave the area. A trail friend named her “Lady Barksalot.” In camp she would bark constantly and was hard on her owners. She was under two and it was her first experience on the trail. The owner acknowledged she needed more training.

For the most part these rules were well followed.

However, there was one event which showed why these rules were important. As we were walking we met a man who informed us there was a bear on the trail who wouldn’t leave. While he was excited that he got a video of the bear, a rare feat, he was nervous and asked if we would walk with him by the bear. My instincts told me to say no, and instead we stopped for lunch. We went to a nearby shelter and it was there we discovered why the bear was stubbornly hanging around.

A group was using the shelter as a campsite for day hikes and left their food hanging from trees. While they were away the bear smelled the food and came to investigate. Bears have a keen sense of smell and can pick up a scent from miles away. If the group had taken their food with them, the bear would not have visited the area. Bears are naturally shy and will avoid human contact. So even if you are carrying food they will avoid any interaction. But food left alone, is an invitation!

Leaving food for a bear to find is both dangerous to the bear and other hikers. As the bear gets used to the food they become more aggressive. They become a threat to themselves and others.

When we arrived at Harpers Ferry, before we could get our hikers badge at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy center, we had to pass a test on Leave no Trace. Luckily we passed with a little help from the examiner.

I would say from my experience these last few months, those who walk in the wilderness, respect the wilderness. A powerful statement about their sense of responsibility to keeping nature uncluttered.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

golf

The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?

(Psalm 27:1)

A MAN OF GREAT COURAGE

I met Bill, a highly regarded neuro surgeon, while golfing with a good friend. My friend had invited Bill to golf with us on a very hot and humid day. We were going to walk the course that day, regardless of the searing heat from a sun that was piercingly hot. We felt we could and it would help with our conditioning. Bill agreed with us and we set off with plenty of water.

While this might seem like an unusual activity for three people,  it was more remarkable because Bill had recently had spine surgery and a knee replaced. Yet Bill did walk the entire course, which required six miles of walking. Bill was hobbled by the effect of his surgeries and each step required thought. Bill didn’t have the normal gait you would expect to see in any person who walked, his gait was labored and awkward.

Throughout the round Bill maintained an upbeat demeanor and hit the ball well. He was slow and the effort of walking with him meant slower steps. Requiring personal patience and letting go of the desire to rush towards your golf ball. We played slow that day, but not too far off a normal time, about twenty minutes. I was amazed that the group behind us didn’t complain or ask to play through. Everyone knew Bill at the course and his story of recovery.

It was for me an honor to be part of this heroic effort. While some might say it was fool hardy, Bill knew that walking would help him recover and he stated so. He knew it would strengthen him and he was willing to pay the price. His doctors had told him it was okay and this was his first round of golf in eight months.

Bill’s backstory as a Neurosurgeon is even more remarkable. He had saved and changed many lives. When others were told there was no hope, he gave them hope. He calmed the spirits of two anxious parents whose child had been diagnosed with potentially having Spinal Bifida. Examining the child on the weekend, his day off, and concluding the diagnosis was in error and the child was perfectly healthy. Saving the parents from a long weekend of despair. This is how Bill lives.

When others were diagnosed with inoperable ailments, Bill took on these cases and saved them. Over a thirty-year career, he operated on the most difficult, spending hours leaning over the surgeons table. He will tell you that it wasn’t the time in the operating room that hurt his back, but the marathons he had run. In fact, he ran the New York Marathon three times.

It was walking slowly with him for four hours that I heard his story. Instead of rushing through the round, I got to walk with a real life hero. By the sixteenth hole, I no longer winced when he walked, but admired.

In the clubhouse after the round, everyone who saw Bill, said, “Hi Doc.” Not just a casual remark, but one expressed with respect to a man who engendered respect. He wasn’t flashy, but in every sentence he spoke, intelligence and warmth emanated. You could tell from his eyes he listened and thought. You were his main interest when he spoke to you.

Bill lives without fear, he does what he should and has to do. He would never complain, complaining would get in his way. He has met every obstacle in life with a serious commitment to excellence. Starting from being a star medical student at the University of Alabama to creating one of the most successful medical practices in the northeast.

My lesson that day was to live without fear or complaint. And I should, God has been very patient with me throughout my life. I saw this lesson in Bill. We all have to do what we need to do. It is our choice, to live without complaint and fear; or give in.

Ailments and fear are part of everyday. They are the thorns of life. They challenge us and seek to defeat us. They try to delay us from our course in life, and only we can choose if they will prevent us from living a full and rich life.

We have a God, a loving God. A God that walks with us through the valleys and mountain tops of life. In the moments of glory we are thankful and praise God. In the valleys, we can lean into God. For God will be there to give us courage.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

(Author’s note; Bill is a pseudo name to protect his privacy)

Photo by Ludwig Schreier

“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 [College, Oxford], 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

 

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

– Genesis [13:17]

WALKING THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF OUR FAITH

The great father of our religious heritage, Abraham, was from the tenth generation since Noah. His father, Terah, had taken Abraham from his home in Ur,  to journey through the land of the Canaanites. His father never made it into Canaan. Distracted from his mission, stopping instead in Haran, where Teran died.

After his father’s death, Abraham was spoken to by God, who said; “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 Abraham began a long journey throughout the region, taking with him, his immediate family and nephew Lot. Along the way, they were beset by many struggles, including a famine. Desperate to avoid the loss of his health and wealth, forgetting God’s command, Abraham led them into Egypt. Abraham like his father became distracted and lacking in faith moved away from God’s plan.

While in Egypt, Abraham told his wife, Sarah,  to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister. An act of concealment to avoid having Abraham being murdered. For his wife, Sarah was beautiful and Abraham was sure that Pharaoh would murder him to possess his wife.

The plan worked for a while, Sarah was fully accepted in Pharaoh’s house. Abraham was treated well by the Egyptians. Pharaoh takes Sarah as his wife, but soon develops sore and other plagues caused by God. Pharaoh confronts Abraham and asks him why did he lie? Why did he not tell Pharaoh that Sarah was his wife? Fearing more retribution from God, Pharaoh him banished from Egypt.

Along the way, both Abraham’s and Lot’s herds grew. Causing animosity between Abraham and Lot. Abraham tells Lot to choose a place where he would go and Abraham would take what was left. Lot chose a large parcel of land that would be best for his herds but also contained the city of Sodom. A place that was notorious for its wickedness and sinful behavior.

Lot moved his herds and settled in the city of Sodom. Abraham took over what was left. A final settlement and finally Abraham was in the land that God wanted him to be. After years of traveling to Canaan and being distracted by his own fears and hearing the sirens of other lands. Abraham was where God wanted him.

God then issued a request to Abraham to, “ “Rise up, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis [13:17] Abraham was now finally where he should be and God had told him to inspect all that he owned. Not just to see, but walk its length and breadth. To immerse himself in all that God was giving him. Not just see the trees and water, but to be with the land. To explore every facet of this land that he had inherited from God.

Metaphorically, we can see this same thing in our lives. Our faith is the land that God wants us to explore and become immersed. Not just stand by and watch the unfurling of our faith, but to experience and invest our energy into our faith. To move beyond just saying our prayers and reading the Bible. But to explore our prayers and the Bible. To become deeply immersed. To learn the ways of the world and what to avoid. To wonder at the majesty of all creation. To wonder about the stars, to observe the spiritual winds of our lives. To not become attached to the shiny and temporary glimmers that the ways of the world. To not live our lives in fear and desperately try on our own to solve our problems through worldly ways.

God has a great bounty of spiritual wealth awaiting us. God will protect us and guide us on this journey. In times of trial he will hear. We will never be alone.

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? 

“ One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

— John [9:25]

THE “AMAZING” STORY OF JOHN NEWTON’S JOURNEY TO WRITING AMAZING GRACE

John Newton, the former slave ship captain, wrote the famous Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.” Included in the lyrics is the verse from John [9:25], “Was blind, but now I see.” However, John Newton’s past was very checkered. He was known for extraordinarily bad language. One sea captain considered his vocabulary the worst of any seaman he had encountered. He frequently was disobedient and  even was forced to spend time as a slave in Sierra Leone. In spite of his life’s circumstances he continued to be drawn to the sea. Because he was an extraordinarily good seaman, his faults were often overlooked. He endured a number of close calls at sea, where his ships were either close to sinking or in such bad weather that men were washed overboard. Even though he had turned away from God, during these difficult moments he would still cry out, “God have mercy.”

It was through these moments that Newton began to turn to a different life. He became associated with the early Methodist movement in England and became well known to John Wesley. Wesley encouraged him to write and become a pastor. Later he became a rector at a small Anglican church. While at this church he helped write hymns. Included with these hymns was the song “Amazing Grace.” Later in his life,Newton became an avowed abolitionist and was a good friend of William Wilberforce, the person largely responsible for ending the slave trade in England. 

“Overtime, the continued proximity to death and a restless heart forced him deeper into his relationship with Christ.”

John’s conversion occurred over a number of years. He would come close to turning his life around and then fall back. Overtime, the continued proximity to death and a restless heart forced him deeper into his relationship with Christ. And then it became inevitable and it eventually took hold. It was at this point that he was no longer blind, but could see. The words to “Amazing Grace” were many years off, but he could see. 

“Jesus’s healing of the blind man symbolizes our own moment of seeing and giving in to having a relationship with God.”

Today’s verse is about a blind man Jesus healed. The local religious elite, seeking to discredit Jesus, were questioning the blind man, whose sight had been restored. Today’s verse is the blind man’s answer to his questioners. Jesus’s healing of the blind man symbolizes our own moment of seeing and giving in to having a relationship with God. Like Newton we fight back and sometimes have to endure a great deal of hardship before we see. We struggle at times to pursue this relationship with God. Sometimes we are in and at other times we are out. But God persists through Jesus to bring our sight back. We get close and fall back.

Then at some moment the events of our lives tip over our resistance and we are now no longer blind. 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 


PARTING THOUGHTS

How is our story similar to John Newton’s?

What holds us back from accepting Jesus?

When do we see?

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

— Romans [7:19]

FOUR WAYS TO RESOLVE THE INNER CONFLICT OF DOING GOOD

When I first read this verse, I was stunned. How could Paul think this about himself? The Apostle Paul was the earliest Christian writer of the Bible. Inspired by God, he is credited with thirteen of the books in the New Testament. He was largely responsible for starting the Christian movement outside of Jerusalem. His travels to spread the Gospel were extensive, dangerous, and met with skepticism wherever he went. How could this man of extraordinary faith write this verse?

“We all want to think of ourselves as good, but are inherently disappointed when we aren’t.”

In reflection, I realized that Paul is answering one of the most basic questions each of us has with ourselves. We all want to think of ourselves as good, but are inherently disappointed when we sometimes aren’t. We don’t always do the things we know we should, and later in our internal dialogue we question our actions. We go to an important business meeting or interview, full of hope on what we want to accomplish and say, and at times we fall short of being perfect in doing what we hoped. This is the dilemma Paul is talking about. How come we can’t  always be who we know we should be?

The verse gives us hope in the natural human condition, that we all know good. The test is converting this knowledge into action. When we are in an interview, we hope to get the job. But when confronted with a tough question, do we answer completely honestly or do we shade our answers slightly? It is the lure and need of the job that begins to twist us away. Our failures arise from things we want and have the freedom we have to spin the truth to get them. Perhaps it’s also taking a shortcut when no one else is looking. Perhaps it’s massaging some numbers to make our projects look better. It is these points that cause us sometimes to drift into not being who we want to be. 

“Through a life of connected prayer and reflection, Jesus helps us move away from our internal conflicts.”

There are many solutions to this dilemma.

  • The first is to become more aware of these temptations.
  • The second is to see the benefit to our reputation of being honest over the long term.
  • The third is to recognize that our responsibility is to helping others.
  • Lastly and most importantly is the realization that we are inherently good and that our feeling of personal want in these situations needs to diminish to create this greater sense of self-worth.

Even Paul, the greatest of all evangelists, struggled with this concept. It is the natural human condition.

Through a life of connected prayer and reflection, Jesus helps us move away from our internal conflicts.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 


PARTING THOUGHTS

How often do we reflect on our inner condition?

What are the things we do to diminish our goodness?

How do we strengthen ourselves to avoid the natural state of want?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][divider line_type=”Full Width Line” line_thickness=”1″ divider_color=”default” custom_height=”25″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit . . .”

— Luke [12:35]

DRESSED FOR ACTION

On 9/11 two planes hit the World Trade Center, causing them to collapse. When they collapsed, thousands of lives were lost and our country was thrown into mourning. It was a great national tragedy. Not only were lives lost in the towers, but the buildings surrounding the Trade Center were crushed. One of the buildings was the Verizon communications center. In that moment Foot Locker lost its ability to communicate with our four thousand stores throughout North America. Immediately we were in a position of mourning for our neighbors and had lost the ability to run our business. 

“Bill was always prepared and dressed for action.”

Bill Johnson, who worked for me and was in charge of our communications network, was ready. I called him by cell phone and asked him what his plans were for recovery. Bill informed me that he had already put his plan in place and by eight the next morning we would have full communications online again. This was classic Bill. He constantly surprised all of us with his ingenuity and thoughtfulness. Regardless of the situation, Bill was always prepared and dressed for action. As he had told me, the next morning our multibillion-dollar business was running normally. 

“Jesus tell us, always be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. We never know what each day will bring.”

Jesus tells us to be prepared for anything. Jesus tell us, always be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. We never know what each day will bring. It could be joy or unique sorrow. But if we are to react well, preparation must be a lifelong commitment. Whether in our business, personal, or spiritual life, this should be how we think, live, and pray. We never know when an important event will occur. Each day is a day of possibility. Each day a sharp turn can occur. Jesus asks us to be prepared.

Two years later, the Northeast was hit with a major electrical outage. With it, our corporate headquarters went dark. We had many people stranded in our building who couldn’t go home. We needed power to keep them safe. I called Bill again. He replied, “My guys are reversing the power on the phone system and you can run the building off the battery.” It didn’t surprise me this time that Bill had the answer.

As always he was prepared. 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 


PARTING THOUGHTS

Are we prepared spiritually?

What events have been sharp turns in our lives and were we prepared?

How do we prepare on a daily basis?