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Monday, July 13, 2020

When It All Came Crashing Down

My wife and I watched the Disney “hit” of the summer a week ago: Hamilton. It’s seems like the only thing that company has to cheer about these days. The theme parks have had a disastrous spring. The movie roll outs—aren’t rolling. Theaters are fading to black.

It’s amazing how fast the world can change. The Washington Post highlighted the miseries of the Mouse in their recent article, “How Disney could be facing a lot more than a lost summer.” It may be one of the biggest understatements of the year.

WaPo bases their headline on the stunning reversal of Disney revenue in a single quarter of 2020. A year ago, the magic was still happening at the Kingdom to the tune of $20.3 billion. Not this year. Numbers are not even in the same theme park!

What makes the analysts particularly uneasy is the future. As WaPo states it, “…a growing number of voices are starting to ask whether a more fundamental change is brewing, a change that will affect them beyond one bad quarter. They’re wondering whether a company built heavily on a foundation of in-person gatherings, and on the peddling of an inoffensive utopia that largely exists outside racial identity, can be effective in a prolonged period of isolation and fulmination.”

The words Disney and imagination go hand-in-hand. The new Disney is now heading toward re-imagination. And that vision will likely lack the big dollars they are used to hauling in at the “happiest place on earth.”

Speaking of imagination, a good friend and fellow Christ follower and I enjoyed lunch together recently. Our conversation included this question: Where is the heart and mind of Jesus in all of this—the pandemic, the protests, the economic turmoil?

We both tried to imagine Jesus visiting an American church on a Sunday morning. At the end of the service, we imagined Jesus taking questions. Here was the big one: "When will we get back to normal, Jesus?” (*I shared this example with our church recently.)

As was often the case when people asked the Lord difficult questions, His answer was surprising. Challenging. Even painful.

The imagined reply went something like, "Returning your lives to 'normal' is not my plan. The crises you've been experiencing I've allowed to help you sort out your idols and put your relationship with Me in perspective. Some of you are getting it."

He could have continued, "Sports and entertainment have become your money-draining loves. You've idolized the people in both of these fields. You've become addicted to wealth. Your work and your play are major distractions to your willingness to follow Me. Often with your children, you choose Sunday sports games over worship. Your schedules are demanding and full, with no time for rest and quiet study of the Scriptures."

He wasn't finished.

"No, returning to normal is not the plan. Reviving your spirit and your heart is the plan. Changing your priorities is the plan. Calling the church to love and serve one another is the plan. Let Me know if and when you are ready to 'drop your nets' and follow My plan."

Does that scenario make you feel uncomfortable? It did me. For many, I think God has our attention.

Whether the wealthiest to the weakest among us are getting the message that normal may not ever return remains to be seen. Empty sports arenas and entertainment complexes are forcing us to choose other options. Likely, better ones.

Will all that we think mattered before the virus struck get a complete facelift? Will America post-protests and revolution be better? Or will it drive people deeper into hopelessness?

When it all comes crashing down, it’s time for some re-imagination. Not the Disney kind. The confidence that Disney’s earthly kingdom known as the “happiest place on earth” was misplaced.

Time for the Kingdom of Heaven to take over.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.


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Monday, July 6, 2020

Robinhood and a Not-So-Merry Man

It was somewhere around noon when my wife and daughter recalled hearing the train whistle blow about a mile from our home. That’s unusual since restrictions are in place to keep noise down as the trains pass through heavily populated neighborhoods. A short while later, my daughter was en route home but had to alter her course because a stopped train blocked the crossing.

Our local police department let us know it was another train/pedestrian “incident.” This was the second within the last eight months on tracks within two miles of each other. One last November was a 17-year old who died. Apparently he was quite bright and well liked. I never did see a final report on what really happened.

The more recent death was a 20-year-old. It was definitely a suicide. The young man was Alexander E. Kearns. He lived in the area nearby but was home from the University of Nebraska. Again, another bright young mind.

Before explaining his seemingly dire situation, I must confess that I am always intrigued by suicides. Particularly among the young. That’s because throughout my years as a boy and as a teen, I cannot recall ever hearing of a suicide among classmates or friends. At least one or two happened a bit later in the lives of former classmates.

But the world is different today. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds.

Accidents and homicide take first and second place. Chicago ranks high in youth dying well before their time.

While girls are more likely to try to commit suicide than boys, the boys succeed more often. They are 4 times more likely to die from suicide than girls. Guns are used in more than half of all youth suicides.

The experts at Stanford Children’s Health attribute a number of factors that push some kids over the edge. They list body changes, struggles with thoughts and feelings including stress, confusion, fear, and doubt. A pressure to succeed is listed. And other changes such as divorce, friendships, moving, or problems in school.

Alexander Kearns' story was quite different. This young man took up stock investing during the pandemic. He signed up with a millennial-focused brokerage firm known as Robinhood. In the first quarter of this year, the firm increased by 3 million new accounts—a record!

Mr. Kearns began experimenting in trading options. Several firms have begun offering commission-free trading and zero-minimum balances to attract the younger set. The opportunity was too good to pass up for Alexander.

Apparently, the bookkeeping practices of this kind of trading is more complex than it should be. As Forbes Magazine explained, Mr. Kearns fell into despair after checking his account with $16,000—BUT—also showing a cash balance of negative $730,165!! Kearns was shocked, as he never authorized the kind of trading that would yield those kinds of losses.

Alexander Kearns felt he had ruined his life—and others. But his losses were not real. His negative cash balance was only temporary and would soon be corrected—but not soon enough. Kearns prepared a suicide note. And then acted on it.

I’ve included a link below so that you can read the complete story. It’s more than sad. It’s tragic.

As King Solomon advised, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Proverbs 13:11 (ESV)

Robinhood, based in Silicon Valley, has pledged major changes to their platform of options trading. They feel terrible about this young man losing his life. As they should.

My soul grieves when our youngest citizens lose their lives—be it by car mishaps, medical issues, or freak accidents of any kind. Suicide, however, is in a another category. It is so preventable.

The blast of a train horn was the last warning to Alexander Kearns to change his mind. Nearly three quarters of a million reasons told him otherwise.

I wish this Robinhood tale was another work of fiction.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.


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Monday, June 29, 2020

Time to Take a Knee

We’re almost half way through 2020. The suspense might already be building for who Time Magazine will select as the “Person of the Year.” Will it be Dr. Anthony Fauci—the now legendary face of government on COVID-19? Will it be Joe Biden—if he upsets the Trumpster, much to the delight of all media who hates him with a passion? Or will it be…George Floyd?

It’s inescapable to not think that had it not been for the tragic way by which he lost his life, the world at large would never have known or thought of this man. His death at the hands of four police officers has solidified his place in history. His persona has risen to hero status.

Unless a miracle cure shows up, or a vaccine to fight off the coronavirus, my money is on George Floyd. But I’m not a betting man. The cause of civil rights and the evils of racism are themes that win the day for journalists.

Some might even suggest that Colin Kaepernick be nominated. After all, the former NFL quarterback was the victim célèbre of kneeling during our national anthem. Now he has a host of voices apologizing for not recognizing his contribution to our public awareness. Even the commissioner of the NFL has re-thought kneeling.

Hopefully, we’re now all on board with the idea that black lives matter. Or we should be. That message, in some form, has been around a long time.

But who determines it is true? Without a source of moral truth—an idea mocked in the very minds of many who advocate social justice and racial fairness—we are left to the poor secular mind to create our values. That is, for the most part, worthless. 

It is many of these social issue righteous ones who yield up their souls for the right to kill babies by abortion. Black babies, too. Millions of them. What happened to black lives matter here?

It is the same secular minds within Hollywood that value talent only as far as it makes them rich or gives them pleasure. How about all the actors and actresses pitching us on their ideas of how to get along while dumping spouse after spouse? Do those broken lives left behind matter?

Then there are the famously rich. Some are seemingly quite generous and now are offering large sums to be seen as caring about the disadvantaged black or brown population in our nation. For some reason, do these groups matter more now?

The church cannot escape this either. Millions who participate in weekly worship services being told to “love your neighbor as yourself” somehow have a new idea of what “neighbor” means. Really?? You’re just learning this?

Many of the protestors believe that a big step forward is to tear down statues of historic American leaders who failed the test of being shining cultural examples. But this is hypocrisy as well. What god-like idols are being held onto by these protestors—some who loot and destroy property?

To answer the question as to who decides whether black lives matter, or whether any lives matter, requires an ultimate judge of righteousness and justice. And there is only One. He is the immortal, invisible, God only wise!

It is He who has determined that all human life is made in His image. It was His Divine Son who on His cross of crucifixion would say, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:24 (NASB) And then He died. To forgive all of us who will accept His gift for our foolish and sinful lives.

Put in the most glorious way, your life matters. Red, yellow, black, brown…even white. All are precious…in His sight.

Let’s not kid ourselves. None of our “Person of the Year” candidates hold a candle to the Righteous One.

And one day…to Him…we shall all take a knee. (Romans 14:11)

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.


Monday, June 22, 2020

A Crying Shame

And another one’s gone. At least for now. Another faith dropout who leaves most in the faith community of Christ followers shaking their heads.

Like me, they’re not dissing the soul of the doubter. It’s more the deep wondering of how the richness of an abundant life and an eternity with a loving God loses its appeal after one spends years in the trenches of faith. And when the doubter has served as a frontman for a Gospel preaching popular Christian music group, it punches the gut a bit harder.

Jon Steingard has been the lead vocalist for a Christian rock band known as Hawk Nelson. I saw them perform in my area a few years ago. They’ve had their share of popularity.

Jon “came clean” recently in saying, “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life—I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”

Adding to his public confessional, he wrote that his “belief in God truly began to unravel” when viewing various versions of Bible stories. Said Jon, “Once I found that I didn’t believe the Bible was the Perfect Word of God—it didn’t take long to realize that I was no longer sure he was there at all.”

Steingard is not a single strand in the doubter category. Adam Tucker from Southern Evangelical Seminary listed several notable faith departures in recent years, including Rhett and Link (popular YouTube comedians and former Cru staffers), Marty Sampson (Hillsong worship artist), Michael Gungor (lead singer for the Christian duo Gungor), and Joshua Harris (a man in his former life an extremely popular Christian author and pastor.)

Some have renounced Christianity outright. Others are the doubters. Add to that list several well known Christian leaders, authors, and musical artists “who are drifting, or have drifted, from biblical Christianity to a more liberal/progressive version of ‘Christianity.’”

It would be no surprise to any who know me to hear that I have a generalized disgust for the liberalization of the Christian church. I’ve interviewed many hundred faith leaders over the years. Quite a few have compelling stories of coming from “lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau put it, and then discovering beauty in the redemptive life of Jesus.

The public doubters do a disservice to the works of great men like Chuck Colson and Ravi Zacharias and former atheists Lee Stroebel and Josh McDowell—all of whom invested their lives to clearly show that faith is a thinking man’s (and woman’s) endeavor. There are countless others in their camp.

And let’s not forget the martyrs. I’m not talking about the kind that blow up other people because of some bizarre religious belief. I’m speaking of those who are so convinced (as were Jesus’ disciples) of the reality of their faith that they yielded up their lives at the hands of murderous haters. As many of them still do today.

How should we who hold to the faith respond to these departures? Fellow Hawk Nelson band members told People magazine that, “God is still for Jon and he still matters,” and “that truth doesn’t change just because we question it.”

And they haven’t given up on their friend. The three men who remain in the group said in a statement, “We are called to love one another unconditionally, as God loves us…Ever thankful and grateful for how God has used this band, the music and the relationships, and how he continues to do so.”

I put forth two takeaways from the faith departures. First, Jesus' early disciples followed Him at His request. Did they choose Him? In John 15:16 we read these words of Jesus, “You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last.” It is God who initiates the call to us.

Second. “saving faith” is one that endures. Hebrews 1:23 states, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

God has given us all we need to truly believe. To walk away from His great salvation is a crying shame.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.


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Monday, June 15, 2020

A Man of Honor

I miss the television dads of a bygone era. My favorite western TV dad was Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors). He proved to be a very solid single father. As did Fred McMurray in playing the role of a widower and aeronautical engineer, Steven Douglas. He was raising three sons.

Family men who stood out as model dads were Hugh Beaumont—Ward Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver. He was an ordained Methodist minister. Let’s not forget some other dads like Andy Taylor! (Andy Griffith). And Howard Cunningham (Tim Bosley) on Happy Days. Or Mike Brady on the Brady Bunch (Robert Reed).

The Family Matters patriarch Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) had his hands full! And Bill Cosby (all things considered) was a superb model father on The Cosby Show for several years.

To our own misfortune as a nation, many families are dad-less. Statisticians tell us that nearly 20 million children in America live without a father in the home. That equates to almost 1 in 4!

Much data has been gathered over the years to warn us what can go wrong when a father is missing. Children are more likely to grow up with financial challenges. School dropouts increase. The number of violent crimes of teens stems from boys growing up in fatherless homes. And teenage pregnancies increase among the girls.

Focus on the Family also reports:
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children come from fatherless environments.
  • 70% of teen suicides occur in homes where there isn’t a dad.
The website askmen.com has a good article titled, “10 Traits that Separate a Great Dad from Just a Good One.” Here are some pointers from their list:
  1. He Teaches His Children to Appreciate Things: A good father never lets his children take what they have for granted. From the food on the table to the good education he's paying for, a good father will make his children see the value in everything they have.
  2. He Accepts that His Kids aren't Exactly Like Him: He won't expect his kids to live the same kind of life he does. He respects their values and opinions.
  3. He Spends Quality Time with His Children: A dad knows how to have fun with his kids too. He takes the time to listen to his kids and have a good, easy chat with them.
  4. He Leads by Example: A good father is above the old "do as I say, not as I do" credo. (He) illustrates the importance of affection by professing his love for their mother in front of them. And he won't fight with her in their presence.
  5. He's Supportive and Loyal: A safety net, a good father is also the person his kids turn to when things go wrong.
  6. He Challenges His Kids: A father wants his children to be the best they can be, and gives them challenges that help them grow as human beings.
  7. He Teaches His Kids Lessons: A father figure is the prime source of knowledge in the ways of men, and teaches his kids accordingly. (He helps them become) well-rounded members of society. He especially instructs them in proper etiquette, on being honest and keeping their word, and on being thankful.
  8. He Shows Unconditional Love: This is the greatest quality of a good father. Even though he gets upset at his children's faults and may lament that they did not attain what he hoped for them, a father loves his children no less for it.
As for our Heavenly Father, the apostle Paul explained to the Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32 (ESV)

Never underestimate the value of a dad and the influence he has on lives. The man of honor will stay true to his wife and build character into his children. When he does, Father’s Day is even more special.

Appreciate your dad? Home Depot is waiting.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Follow the Light

This past week has revealed this to me: it’s hard to build a complete picture of injustice in our world today. Living in times when mobile phones with cameras can document the acts of seeming inhumanity should be sufficient warning to us. The multiple acts of violence witnessed by cameras against African Americans has re-opened old wounds.

The response this past week has been different than in past times. The sheer number of people involved in protests is much higher. The passion seems to run deeper to see change. The protests have brought together voices not normally seen in unison.

But then there was the rioting…and looting. Not civil disobedience for the cause of civil rights. This is the kind born out greed, selfishness, and hatred, but using an opportunity to blame the actions of the perpetrators on the system. What message does that send?

George Floyd is the victim of the moment. His tragic death has been positioned above others. Just a few days back it was Ahmaud Arbery. Chicago has had our share of victims. In 2014, the nation was alerted to police acting badly when a squad car dashcam video presented haunting images of the killing of Laquan McDonald. The unarmed teenager was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer.

Other victims' names were added shortly thereafter. We would see and hear of the fatal police shootings of Quintonio LeGrier, Bettie Jones, and Harith Augustus. It was reported by the Better Government Association that two-thirds of the 70 people killed by Chicago police from 2010 to 2014 were African American. None of these generated the protest activity and calls to action as George Floyd.

Face it. Racism makes the news and drives the protests. It is a deep problem. But what about the other victims of hatred? Every single week in Chicago, we get reports of how many lives have been changed by gang killings or personal vendettas on our streets. It’s gruesome. These lives actually don’t seem to matter as much. Except to loved ones.

Also missing in the renewed call for moral reconciliation is the broader topic of discrimination. Race generally tops the list. Gender bias is grabbing more headlines these days. Is there any passion for the call for justice in age discrimination? Be assured it exists.

A little closer to home for many of us is religious discrimination. Jews and Christians alike are seeing this in plenty. Anti-semitism appears to be on the rise worldwide. Christianity in America sees battles constantly over issues of life and liberty. Neither faith tradition sees protests over the abuses they have taken.

Worldwide persecution of Christians is at an all time high. Kidnappings, rapes, and brutal murders can destroy entire communities. In January of this year, the ministry Open Doors reported these grim statistics: “Every day, 8 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith. Every week, 182 churches or Christian buildings are attacked. And every month, 309 Christians are imprisoned unjustly.” The cries of protest are but mere whimpers.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s hard to get a complete picture of injustice in our world today. It’s even harder to separate the authentic responses calling for change from those that capitalize on tragedy for their own purposes. But God is able to distinguish that which is genuine.

And one more thing. I feel for the person who doesn’t tow the current line of sentiment in the approved way. Just ask Drew Brees. — except he dare not speak lest he be cast aside by his sports world brothers.

The measure that will convince me that hearts have been truly illuminated to injustice will be revealed over time. If real, we will see a generation and then another generation embracing the call to work steadily to break down racism and discrimination. Let’s see if the blinders truly have come off.

My honest appraisal? Sin-sick souls cannot fix themselves. The light can shine in such a way to reveal the acts of hatred and self interest. But only when the light permeates the soul can the heart truly change.

The Gospels tell us, “Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, 'I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’” John 8:12 (NLT)

Looking for a way forward in days of protest? Follow Jesus.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.


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Monday, June 1, 2020

Spying in the Neighborhood

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
~ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”
~Fred Rogers


Things are about to change in Mister Rogers' neighborhood. And a lot of other places, too. Coronavirus capers, like not wearing masks or sitting too close or having guests to your home, may soon break up that old gang of yours.

We are slowly moving into a time of very unneighborly behavior. The Chicago Tribune put a spotlight on the issue in their recent story, "The Social-Distancing Police are Among Us." Would you call out a neighbor for unsafe practices? Or call 911? The answer to both questions in the headline is, “YES!!”

And how are these watch guards responding? At least in Chicago, “Some shout, some gesture and expect you to get the point. Some call actual police, phone an aldermen, even email their park district.” And, yes, some go as far as to call 911.

Social media is a popular reporting option, too. Pick your poison. The vigilantes may opt to share your bad behavior on Facebook, Twitter, or that neighborhood app known as Nextdoor.

Try this on for size. In April, Claire Ewing of LaGrange went for a walk with her husband. Along the way she sees something akin to a block party. Apparently these people were NOT observing social distancing. And while Claire is normally quite neighborly, this set her off. So she posted a note about said behavior on Nextdoor. Over 160 responses came in. Claire said she was “aghast” at how often neighbors tell her to mind her own business.

Suppose you call the police? Will they tell you to mind your own business? The Trib claims Chicago police “have made more than 7,000 stops since March 25th about a lack of social distancing or failure to wear masks.” A good number of those came from anonymous tips by “concerned citizens.”

But as good citizens should realize, we are not alone! With the COVID-19 pandemic creating disdain for its likely source, Chinese officials offered cash rewards for tattle-telling on violators. New Zealand set up a website to get the juice on the non-cooperatives. It crashed from too much volume. Canadians in Toronto have something they have now designated, “the snitch line.”

We’re not done. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio apparently told his constituents “we need those photos (of social-distancing violations), we need those locations so we can enforce right away.” Atlantic Magazine reported that Massachusetts nursing home residents were threatening to circulate a list of “noncompliant” fellow residents. Apparently, they never watched Mr. Rogers.

Isn’t there a fair argument to be made that people who ignore the rules put the rest of us at risk? They do. But they put themselves at more risk.

Just five months ago, we sent out those “Peace on earth” greetings to neighbors and friends. Now we’re sending peace officers to their homes! Can’t we all just get along??? (Answer? Apparently not.)

Depending on how this virus spreads in the days ahead, I do think it might get worse before it gets better. It’s never an easy call to decide to put people on notice for their behavior. I’ve been tempted many times.

Those of us in the faith with higher objectives realize an impatient move on our part—justified or not— might well result in broken relationships not easily repaired. In the 2020 version of a Sermon on the Mount, Jesus might say, “Blessed are those whose love for their neighbor causes them to pray for them, not on them.”

Jesus sort of did say something like that. In His original hillside version, He said, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

Hard to be sure what Mister Rogers would tell us. But I’ll bet he wouldn’t be a spy.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.


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