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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 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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Monday, May 25, 2020


It’s been years since we said goodbye to the military draft in our country. The final authority to induct expired on June 30, 1973. The lottery went on however, until the last pick on March 12, 1975.

I was in the draft class of 1970 and was called up in the fall of that year. Because of my poor planning, I was unable to register in time for fall classes to earn a deferment. I even tried to appeal my call to duty being an important means of support for my widowed mother. Uncle Sam showed no mercy.

By April of 1971, I headed off to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Six weeks later, it was tech school training in Biloxi, Mississippi. Then, to my first duty station in Sacramento, California.

By enlisting instead of accepting the draft’s choice of where I would serve, I was able to sign on with the Air Force. It would cost me two more years of military time, but I would likely avoid the most unpleasant task of dodging bullets in Vietnam. Many, if not most, Marines and Army recruits got that plum assignment.

Make no mistake about it. Some of them wanted that duty! Call them super patriots. Call them danger or thrill seekers. I called them a bit crazy. I mean, who signs up for war? Why tempt fate?

What do you call those men like me who yearned to stay back? There were, of course, the draft dodgers. Others flaked out in basic training. My type were those who chose what appeared to be the safest path to get back into civilian life alive.

It is for this reason that I have my own deep appreciation for the men and women who pay the ultimate price of service—their very lives. And that appreciation goes even another level deeper when the true heroes are those who DO step up and volunteer to face the line of fire. Or the grenade. Or the incoming rocket.

In a poignant article written for Memorial Day by Joe Angelino, we find this compelling perspective on recruits: “The military uses lots of glorified words to define them and attract attention. Words like duty, country, service, commitment, faith, honor, and courage are used to recruit and motivate the young service members. One word never seen on bumper stickers or barracks posters is death, and that is the word that brings all of those other words of bravado into crystal clear focus.”

It’s true. Offering the choice to die is a lousy selling point. Many a heartbroken mother or father has been seen shaking their heads in wonder as to why their precious child would choose that course. But many brave souls do. And many never return.

As Mr. Angelino wrote, “Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have served in campaigns or theaters of action seldom talk about the ‘what if’ or how they would like to be remembered. They don't have to; they know if their demise comes far from home, their comrades in arms will never forget them. They know their hometown will remember them, for at least one day a year. Their family will most certainly remember them, because, for the family left behind, every day is Memorial Day.

Do we not owe it to those who have put aside fear for faith and the cause of freedom to pay tribute for their service today? We do. And we owe so much more.

COVID-19 has changed the game on this Memorial Day. Reflection should be easier. We certainly have more time for it.

The Bible frequently calls out brave and valiant men. To some it came as a surprise. An angel visited Gideon, the least of the least of his tribe, with these words, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Judges 6:12 (NIV)

Memorial Day honors our mighty fallen warriors. Most, who wielded a weapon for peace.

And for that dedication, I salute their sacrifice.
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Monday, May 18, 2020

Rock On, Seniors!

Woke up to reality
And found the future not so bright
I dreamt the impossible
That maybe things could work out right…
- “Shattered Dreams” - Johnny Hates Jazz

The summer of ’69 was almost upon us. It was high school graduation time and those diplomas were a first real statement of achievement. After the official ceremonies, several friends and I met on a hill outside of Sidney, Montana, to finish the night in celebration. That included the sharing of high hopes and visionary dreams.

That was then. This…is now. And no such evening awaits the graduations of 2020. Covid-19 has seen to that.

Perhaps, like me, you feel for the high school and college seniors who get no thrill of send off this year. If anything, they feel robbed. What should have been a grand conclusion to their educational journey is a date with isolation from friends, teachers, and prom night memories. Understandably, graduates are a bit angry.

As the Washington Times recently recounted, “Some have opted to drop any sort of commemoration and just focus on the future. Some have used their cars for “drive-by” celebrations. Others have planned virtual get-togethers via teleconferencing apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts.” But it all adds up to the Year of the Surreal Graduation.

Then there are the athletes. Spring delivers high school and college basketball and hockey championships. The baseball season. Golf and track. All the hopes and those dreams that “this is going to be my year!” instead have gone by the wayside. Strike up the band for another reason for disappointment. Just make sure the band doesn’t actually meet together.

Yakirah Clay was senior class president at DuVal High School in Lanham, Virginia. Her previous active high school life kept her very busy. The virus has curtailed all that. In her words, “It’s really getting to my mind. I only have sitting in my house and then going to work.” Some grand finale, eh?

Students in Illinois will have memorable “ceremonies” in the 2020 Year of the Surreal Graduation. Schools in our state are planning drive through, drive in, or tune in options for the graduates. Obviously what’s missing are the traditional transfer of diplomas with a human touch, hugs, or handshakes.

One of the rich experiences that usually ends college life is hearing from excellent commencement speakers. Chicago Public Schools have arranged for Oprah Winfrey to give the main commencement address. According to the Chicago Tribune, the virtual ceremony in June will be offered to “all of Chicago’s high school seniors, whether they attend district, charter, or private schools.” I’ll bet the excitement is building already. (cough, cough)

The 2020 graduates are also being told to make sure and get their caps, gowns, and diplomas ahead of time. I guess that’s so you look the part at your drive through or virtual ceremony. Doesn’t it all seem a bit phony? Another COVID-19 ripoff.

My high school graduation in Sidney, Montana, was also about scholarships and excitement over where students were headed for college. This year’s graduates cannot even be sure a campus apart from home will be waiting for them. No worries about a new “roomie” for now. Or whether you’ll make the cut on extracurricular programs. Or whether your sports team will even play in the fall.

I’ve spoken at a couple of graduations. If it was this year, my address would be built around these famous words of a man named Jesus: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.” Matthew 7:24-25 (NLT)

I wonder how many teachers ever shared those words of wisdom—teaching students how to build a life foundation on a solid rock.

It’s this Truth that gives you hope when all you seem to have…are shattered dreams.

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

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Oh, When the Saints Go … Staying Home

Those of us in the pew-filling business look for any creative way to bring the spiritually hungry to our houses of worship. Our purposes are many. People bond when they are meeting others of like minds. Sanctuaries filled with songs of worship are powerful. It is said that God “inhabits our praise.” Psalm 22:3 (KJV)

Most places of fellowship offer so much to many. There are people seeking ways to recover from life’s burdensome temptations. Young people may find an accepting group of peers and a place of safety to discuss their weak zones. Seniors find companionship in a stage of life that can leave them feeling abandoned.

It is the place where couples make promises of commitment before God and witnesses. A place where souls are washed in a basin of baptism that confirms their commitment to follow Jesus. It might well be the place where the final words are spoken by family members, friends, and a preacher to a honor a soul recently departed. Even then, the church can be home to sweet reunions and words of hope.

Oh yes. Church can be a most wonderful place to gather. But not now.

It is unfortunate—at least in my view—that some ministry leaders feel risky gatherings are worth any price. Even to the point of death. COVID-19 has proved its potent message: don’t mess with a deadly virus.

Just a few days ago, a usually reliable and responsible group named the Liberty Counsel called on churches nationwide to open and meetings to resume on Sunday, May 3. They named this occasion ReOpen Church Sunday. The date was selected to kick off the annual National Day of Prayer week. That day was celebrated last Thursday, May 7th. 

Admittedly, the organizers were asking congregations participating in ReOpen Church Sunday to mind their spiritual manners. That would include appropriate sanitization and respectable social distancing between families. Grace was also given for the particularly nervous nellies among us who would push for reduced seating inside the sanctuary.

Even more grace was extended for the weaker of faith (in jest, my friend) by suggesting parking lot services for those choosing not to go inside the building. Last, but not least, online services were suggested “for those who are unable to attend or who are in a higher risk category due to age or predisposed health conditions.”

The Liberty Counsel initiative flew in the face of our Illinois Governor who has put the kibosh on any church gatherings more than 10 attendees. So much for those who plead for their First Amendment rights. So not every pastor was willing to go along.

Out came the legal weapons. Most Beloved Church is located in the northwest Illinois village of Lena. Their pastor decided to sue, hoping to block the portion of the Gov’s stay-at-home order that bans public worship services. His church planned to go right on a-meetin’ come hell or, well, the state troopers.

He got his wish. Sort of. J.B. (as in Pritzger) loosened up a tad and said a group of ten congregants was okay. But only if they didn’t sing, “Kumbaya.” <grin>

As for my place of worship? No Sunday-go-to-meetin in our congregation. We have a fair share of at-risk seniors and a whole lot of common sense folk who figure our streaming worship services can pass out blessings with the best of them. And we present a whole lot more Gospel than a not-to-be-mentioned Houston motivational speaker (I hesitate to call him a pastor).

It’s my pleasure each week to record the Sunday announcements…on Saturday. They take my temperature as I walk in the door. They wipe down every surface I might touch with some bleachy stuff. Each week, I ask our Facebook Watch Party parishioners to wave at each other. Socially distant, of course.

Jesus Himself said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NLT) And right now, Facebook Watch parties seem like a very safe gathering place.

I hope the day comes soon when our church doors are wide open and the saints can march right on in.

But until this virus gives up, I think the saints are fully capable of worshiping at home.

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

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Monday, May 4, 2020

Stressed Out Millennials

You’ve heard the song “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots, right? Catchy tune. Memorable lyrics, like…

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I'm insecure and I care what people think

And then that chorus…

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we're stressed out

And what seems to drive the fears and insecurity of these youngins’? It’s captured, in part, by this lyric: “My name's Blurryface and I care what you think.”

Tyler Joseph, the lead singer, is 32 years old. Welcome to Millennial-World. He has tons of companions. One of them, most likely not an acquaintance, is Laurie Penny. She’s 33. Laurie’s an English journalist and columnist who has written for a broad range of publications. Including Wired Magazine. That’s where I came across her talent.

I was captivated by her struggling life story, trying to sort out the meaning and value of productivity in the COVID era. I also felt sorry for her and any of her millennial ride-alongs who share her pain. She offers far too many pull quotes to summarize. If my blog stirs your interest, I recommend you read "Productivity is not Working" in its entirety. The link is below.

A few of her observations must be noted. She writes in her opening, “How shall we stay productive when the world is going to hell?…How should we self-optimize when we’re suddenly having to meet our deadlines with our roommates, kids, and inner critics screaming in the background?” Do I hear an “Amen?”
Poor Ms. Penny feels the trap of productivity. For the last ten years of her life, when asked about her well-being, she offers a run-down of her work performance for the day. She’s not alone. “When I check in with friends and family far away, I usually get an update on how productive they have or have not managed to be since we last spoke,” says Laurie.

She continues, “Frantic productivity is a fear response…for 21st-century humans in general and millennial humans in particular, as we’ve collectively awoken from the American dream with a strange headache and a stack of bills to pay.”

I don’t know how wide of a swath her friendship circle cuts. But Laurie has seen and heard enough to believe her generation sees “relentless work” as the way to deal with crisis. Sad.

Then she offers a startling personal view on “religion.”

Referencing the Great Plagues of the 14th century, which wiped out half of Europe, Ms. Penny believes the Black Death also undermined the power of religion. She writes, “As broken communities surveyed the mounds of corpses, wondering what sins could possibly be proportional to this sort of punishment, they started to lose faith in God—and the Medieval Church began to lose power as an organizing force in everyday life.” (People always blame God for pain. Never the Evil One.)

Will this virus, which has been the major contributor to the current economic disaster in America, fuel a new loss of faith? Maybe, as she suggests, not in the church, but in modern capitalism? Laurie Penny wonders, “If frantic productivity is a fear response, the opposite urge—to tear it all up and declare deadline bankruptcy—feels like blasphemy.” Further she opines, “This is exactly the sort of crisis that gives people ideas about overturning the social order.” Excuse me???

The prophet Jeremiah warned the once self-sufficient people of Israel this way, “You are proud of your fertile valleys, but they will soon be ruined. You trusted in your wealth, you rebellious daughter, and thought no one could ever harm you.” Jeremiah 49:4 (NLT)

Wrong-O. COVID-19 has brought us a hard lesson. Wealth cannot save us. Productivity cannot save us. Government power cannot save us. Only God can intervene to save us.

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we're stressed out

Ain’t it the truth.

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Monday, April 27, 2020

The Harvard Education Battle

In the COVID-19 era, we all hear statements made, or conspiracies postulated, that make us laugh. Not because they are really funny. It’s because they are so absurd.

In my combined years of communications and marketing work, I’ve come to realize how important credibility really is. Once you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.

One of the really dangerous results of making absurd statements occurs when you are a de facto representative of a respected organization. Like Harvard.

Long held in admiration along with the other Ivy League schools, when a Harvard professor speaks—it should be worth listening to. But not always. In fact, I find it to be less and less over the years.

A most recent example is the article written by Elizabeth Bartholet. She’s the Wasserstein Professor of Law and faculty director of the Harvard Law School's Child Advocacy Program. My, that’s a weighty position. Her article titled, “The Risks of Homeschooling” was recntly published in Harvard Magazine, a generally respected journal.

There's quite a graphic on the magazine cover. A cursory look at the image highlighting the article shows what readily can be perceived as a child behind the equivalent of prison bars at home. Several other children are happily pictured at play outside the house. What’s also telling is the written inscriptions on the side of the home. They appear to be book titles for Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and…wait for it….Bible.” (Please gasp here.)

The professor makes some interesting and disappointing personal assessments. She claims homeschooling deprives children of a “meaningful education.” How so? In her view, it prevents our sweet darlings from “contributing positively to a democratic society.”

What bothers the academic in part is the lack of proper authority. “We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling,” Professor Bartholet states. She added, “If you look at the legal regime governing homeschooling, there are very few requirements that parents do anything.” This apparently led her to a conclusion that parents should not have complete autonomy over their children.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Fortunately, there are more rational and clear thinkers who come out of Harvard. Many of them…formerly homeschooled. A person like Melba Pearson.

Melba graduated from Harvard with honors. As she says, “Harvard was the very first school I ever set foot in. The first 12 years of my education, I was homeschooled, from kindergarten to 12th grade.” And she was proud of it. Until she saw the demeaning piece from Professor Bartholet. A piece to which she responded.

As to limiting parents' rights to teach their own children, Melba argues, “This is a blatant rejection of free thought, suppression of democratization of education, and attack on the freedoms and rights the citizens of our country fought long and hard to win.” (So there.)

She also finds the thought process behind the homeschool critique horribly at odds with a more recent Harvard “crusade of ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion,’ and ‘acceptance.’” In her four years at the Ivy League school Melba saw a number of protests, rules, regulations, and initiatives promoting “diversity, inclusion, and tolerance.” Somehow, these “values” get lost in certain academic circles.

And let’s not forget the fourth “r” that becomes so offensive at certain higher places of learning. You know, reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic and...RELIGION! That’s probably at the core of much of the opposition to homeschooling.

Proverbs tells us “Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (HCSB)

Yes, teach a youth the way he or she should go. Or maybe…not go. Like to Harvard, if they keep such outlandish ideas as Professor Bartholet’s alive.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

God and the Virus

Uh oh. The esteemed governor of New York has stepped into a mudflow of reactions to a recent assertion about God. After his state has been bitten badly by a vicious virus that holds no prisoners, Andrew Cuomo pushed his un-Catholic like view to center stage. What did he say??

In his own sort of God-forsaken words to reporters the Gov proclaimed, “The (virus) number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that…That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up.”

He’s probably right, of course. I mean the part about people who choose to act foolishly in the face of COVID-19. They must face the consequences. Then if they do get zapped by the virus, many will be pleading for mercy from the God whose wisdom they so easily rejected.

If Andrew Cuomo took his faith to heart, he’d be on his knees every day. After all, look at his brother’s family. Just a couple of weeks ago, CNN broadcaster Chris Cuomo announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Adding more pain to his personal misery, he then announced last week that his wife, Christina, had also tested positive. Chris shared, "It is the one thing I was hoping wouldn’t happen and now it has.”

Like I said, now would be a good time for the Cuomos to plead for Divine intervention.

People really only want limited intervention from God. We want it when it suits us. And we don’t when it doesn’t.

The question becomes: what role does God have in the tragedies of life? And the answer is: the same role He has in the glorious victories we find in life. This plays off an important understanding of God’s sovereignty.

People of the Christian faith, and particularly of what is known as Reformed Theology, believe God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. As a writer for Ligonier Ministries explains, “Nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens.”

That’s a hard pill to swallow for many people. That’s because they believe if THEY were God, they would do it differently. Or in their minds, better. Absent from their understanding is the concept of the beauty of free will. A God who forces all of our choices to match His perfect will is a God we learn to hate.

Does God ever “interfere” with free will? Of course He does. In the same way, He intervenes in our rescue more often than we see or know. I’m absolutely sure God has protected me from stupid decisions along life’s way because of His mercy.

But it doesn’t always happen, does it? Tornadoes come. And kill. A virtually unknown virus from a few months ago turns much of the world into a panic. Car accidents. Drug overdoses. Cancer. You name it. No, God does not always intervene for the outcome as we hoped He would.

Yet there is a constant. God IS good. All the time. As the Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8 (CSB)

Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family, wrote his own commentary on what Governor Cuomo had to say. He ended it this way: “As one with deep faith in God’s overarching sovereignty in our world, I believe there is so much we cannot see – mysteries and movements that mean everything – yet that remain hidden to our earthly eyes. In these uncertain times, how encouraging it is to be reminded that, as the old song says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

And He does. Trust me. You wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

The Annual Cash Covet

Once again Parade Magazine has blessed us with a glimpse of what workers around our country earn for a living. That is, when they are employed. Some of the faces on the front cover of their weekly magazine feature may have recently found COVID-19 to be their demon of unemployment.

I’ve always found this survey to be interesting. In a way, it’s comforting to realize that not everyone is making absurd incomes like entertainers, sports figures, and CEOs. On the other hand, it might well be the first step to the dreaded sin of paycheck envy.

Let’s look at some numbers from Parade’s, "What People Earn: Our Annual Report."

Rush Limbaugh tops the front cover list grabbing an estimated $87 milliion annually for political gabbing. Luke Bryan, country singer, earned less than half that at $42.4 million. Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Caitronia Balfe each pull in $100k per episode of a show I’ve never seen. Nice work, if you can get it.

Now back to the real world. JoAnne Engelhardt earns $13,794 a year as a theatre critic. But how does that happen? She’s obviously horribly paid or is part time. Julie Stripland is a high school band secretary. At $22,614 she’s paid less annually than a full time $15 per hour employee! And Rick Resnick, a Chicago tour guide, is being taken for a ride at $34,500!!

Aside from our curiosity on what the job market serves up, why our fascination with knowing this information? I’m sure at parties it’s a good conversation bit to say, “Can you believe what that Limbaugh makes?” (Or any major CEO of a company.) To which the reply is usually, “NOBODY is worth that kind of money!”

People are not really paid what they’re worth. Some are paid WAY too much. Some are paid WAY too little. How do we really measure the value of the services being rendered in this time of sheltering-at-home?

Some nurses and doctors are doing life-saving work. Some young folks are filling up grocery delivery carts for pickup. Some Starbucks employees, while already getting paid whether they work or not, have decided to show up and get extra pay so we can indulge in lattes. All of them are currently involved in “risky business.”

There is one more aspect of income comparisons that we find a more sinister plague on our soul. That of the earlier mentioned paycheck envy. In this wicked twist, we somehow conclude that the abundance of wealth has made the high rollers a happier lot. More possessions and financial success mean the freedom to buy what we want, travel to exotic locations, and live like kings and queens.

It hits us closest to home in our own workplaces. That’s when we find out how income inequality may have burned us. A coworker makes more. A promotion goes to the undeserved with a fat raise. A better job offer comes to a younger and less experienced employee. We quietly seethe.

Once after John the Baptist finished preaching, the crowd asked how to better live out their faith. He told those with two shirts to share with the person who has none. He told tax collectors to only collect the required amount. And to the soldiers he said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Luke 3:10-14 (NIV)

Apparently, paycheck envy goes way back. And if it wasn’t a paycheck, it might have been property. Or the amount of livestock owned by the neighbor. It’s all the same.

Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” Margaret Thatcher advised, “The spirit of envy can destroy; it can never build.” They’re both right.

While thousands are losing their jobs this week and next, now is a very good time to be thankful for the job you have. It is not a good time to be comparing.

Even in the good times, the thief of joy is always lurking around the corner.

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