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Monday, January 18, 2021

En Garde!


If sanity prevails, we will see another peaceful transition of power this coming week in the United States. While there are unsettling rumors of possible violence on Inauguration Day, a very heightened police presence should tame the threats of recent days. Let’s hope so.

The changing of the guard at the White House means massive transitions. Just vetting the incoming team means hundreds—even thousands—of people getting a very close look. And it is usually done at warp speed. Our national safety is always at risk as this occurs.

It’s often said that the presidency of the United States is the most powerful position in the world. Whether true or not, it is an immensely powerful role. I would think that would be hard to willingly give up. Yet it happens time and again. It is how our republic maintains some integrity.

Recently, Pew Research completed another of their polls on which man, living anywhere in the world, Americans admire most. The incumbent president usually rises to the top of the list because of the position and the visibility that accompanies being a world leader.

No doubt the top finisher came as a surprise to many. Frankly, my eyebrows raised a little. Shock on some faces.

President Donald Trump was listed as the most admired man in the United States for 2020, according to the Gallup survey that released December 29th. Former President Obama had captured that spot for the previous twelve years. This year, his star fell to second place.

Others in the rankings were Joe Biden (6 percent), Anthony Fauci (3 percent), Pope Francis (2 percent), Elon Musk (1 percent), Bernie Sanders (1 percent), Bill Gates (1 percent), LeBron James (1 percent) and the Dalai Lama (1 percent).

Gallup has asked the open-ended most admired man question since 1946. The incumbent president has topped the list 60 times out of 74 queries. Unpopularity in polls usually signals a less favorable ranking. It did for Trump in previous surveys.

As for most admired women, topping the list was Michelle Obama at 10 percent. Her ranking was followed by Kamala Harris (6 percent), Melania Trump (4 percent), Oprah Winfrey (3 percent), Angela Merkel (2 percent), Hillary Clinton (2 percent), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (2 percent), Queen Elizabeth (2 percent), Amy Coney Barrett (1 percent) and Greta Thunberg (1 percent). Dolly Parton–who helped fund a COVID-19 vaccine–finished No. 11.

Another twist to the list is the frequency of top ten rankings. The Reverend Billy Graham finished among the top 10 a record 61 times during his life. He passed away in 2018. Former President Jimmy Carter has the most top 10 finishes of men alive today. Some 29 top tens put him behind Graham and Ronald Reagan for third all-time. He missed the cut this year.

As for Trump, how can a man who was impeached twice during his presidency possibly be rated as the man Americans admire most in the world? It all depends on your grading system. And how you evaluate leadership.

The outcomes of Trump’s four year tenure can only be properly measured in the future. Even then, the most bitter of his opponents will show little grace to the man. His most positive achievements will be challenged as damaging to our morally weak nation.

Here is a sure truth. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21:2)

Donald Trump will face an accounting for his life before the Eternal Judge. So will Joe Biden. So will I. So will you.

Think you can make God’s “most admired” list? Think again. That’s why His Son had to die for you.

Be forever grateful. And be on guard for self-righteousness.

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

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, January 11, 2021

And I Meant Every Word ...


The song “Love Will Keep Us Together” had a remarkable radio run. The hit song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June of 1975. It held that position for four weeks. It ranked as the number one single of the year by Billboard Magazine. The tune, written by Neil Sedaka, was led to fame as recorded by The Captain and Tennille.

The Captain had a real name—Daryl Dragon—a keyboardist for The Beach Boys. His nickname came from his oft wearing of a sea captain’s hat in performances. He met the attractive Toni Tennille in 1971 in between tours when he joined Toni’s musical group playing keyboards. Eventually they would marry.

However, in January of 2014—seven years ago this Saturday, Toni Tennille filed for divorce. The couple had been married 39 years. The divorce surprised Dragon. Tennille’s reasons included Daryl’s health related issues. But in her 2016 personal memoir, Toni shared a rather unflattering view of the couple’s years together.

It was said that the two “remained close friends” until Daryl Dragon died from kidney failure in January of 2019. Toni was at his side at the time of the passing.

The song “Love Will Keep Us Together” has a special place in my memory. It was, in fact, the year my radio life began. But even more significantly, it was the year I met my beloved Rhonda. That relationship would bring us to marriage in January of 1977. This Friday is our 44th anniversary.

Yes, “love” has kept us together. However, true love requires something more than a lasting feeling. It takes commitment. And in the Christian faith, we refer to this as the marriage covenant.

That covenant as recited in weddings may have variations, but the essence of it as vowed by each participant says to the effect: 

"I, Mark, take you, Rhonda, to be my wedded wife, and I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful husband, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live.”

Marriages commonly fall apart in our day. But we must appreciate from where the institution comes. A Christian marriage ceremony should clearly state that marriage is ordained and instituted by God. As a wise ministry friend has said, “Marriage did not just spring up arbitrarily out of social conventions or human taboos. Marriage was not invented by men but by God.”

God is good at making covenants. In fact, the common words we use for the two main divisions of the Bible are the old and new testaments. More precisely, those “testaments” refer to covenants—the unbreakable commitments by God.

It says much about human character when people stand before God and witnesses and make those covenantal promises—only to break them for the most convenient of reasons. The Bible does make allowances for divorce, but they are most often not the reasons people separate. Divorce pain in families reaches generations.

I assure you I am no “saint” as the world defines the term. One thing I recognize: “Love,” as it’s shared by poets, movies, musicians, and the like, doesn’t “keep us together” as much the hit song suggests. A committed love, however, is the game changer.

As Jesus explained, “It (the Scripture) says, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will live with his wife. The two will become one.’ So they are no longer two but one. Let no man divide what God has put together.” Matthew 19:5-6 (NLV)

Serious words. From a God who takes marriage seriously.

While “renewing your marriage vows” is quite often done by couples, I see no need. I meant what I said the first time.

Happy Anniversary…to the love of my life.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Thinking About…Nothing


I’m going to work harder in 2021 at doing nothing. It will be good to add this to my repertoire of life adjustments as I age. More on this in a moment.

I’ve got other things I’m mastering. For example, I’m no longer trying to get anywhere. You know, like climbing some corporate ladder. Or building a better resume. Or “getting in good” with people who can advance my career. I’m passing on all of that. “Upward mobility” is off my list. It’s very freeing.

Here’s another step forward I’ve made. I’m not working at trying to impress anyone. It doesn’t matter how many Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections I have. Nope. I’ve scratched off “Become More Famous” as a life objective. None of this matters to me. It sort of did in years past. Also, very freeing.

A few weeks back, I stumbled onto this article in The Times: “How I Learnt the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing.” Oooh. You mean, there’s an ART to this? Apparently so. And at least three books on the topic: Niksen: The Power of Doing Nothing; Niksen: The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing; and Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing by Olga Mecking.

I’d not heard of this word “niksen.” There was a “Nixon” I remember, and a lot of people wanted nothing to do with him! Make no mistake about that!

I’m pretty sure there were highly skilled niksen-ites in the military when I served. In fact, we sometimes were told to stand around and do nothing. Better yet, we got paid for it! And sometimes promoted!

From the aforementioned article, the author Olga Mecking found the Dutch “may be seen to have consciously uncoupled ‘busyness’ from their conception of personal success and happiness—even productivity.” She found a researcher “who studies alternative status symbols…who thinks that the Dutch have found the perfect work-life balance.”

Among our Dutch experts in niksen, they respect leisure time but are highly productive in their work time. Lest we mock this call to doing nothing, a year ago the Netherlands moved into fifth place in the UN World Happiness Report. (I’m curious as to how happy the person is who had to compile that report.)

One proficient in niksen will take a bike ride with no particular destination in mind. Or similarly, start walking and go where the spirit leads. Ms. Mecking says, “You don’t even have to clear your thoughts or listen to music or get into a certain posture.” Thank the Lord for that. I hate yoga.

Okay what isn’t considered niksen? Checking Facebook or Instagram for hours. Or watching “how-to videos.” Anything that seems like it’s, well, work! Yech! But just staring out a window apparently does qualify. Good. I’ve done plenty of that and have developed a penchant for it.

Apparently, more and more people are feeling “nothing” when it comes to Christmas cards. We sent out about 90 this year. I think we received about 30. Oh well, next year maybe this means Rhonda and I will have more time for niksen!

Jesus of Nazareth was way ahead of the game on this. He had no appointment book. No deadlines. Had visits for as long as He chose. And offered some great advice. Like this:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)

Whew. All this writing has required thinking and that is hard work. Excuse me while I take a break. My dog and I have some windows from which to gaze.

Maybe I’ll rename my dog Niksen!

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

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest: