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Monday, November 25, 2013

Graceful Thanksgiving

For my audio blog this week, I would like to pay tribute to a fellow Minnesotan. Frankly, I did not know that one of my most favorite photographs had its origins in my native state. 

In pondering what message I could share for this Thanksgiving, my mind went almost immediately to this simple, but powerful, photograph. My parents had it in our home while I was growing up. I’m not sure why I have not purchased a copy.

The picture is titled simply Grace. Eric Engstrom took the photograph in 1918 in his home studio in Bovey, Minnesota. The photo, known around the world, shows an elderly man. His head is bowed in a mealtime prayer of thanksgiving.

The picture occurred when a bearded peddler appeared at Engstrom’s door. Engstrom was captivated by the man’s saintly, kind face. Engstrom set a basic table with a family book, some spectacles, a bowl of gruel, a loaf of bread, and a knife. The kindly peddler then posed as for prayer. Have you seen it?

Engstrom was preparing a portfolio to take to a convention. He offered his perspective behind this memorable photo, saying, "I wanted to take a picture that would show people that even though they had to do without many things because of the war they still had much to be thankful for."

It conveys to me, as I’m sure to others, two powerful thoughts on thanksgiving. First, there is only gruel and bread. It challenges me to ask, Am I thankful for the simplest of provisions? And secondly, Am I thankful to God, knowing He is the supplier of all good things?

It reminds me of a print we DO have in our home. With a similar theme.( 

This one is by the French artist Jean-Francois Millet from the 1800s. It is entitled the Angelus

A man and a woman, obviously farmers, stand in a field. The man holds his cap reverently with head bowed. The woman in her apron and cap clasps her hands as if in prayer. At their feet is a basket of potatoes. And nearby, a wheelbarrow full of empty sacks. It is left to the mind’s eye to determine what it is they are praying about. But one thing is obvious: they are connecting with their God over His provisions for them.

Mealtime prayers are common for our family. While they often extend beyond gratefulness for the food on the table, I want to never forget the blessings God has provided. Including that meal.

As you gather together to ask the Lord’s blessings this Thanksgiving, I urge you to first THANK Him for His blessings.  Thank Him for your home, your work, your loved ones, and whatever else is placed on your heart. As the apostle Paul instructed the Thessalonians, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NAS)

This is my final audio blog for Moody Radio. Thank you for letting me be a voice in your life. It has been a blessing.

Future blogs can be found at my website,  For Moody Radio, I’m Mark Elfstrand.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An Extraordinary Influence

In the work world, a treasured role is to be a person of influence. Whether or not you agree with all of his conclusions from his research, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell is a person of extraordinary influence. And an exceptional writer.

Gladwell, for those unfamiliar with his work, is the author of bestselling books titled Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and his most recent, David and Goliath.

I got connected to Gladwell’s writing at a Moody team event several years ago. In a small group breakout, eight in our group received a copy of Tipping Point. Each of us was assigned to read a certain chapter of the bookdifferent chaptersand then report our findings. Great idea.

It was there I learned how Hush Puppies – the shoes, not the food – regained popularity after almost going out of business. And how markets are developed and shaped in surprising ways.

From Gladwell’s book, Blink, I learned about thin slicing, and about John Gottman, psychologist and mathematician. Gottman’s seminal work studying over two thousand married couples has provided us a powerful
perspective on relationships.

Through scientific observation and mathematical analysis, Gottman and his associates at the University of Washington could predict—with more than 90 percent accuracy—whether a marriage would succeed or fail.

Gottman defined “four horsemen” that drive relationships apart:  defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. The most potent of those being contempt. By challenging couples to see the damage these relational breakers were causing, Gottman has become a remarkable marriage therapist.

In Outliers, Gladwell’s research presented this idea on success. It may seem that some of our greatest and best in the world were just given exceptional talent. Instead, the reality shows it took hours and hours of work and practice to achieve superior levels of achievement. The benchmark “10,000 hours” became a trademark view from that book.

Gladwell’s latest work titled David and Goliath has been published. I’ve not yet read it. But I have read that while writing this book Malcolm Gladwell has returned to his spiritual roots and regained his Christian faith.
Reading this news, I rejoice that Malcolm Gladwell’s soul is seeking and finding spiritual renewal. I’m cheering for him. Even if he doesn’t sell another book. That is truly secondary. As Jesus said, “What will you gain if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?  (Matthew 16:26)

Gladwell’s contributions to “business think” have made him an extraordinary influencer. Each of his works are well worth reading. Perhaps Malcolm Gladwell would now agree with this idea: true wisdom and incredible insight can be yours with one single book. A bestseller. The Bible. And you don’t need 10,000 hours.

That's the way WE work.  For Moody Radio, I'm Mark Elfstrand.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fear Not. Easier Said than Done.

Don’t you just love hearing or reading a Bible passage where angels show up unexpectedly in their mystical form and the first thing off their angel lips is … "Do not be afraid." Easy for them to say. They are experiencing the very real presence of God.

Fear is a paralyzing thing. What do people fear most? While they list no source for this answer, Ask.Com offers the top ten things that people are afraid of: fear of flying, fear of public speaking, fear of heights, fear of the dark, fear of intimacy, fear of death, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of spiders, and fear of commitment.

Do you resonate with any of those? Business people deal with fear every day.  One business owner I knew in California was quite successful in the title insurance business. Yet he said he often woke up in a cold sweat fearing he would not have another customer. It only settled his soul to see that first business order come in the next morning.

A book I’ve really enjoyed reading is from talk radio host, Ken Coleman.  It’s titled, One Question. Ken has interviewed hundreds of leaders from all walks of life. He selected thirty six of them to provide answers to life changing questions. This included how to deal with fear.

Ken asked Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, about how he has had to push through fear often in his life. Here is what this very successful business leader said, “I think that fear is the number one obstacle that most people face.” Hyatt has lain awake many nights wondering what will happen to him, his company, and his family.

His solution? Hyatt says, “When I am afraid I have a practice of walking right into my fears. Most of the power of fear is in your mind. It doesn’t really exist.” Powerful words. Except in dealing with spiders.

The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18). That would be the debilitating type of fear. Interestingly, the Bible also talks about another kind of fear. A healthy fear known as “the fear of the Lord.” This fear brings blessings and benefits. We’re told it is the beginning of wisdom and leads to good understanding.

One might conclude that the best relief from the bad kind of fear is the good kind.  We must come to know and believe deeply that God has provision for everything and that all power is His. In this secure environment, personal and professional fears cannot hold ground.

Are you in the grip of fear today? Like Peter trying to walk on water, grab hold of the One who knows no fear. He loves you. Even if you can’t walk on water.

That's the way WE work. For Moody Radio, I'm Mark Elfstrand.

Monday, November 4, 2013

When Life Is Not Fair

Often, Jesus's parables are difficult for us to understand. Even with explanations. One particular parable that challenges our perception of fairness and equality is found in Matthew, Chapter 20. The parable of the workers in the vineyard. It is intended to give us perspective on Kingdom thinking.

Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. The master finds some in the marketplace and hires them for a fee. Later, he finds more. And hires them – at the same rate. And get this, he does the same thing again. And again. All the workers got the same amount, regardless of length of their work day.

When it came to get their pay ... you guessed it. Those who worked the longest were angry that the short timers got the same amount. So the master says to the complainer, "'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' So the last will be first, and the first last."

From the conversation previous to this parable, we know there is a perspective shared here on God's mercy for last minute conversion to faith.  But the application can readily be applied to our sense of fairness.

How do you react to this parable? If you want fairness and equality, this bites you. How is it right and fair that some late arrival gets the same pay as the one who worked all day? We ought to be able to grumble about this.  Right?

Think about your own gifting for a moment. How did God bless you? Was it fair you were born or are living in a free nation with benefits galore ... while others are not so blessed? Are you gifted in ways others are not? Do you have all you need for today?

While many examples could be given of how this plays out daily in our work life, let me focus on these points:

  • Life is not fair. An early lesson to teach your kids. When it happens, relax. You're going to get your share of unexpected and, likely undeserved, blessings.
  • When it is not fair, we get no relief when we grumble, mumble, or complain. Trade a pass ... for personal peace.
  • As we are given opportunity to bless others in our sphere of influence with mercy, let's do it.

Bottom line, don't argue with God on the merits of His decisions. Be grateful you're blessed to be called His child. Amazing. Grace.

That's the way WE work.  For Moody Radio, I'm Mark Elfstrand.