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Monday, May 26, 2014

Patriots at Work

For my blog this week, I want to pay tribute to a special group of American workers: members of our U.S. Military. It is fitting on this Memorial Day to do so. It is, in fact, this day we pay tribute to those whose line of work has cost them their lives! (For a clarification of the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, see HERE.)

Military men and women know the risks. If you don’t, you have a lousy recruiter. Few lines of work in our nation come with the caveat, “Oh…and this job may cost you your life.” It tends to reduce the number of applicants.

In the book, A Greater Freedom, Oliver North and Sara Horn give us dramatic examples of the depth of commitment of most soldiers. The book is a collection of stories from one of America’s more recent military engagements, Operation Iraqi Freedom. The reader will be touched by many examples of the real life sacrifice of heroes in the military workplace.

One particularly moving story to me was that of Navy Medical Corpsman, HM3 Michael Johnson. He died in action while trying to save the life of a wounded Marine. The wounded soldier survived.

Commander Frank Holley was the senior chaplain in the 5th Marine Regiment during this time. His regiment had a gospel choir that was providing music for the worship services before the war began. HM3 Michael Johnson was a part of that choir.

Chaplain Holley remembers Johnson coming forward for communion on the last Sunday before battle. He states, “As Marines and Sailors came forward for Holy Communion, I thought to myself as I administered the sacrament to each, ‘Lord, what will become of his man? Will I see him again if tomorrow we get the word to go?…Lord, I don’t know what’s ahead, but use me as an instrument of your grace.’”

It was, in fact, the last communion HM3 Johnson would be given. It was memorable to the chaplain only because the tall African American needed a shave. Chaplain Holley noted, “Though we grieved his death, we were comforted by he fact that this man knew the Lord.”

On September 17, 2003, the branch medical clinic at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego was named for Michael Johnson, who posthumously was promoted to HM2. It was there that Chaplain Holley met Johnson’s wife and parents. His eyes were misty as he shared the faith commitment he witnessed in Johnson’s life, hoping to encourage them with Michael’s spiritual legacy.

My father in law is a retired Air Force Chaplain. My father was a Navy Chaplain’s Assistant. My wife, Rhonda, and I were married by two Air Force Chaplains—one of whom was her dad. And I personally have benefited from the military chaplaincy program in many ways. I’m grateful for this service to our military.

The Bible tells us that we shall continue to endure “wars and rumors of wars.” (Mark 13:7) Jesus then adds, “But do not be troubled, for all these things must come to pass but the end is not yet.” That’s a heavy message. Sounds like we’re going to need chaplains for quite a while.

Thank you HM2 Michael Johnson. You’ve made a difference. We pay tribute to you and the many who’ve died to make us free. And keep up the good work, Chaplains! Giving a soldier faith, hope, and courage is a true labor of love.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Whine Not Served Here

I am a blessed man. And lived to tell my story. I have a new job.

After being unexpectedly “unemployed” for almost six months, I rejoin the workforce this week. Not so for many others. Age comes with certain perils. Re-employment is one of them.

I should say upfront that I never considered myself “unemployed.” There was the blessing of severance pay. That gave me a window of time and removed a fair amount of pressure to find “the next thing.”

Even so, just about every day I was actively moving toward my “next assignment.” That is precisely how I phrased it consistently in my prayer life during this season. There were opportunities that surfaced right away that gave me a sense of hope for the future. I'm big on hope.

Let's be real, though. Many in our country find hope a difficult thing. I read an article shortly after my last radio job ended about how tough it is for some folks to get a job. It was not encouraging. One woman revealed she had been unemployed for two years after having held a well paying, management level job. I knew it could be a rocky road.

Yes, age WAS a factor. I'm 62. And for one who has built a career around being radio air talent, the doors were not swinging open many places. Especially when my focus for 20 plus years has been in radio formats prominently mentioning the “J” word. Jesus. As in Jesus of Nazareth. He’s loaded with controversy.

Paradoxically, that is precisely what gave me hope. Or rather, HE gave me hope. In my daily early morning communication with The Eternal One, I committed to trusting that there WAS a next assignment. I know that the God who created me cares for me. And I relied on the promises that assured me that He was aware of my circumstances and was working in ways I could not see. And He was.

I also realized that even if God did not respond in a way that I would prefer, I would choose to have faith in His care. Hope trusts like that. It relies on unseen activity. I decided to hold fast to the last verse of Psalm 138: “The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me. Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

My wife Rhonda recently passed along an article on “aging whine.” It attempts to send caution and employment related advice to those whose hair is turning gray. Or white. It raises some very appropriate issues.

Fortunately for me, Salem Communications valued my experience and my talent as assets. They have provided me an opportunity to build thousands of radio relationships in afternoon drive on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. It is my second “tour” with Salem, now a much larger and diverse organization. Diverse enough to hire a guy in his sixties. So I’m headed back to the microphone this week.

It’s a good fit. WYLL is a faith-driven radio station. I can mention the “J” word without fear. In fact, people talk about Him all day in their broadcasts!

They're even developing a new theme for the station: AM 1160. Hope for your life.

I’m an ambassador for that message. It’s right up my alley. Thank you, Salem.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Business Bullies

Long ago in a land far away (where I spent many years of my life) there lived a man and his wife who were an enterprising couple. They had come to this particular community after selling their successful travel agency in southern California. They had not wanted to sell.

You see, “Jake” and his bride received a visit from someone claiming to be with a “Behemoth Media Group.”  This company was expanding into the travel business and thought Jake’s location was ideal. So they wanted it. Jake resisted. The Behemoth’s raised the ante a bit. Jake still resisted. The Behemoth essentially said, “Sell…or we will open our brand across the street from you. Undercut your prices. And force you out.”

With that kind of “special incentive,” Jake and family decided it was time to get out. And they did. And they made a nice profit. And they were, well, disgusted with such tactics. As we all should be.

I thought about their story recently when my son passed along an article from Vanity Fair magazine describing the somewhat unbelievable tactics of another behemoth, Samsung. The article is lengthy, but well worth reading.

The shortcut version of this article is the claim (supported by significant documentation) that Samsung enjoys stealing ideas and profiting immensely from others’ hard work. Since I have no firsthand knowledge of their practices, I am reacting to what others have researched and claimed to experience. It’s very troubling.

Unlike many, I am generally a supporter of large companies. Many are run well and provide us products and services that improve our lives. But the most intolerable of all is the “business bully.” Rather than work ethically and with healthy motives toward fair competition, the bullies work hard to put others OUT of business through a variety of tactics. In their ideal world mindset, the best competition…is NO competition.

Bullies like to use intimidation. Jake and his wife experienced this. Business bullies relish using legal departments to create needless lawsuits that consume energy, waste resources, take heavy emotional tolls and, eventually, may drive the “enemy” out of the marketplace. Behemoth bullies find it necessary to erase a key word from their vocabulary: integrity.

A basic dictionary definition for “integrity” says that it is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. Synonyms include honor, decency, virtue, fairness, scrupulousness, and trustworthiness. Business bullies probably don’t like those words either.

Like many of the bits of wisdom from Proverbs that are often ignored these days, we find this gem in Proverbs 28:18: “Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.” And Proverbs 2:21 states, “For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it.”

My wife and I may never buy another product from Samsung after reading the Vanity Fair article. But hey…maybe they’ll change their ways. Hope so. It fits with another word often out of vogue today: Repent!

For business bullies…it might be the next big thing.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A 4 Billion Dollar OOPS!

Certain business stories just make you scratch your head. Here’s one from Forbes during the last week: “Bank of America’s Stock Plunges by 6% after $4 Billion Capital Plan Blunder.” Ufta! (that’s Scandinavian for “whoa!” and “wow!”)

Now this may seem like a lot of moola to you and me, but I guess in the B of A world of $2.2 trillion in assets you can lose track of a few billion here and there. Well, they did. Apparently the financial wizards goofed on adjusting some “regulatory capital.”

It could make you wonder, how can you have an accounting for taste in running a mega bank if you lack a taste for accounting? To be fair, let’s not be too hard on B of A peeps. It is happening EVERYWHERE!

I now direct your focus to an important New York Times piece that came out the DAY BEFORE the B of A story. This one is headlined, “No Accounting Skills? No Moral Reckoning.” Quite eye opening.

From the story, we learn that Americans in particular are growing woefully ignorant about finance. More and more of our citizens cannot do basic accounting, nor do they know what to do with a balance sheet. In other words, we’re financially off balance. And get this…there is a MORAL consequence!

The simple mechanism to keep us honest—and from making $4 billion boo boos—is accurate double entry bookkeeping. Properly done, it gets your debits and credits balanced. In financial matters, it keeps everyone and everything accountable.

I recommended reading the Times article since it gives some valuable history on the Italian Renaissance and why this topic is such serious business. And while most of us remember the Dutch East India Company from history classes, they were credited with the invention of modern capitalism. In fact, in the early 1500s the Netherlands became the center of accounting education. The Dutch boys were right on target!

Jacob Soll, who authored the Times story I’ve referenced, believes that the strength of a capitalistic society lies in the citizenry understanding the basics of finance. He believes double-entry accounting should be required in schools along with other basic accounting classes. Pencils and erasers unite!

As for the moral equations at stake, no one likes being cheated. Nor does God like us cheating each other. Here’s what’s on His balance sheet. Proverbs 11:1 states: “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.” After all, “A just balance and scales are the LORD’s; all the weights in the bag are his work.” (Proverbs 16:11 ESV)

God holds His people accountable when it comes to money and finances. Financial integrity is basic to good relationships. Right? Give it some thought. You’ll see. It all adds up.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.