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Monday, December 29, 2014

I Predict…

Once again, we can look back on 2014 and see if the “soothsayers” of our age were correct in their predictions for the year. Here were some of them:

  • A discovery that diseases can be transmitted or transferred by pure thought from one location to another will be found.
  • Scientists will discover and prove that we live in an identical twin universe that's the mirror opposite of ours.
  • Russia, China, and U.S. will collaborate on an asteroid shield/tracking program due to a potential hazard coming by December.
  • The alternative digital currency, Bitcoin, will crash due to a well placed virus that affects the algorithm.
And my personal favorite…
  • The original 1969 USA moon landing site will be reported as damaged or vandalized by another country that lands on the moon.
Well, guess what? None of those things happened. Surprised? Don’t be. Every year, the tabloids and other media find joy in sharing the latest and greatest predictions for the year ahead.

Here are a few of the predictions for 2015:
  • Major volcanic eruptions will occur in Japan and Hawaii.
  • Strange fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field will be detected.
  • A nuclear submarine will get into serious problems. It could be Russian, though there is also Chinese involvement.
  • There will be a celebrity kidnapping and an attack on a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.
  • During 2015, Jeb Bush will gain popularity and will win the American election in 2016.
  • Serious family difficulties and illnesses for the Bush family during 2015.
My predictions are much more likely to be accurate:
  • Corruption in government and business will continue.
  • Murderous acts across the globe will be reported.
  • Movies and television will become more graphic in violence and sexuality.
  • Identity theft will continue.
  • Many hearts will be broken.
Now…on the positive side:
  • Great kindnesses will be displayed.
  • Generosity will abound.
  • Acts of service will be seen around the world.
  • Emotional, physical, and mental healing will take place.
  • Stories of forgiveness will be reported.
Prognosticating that both good and evil will coexist in 2015 is not difficult. Which forces will win out? I suppose it begs the question, is humanity moving toward a better world? What can we do to contribute to a better world this coming year?

Regardless of the kind of business you are in, it is always wise to try and keep an eye on the future. What do the trends look like? What is happening in the workforce and the political world? What is seemingly growing obsolete?

Marketplace opportunity exists whenever we can help solve a problem, relieve pain, or find a way to make someone’s life better. If the pursuit of all work was to make the world a better place, it would become one. Our sinful human condition keeps that from happening. But one day that will change.

In Revelation 21, verses 1-4, the Bible tells us, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (ESV)

A foretelling of hope. A promise of a better world. That’s our message.

Happy New Year.

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, December 22, 2014

Blessed areThose not Burned Out

There is a true irony that exists in the Christmas season. At least in our country. It exists between the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem and Silver Bells. In the carol, we see the occasion of Jesus's birth marked by the little town’s description, “How still we see thee lie.” In Silver Bells, there are Christmas shoppers rushing home with their presents. 

While we make reference to “the holidays,” many people must work overtime or find added “burdens” of Christmas related activities. One department store opened last Friday at 6 a.m. and will not close until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve. I guess they figure people want to avoid the “stress” of normal shopping hours or are simply latecomers to the party.

So isn’t it odd that we can often associate the word “stress” with Christmastime? It may be one reason Jesus never gave instructions to celebrate His birthday. We, His followers, have done that.

Speaking of stress, I read an article this past week that my daughter in law had passed along via Facebook. It was a Washington Post piece authored by a teacher with the title, “The day I knew for sure I was burned out.” It gave an unexpected but important business lesson for management to help keep employees and create a more satisfying work environment.

The writer, Ellie Herman, worked, and was sussessful for decades, as a writer/producer for several popular television shows such as “Desperate Housewives,” “Chicago Hope” and “Newhart.” Her fiction writing has appeared in several literary journals.

After decades of this work, she became an English teacher at a South Los Angeles charter school. The school is described as “97 percent Latino and where 96 percent of the students lived below the poverty line.” She taught there for six years and then quit. Ellie tells more on her blog, Gatsby in L.A.

Her “tipping point” to quitting came via an outdated and malfunctioning copier. The demands on a teacher working with inner city kids overwhelmed her. Her words, “By the end of each day, I was numb. At night, I’d dream I was suffocating. I could not remember what joy felt like.” And her closing point, “If the United States is serious about attracting and retaining good teachers, the first thing we need to do is give us the conditions we need to get our jobs done right.”

All too often in my life I have encountered people with high demands for performance and deadlines, but under resourced. I have watched and heard stories of employees raising the flag for help, but calls  go unheeded. No wonder people burn out. Deep inside their souls, there rings a familiar tune: No one seems to care.

As we celebrate the birthday of King Jesus this week, two points I would make. First, He is NEVER under resourced. Psalm 24:1 states it clearly, “The earth belongs to God! Everything in all the world is his!” (TLB) Everything.

Second, He DOES care. Here are Jesus's words to the overburdened: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

Jesus is God’s gift to you at Christmas. And the only one that truly keeps on giving.

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, December 15, 2014

Put on a Joy-Filled Face

It’s that time of year again, when Ebenezer Scrooge makes his appearance. Or…her appearance. Let me explain that.

When you think of Scrooge, what picture appears in your mind? A blissful happy soul? Or a negative, mean looking person with a nasty disposition? Easy question to answer. Just look at the character in books or films. As one might say, “He needs a mommy!”

As it turns out, he needed some visits from ghost-like characters to woo him into becoming a palatable human; one anyone might like to be around. And I’ll bet he even appeared more joyful.

While entering and navigating my way around a warehouse store this week, I encountered many Scrooge-like scowls on the faces of men and women. And why? No easy places to park. Long checkout lines. The push-and-shove of the warehouse store visitor for free samples. People blocking the aisles. And…more. Bah humbug!

Also this week, I read about a study on how a happy or angry resting face could affect your career. Three researchers were involved: two from Princeton University and one from Carnegie Mellon. They discovered what they termed as “face-ism.” Supposedly, this is a decision we make about someone’s trustworthiness, competency, or even being an extrovert based solely on their facial features. Their evidence is strong.

The study focused on people’s resting faces —when not affected by some emotional influence. More mature looking people were inherently judged as competent; the baby-faced folks...not so much. They also determined that “being really, really, ridiculously good-looking helped create positive impressions.”

But here’s a really important distinction. The resting faces of naturally angry looking people were rated less trustworthy! The happy faces had a much more favorable perception.

The researchers believe that judging people in this way is unhealthy, but it is what it is. We use these perceptions in determining our choice of candidates, who handles our money, and even who we convict for crimes.

Again, I don’t have hard evidence to prove it, but I believe that if joy invades your heart, your face will reflect that. And vice versa. If your heart lacks joy, maybe it explains all those scowls at the warehouse store this Christmas season.

For Christ followers, maybe you should look in the mirror a bit more often to see what kind of resting face you have. Heavenly messengers gave these words at the birth announcement of Jesus: “…but the angel said to them, ‘Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people.’” (Luke 2:10, GNV) That certainly includes us!

From this angelic announcement we get one of the most beloved of our Christmas carols: Joy to the World. In case you need a refresher…

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing. (repeated twice)

Think about it. A smile here. A happy face there. A warm Christmas greeting to everyone might just help some Scrooges come around. Even in the office!

As said by a famous Cratchit…God bless us…every one.

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, December 8, 2014

To Give or not to Give that Christmas Bonus

One of the challenges of being a corporate executive or the owner of a business  at Christmastime is whether to take on the role of Santa. This can be done without a red suit, a sleigh, elves, or jolly laughs. All it takes is gifts. Or not.

We know it’s the giving season. But it’s also the “expecting” season for many. It is the expectation of a company Christmas bonus, or gift.

In 2013, I had the privilege to attend one of Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership training programs. The Ramsey organization has developed a reputation over the years for some remarkably creative Christmas parties with wonderful gifts provided. Employees seem truly blessed.

I read an article recently on “The Best Christmas Bonus a Company can Give.” The author brings up some very good points about the risks of company organized Christmas parties. Do you charge, can the company afford to pay, and concern over employees getting out of hand when alcohol is served.

The main arguments raised against Christmas bonuses seem to involve expectations that develop over the years and it’s hard to stop giving them. Also, employees have their own ideas about what should be given. Cited was a Random House bonus a few years ago of $5,000 to each employee! Rare. Really rare.

With these concerns in mind, it is not surprising that a recent survey reveals that 59 percent of companies have stopped the practice of Christmas bonuses. So, why does the author suggest a “best Christmas bonus?” Because he’s not Scrooge, that’s why!

The simple solution offered was to give employees a day off. A surprise day off to do whatever you need to do during a busy Christmas season. It was recommended that when the employee comes in, the surprise is offered. I don’t like that. Who wants to get dressed up and come to work only to be told to go home? But I DO like the idea of the day off.

Maybe it’s not at Christmas time. Maybe it’s some other time when it’s really needed by the person. I’m sure there are plenty of complications for some companies to make this happen, but it is a reward everyone can appreciate.

What did Jesus say about giving? According to a verse in the book of Acts, we’re told this: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35, ESV) Jesus was the master of giving and expecting nothing in return.

That should be the true spirit of any Christmas bonus or gift. St. Nicholas clearly understood this. His generosity to children has built a tradition that even people with no serious spiritual interest still love to celebrate.

Someone has mistakenly given rise to the thought that Santa keeps a list of our rights and wrongs, making our gift receiving PERFORMANCE based. Bad idea. Terribly bad theology. God’s gift to us of his Son has no price tag involved. It’s a free gift…if we accept Jesus as a sacrifice for us.

If I were doing Santa training, I would have a signed agreement with a sentence that Santa must clearly understand that gifts from him come with no strings attached.

I think I would call it my … wait for it … Santa clause. Ho. Ho. Ho.

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, December 1, 2014

Has an "Attitude of Gratitude" Become a Platitude?

Yesterday I had the privilege of being the guest speaker for our Sunday worship service at the church we attend. I was asked to keep the focus on the importance of being thankful in the aftermath of our national holiday. No problem.

The title of my message was the same as the title of this blog. As noted previously in a writing, my family spent three years in Dallas, Texas. During that time, I sat in Zig Ziglar’s Sunday School class for a couple of years. I heard his best stories several times, along with those well rehearsed quips like having an “attitude of gratitude.” Zig learned that lesson early in life.

Vicki Hidges, who worked in public relations for Zig for several years, gives this insightful picture of this man: “Zig started out poor. Dirt poor. His father died when he was six, leaving his mother to raise eleven children alone. The family was virtually penniless. Yet despite their poverty, Mrs. Ziglar instilled a strong work ethic in her children and raised them to believe that both she and God loved them.”

She added, “Zig once told me, ‘When we neglect to require our children to say thank you when someone gives them a gift or does something for them, we raise ungrateful children who are highly unlikely to be content. Without gratitude, happiness is rare. With gratitude, the odds for happiness go up dramatically.’”

The man himself said, “Of all the ‘attitudes’ we can acquire, surely the attitude of gratitude is the most important and by far the most life-changing.”

At his corporate headquarters in Dallas, Zig had framed pictures of about 25-30 people. It was called his Wall of Gratitude. There’s a YouTube video of this should you want to see it.

My message pointed out that years before the motivational teacher from Yazoo City, Mississippi, preached on gratitude, King David knew of its importance. Several Psalms reflect that. I chose Psalm 118. Here are a few of the verses:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:24-29, ESV)

It is my observation that in western cultures—particularly ours in the U.S.—we have turned a bit of a cold shoulder to being grateful. Our blessings have been great. But as Abraham Lincoln stated in one of his Thanksgiving proclamations, “We have forgotten God.” What are some root causes of this ungratefulness?

I suggested several Gratitude Killers:

A sense of entitlement at any level or for any reason.
A sense of being “self made” and, thus, “self provided.”
Seeing oneself as better than others.
A belief that you or I are more deserving than others.
Having a life with too many blessings given to us.
Allowing dark circumstances to blind a person to the silver lining. (When discouragement takes hold in our lives.)
Failure to spend time counting our blessings.
Being steadily in the company of the selfish.
Ignoring God: the Great Provider and Sustainer of all of life.

The workplace is one important area where we fall short. Many do not appreciate their jobs. They feel underpaid and overworked. And perhaps they are! But we also have blessings galore. One of them being a job!

Employers need to learn the spirit of gratefulness as well. It is demonstrated by showing appreciation to employees in words and in pay. Simple stuff.

So do a gut check on this. Is your life displaying gratitude for the great blessings you enjoy? Or do you need a YouTube visit with Zig Ziglar?

Remember, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, determines your altitude.”

I like to end on a high note.

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.