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Monday, April 24, 2017

Don’t Gloat Over Bill O’Reilly

On Friday, April 21st, we marked the five year remembrance of the passing of Chuck Colson. His was a remarkable life. After ascending to the heights of power while serving Richard Nixon in his White House years, Chuck’s world came crashing down in the humiliating events of Watergate.

Colson’s missteps put him in prison. The charge was obstruction of justice and, in 1974, he served seven months in the Maxwell Prison in Alabama. This also earned him the distinction of being the first member of the Nixon team to be incarcerated for charges related to Watergate.

Before the prison term however, a new Chuck Colson was born. Or, as followers of Jesus would say, he was re-born. While his arrest was pending, Chuck’s close friend Tom Phillips of the Raytheon Company gave him a book: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. It compelled Chuck Colson to ask God to change his heart and make him a new man. And it happened. The “broken” man was healed.

A few years after his release from prison, Chuck founded Prison Fellowship. It remains the largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families in our country. He also was behind the development of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

I met Chuck several times. Usually for an interview or as a casual introduction. I considered it an honor. He had such a significant influence after his faith developed.

In the last several days, another rough and tumble “person of importance” has fallen. Bill O’Reilly. As the host of The O’Reilly Factor for 21 years on the Fox News Network, he had more viewers than anyone else on that network. He made lots of money. He wrote bestselling books. He did personal appearance tours with large audiences in tow. Bill O’Reilly had it all! But not quite.

The allegations of several women were that Bill pushed the envelope way too far in his work relationships. If the claims are accurate, Bill was using his power and influence for self interest at the risk of harming others—emotionally and professionally. He was ripe for a downfall. And it came.

Bill O’Reilly has some significant Catholic roots. Thus, I believe the words of Jesus and the message of His life must have crossed Bill's path. Often. Now would be a good time for Bill to reflect on the importance of Jesus’ message.

Jesus of Nazareth is an expert in dealing with broken human vessels. He offers the understanding of our deepest human needs. He also offers the most powerful of all healing treatments. There is no cost for this. But there is a requirement. Brokenness.

Roy Hession in The Calvary Road said that “brokenness is simply the response of humility to the conviction of God.” That is certainly an excellent starting place. Roy added, “Our brokenness and openness must be two-way, horizontal as well as vertical, with one another as with God.”

Bill O’Reilly’s life can take a dramatic turn. His very best days may yet be ahead. A beginning point would be to admit he was wrong. He needs to take that personal confession and regret vertically—to God—and horizontally—to those he offended. God will certainly forgive. His other accusers may take a while.

My guess is that there are many enemies who cheered the downfall of Bill. They should be careful. King Solomon’s words hold weight: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.” (Proverbs 24:17-18, NIV)

My modern day proverb might be: “Don’t gloat. Or you may find yourself in the moat. And there are PLENTY of alligators waiting.”

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sinking into Salvation

One of the more unusual forms of “work” in our world is that of an evangelist. Ephesians 4:11–13 states, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (ESV)

The book of Acts specifically describes Phillip as an “evangelist.” (Acts 21:8) Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul instructs Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. (2 Timothy 4:5) Those three verses are the only three uses of the word evangelist in the Bible.

This past week, I spoke to a passionate evangelist. James Robison. His life story is miraculous in and of itself, being born of a rape victim. He grew up poor in a mostly unstable environment, with a troubled mother. But God had His sovereign hand upon James and called him not only to faith, but to this spiritual work of an evangelist.

You can read about his miraculous life story in Robison’s new book, Living Amazed: How Divine Encounters Can Change Your Life. He also has a television ministry along with other resources. The number of people James has influenced toward faith in Jesus the Messiah is remarkable.

But there is another evangelist whose work is worth noting today. He died on April 15th, 1912. And he was unofficially “buried” at sea, along with thousands of others in the sinking of the Titanic. His name was John Harper.

Harper had visited Chicago and led revival services at the Moody Church not long before the Titanic sailing. He had returned to Britain, but received an invitation to return to the States and continue his ministry, which he chose to do. Harper had originally been booked on the Lusitania, but delayed the trip so that he and his six-year-old daughter could sail aboard the Titanic.

On that fateful night, we have a remarkable story of John Harper. In the icy waters, as the giant ship was sinking, it’s reported that Harper, knowing he could not survive long in the icy water, took off his life jacket and threw it to another person with the words, “You need this more than I do!” Moments later, Harper disappeared beneath the water.

Four years later, a young Scotsman by the name of Aguilla Webb stood up in a meeting in Hamilton, Canada, and gave the following testimony:

“I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck, near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’ He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ The waves bore him away; but, strange to say brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’ He said again, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper’s last convert.”

While the Scriptures give us only three mentions of evangelist as a spiritual gifting, it is clear all followers of Jesus are called to the “work” of sharing the Good News. In light of yesterday’s celebration of the risen Christ, may we find a renewed zeal for that work, as we all sail to Heaven’s shore.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Retail Failings, Part Deux

Just a few weeks ago this blog focused on the troubled retail industry, specifically department stores. I was tuned into this by recent stories about what could be the complete devolution of Sears and Penney’s, closing a good number of stores this year.

One CEO and bestselling author, Grant Cardone, posted an article titled “Retail as You Know It is DEAD.” His only hope was to drive increased customer service in these stores. My feeling is that advice, while good, is likely too little, too late.

Retail has much broader problems. I return to this subject after reading the Washington Post story this week, “The Troubles at the American Mall are Coming to a Boil.” For those who want to cheer for the success of well known brands in this country, it is actually rather depressing. And it’s definitely eye-opening.

The end of this past week brought the latest employment numbers. The weakest sector? Retail. The National Retail Federation claims that retail employment accounts for as many as one in four jobs in our current labor market. About 30,000 of those jobs went away in March. But don’t blame Trump.

In a single word, the force behind the shifting economic model of purchasing is Amazon! In an NBC News story on the March employment numbers, the case is laid out. “We’re seeing a transition toward e-commerce,” said Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Amazon has really caused a change in the way many people shop.”

So who is paying the price? The Washington Post puts it in perspective. Payless ShoeSource, now in bankruptcy, plans to immediately close almost 10% of their 4,400 stores. The Limited also has gone the bankruptcy route, saying goodbye to all 250 stores. Staples may be putting up a company “For Sale” sign. HHGregg has just announced its intention to close its remaining 220 stores.

Classy retailers are not exempt. In Manhattan, one of the premiere foot-traffic draws is the Ralph Lauren Polo store. Farewell to that, too. Urban Outfitters is struggling, along with Banana Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch—the latter two hiring new management in hopes of a fix.

As for Amazon? The Internet retail giant indicates it will hire 100,000 US workers over 18 months. For a really stark comparison, research from Slice Intelligence notes Amazon captured an amazing 38 percent of all online dollars spent during the holiday season. Best Buy, which was the NEXT closest retailer, was at 3.9 percent.

Another factor is millennial buying patterns. Many of them reject the mass market products found in mall stores. Retail stores gaining momentum include boutique types like Bonobos, Warby Parker, Shinola, and Marine Layer, according to the Post.

Seismic shifts can happen to any industry. Elon Musk intends to sell 500,000 new cars in 2018—none of which consume gas. Telephone booths are almost non-existent. So are more recent VCRs. Even DVDs are facing extinction as people latch on to more digital media. And then there’s those pesky robots.

WARNING! Times change. Nothing stays the same. Markets dive. The “sure things”—aren't.

For the faith-driven, God-seeking soul, we have these words: do not fear. “Fear not” and similar phrases show up in the Bible 200 times! How can this be assured? Because we have The Rock of Salvation.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the LORD will be your treasure.” (Isaiah 33:6, NLT)

It’s a timeless message. He is our rich store. Especially in the most troubled of times.

So with that Rock, let’s roll.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Timing is … Everything

One of the best parts of my job is the privilege of sharing my faith. On my talk show. This fits well with the mission of our radio station. Several of my coworkers and I can readily discuss the Christian faith off air as well.

Not everyone who works for our corporate organization has the same belief system as I do. Discretion must be used when having spiritual conversations with individuals who are not interested in this. Boundaries must be set and appreciated.

At the same time, respect is necessary for all views. A difficult example of this happened to me several years back. 

Our Christian-formatted radio station retained a company to help refine our programming and promotions. The lead person on this team was a fellow believer. But one of his main associates was not. In discussing how we might best promote the station, this other team member and I engaged in a discussion about the uniqueness of our format. The Christian programmed station has a defined rallying point. Listeners tune in to have their faith encouraged and advanced. Jesus is their rallying point. Promotions that don’t respect that can become crass and turn our audience off.

Let me give an extreme example. We know where to find our listeners each week. Most of them attend church. Most churches have communion. Maybe we could get our station logo imprinted on communion wafers! This, of course, is so totally out of bounds that no clear thinking soul would ever suggest it. But you can see the point. Know the boundaries.

On a ride to the airport with this unbelieving corporate consultant, I was explaining to him that this spiritual love affair with Jesus is core to our listeners. My comments included some background of the faith. As we were approaching the airport, this gentleman looked at me and firmly said, “STOP! I don’t want to hear any more.”

I had hit a nerve. So I paused and then responded that we were only having conversation about what our listeners believed and why we must approach them differently. Mere words, of sorts. But not to him. The conversation ended there.

What reminded me of this story was a column written by Sarah Baird, a National Recruiter at Oxford Digital. It’s titled, “Separation of God and…Business?” Sarah claims that a topic she sees most often on Linked In is to keep your personal life off this web connecting service. She goes on to share her beliefs as a follower of Jesus and why this is an integral part of who she is. No doubt that is true.

Sarah even quotes a Bible passage about the “Great Commission” and how this message of Jesus was to send followers as missionaries throughout the world. Including the workplace. Her passion is to be respected.

BUT…stories abound of individuals complaining of zealots trying to “force religion down their throat.” Instead of a winsome appeal, the intended audience is turned off. And the word could go out in the company to stay away from this “Christian.”

I understand that. Regardless of your belief or unbelief, I am willing and interested to hear your story. Even better, let’s discuss the fine points of our beliefs! If you’re willing. But not all are ready for these conversations.

To be clear, the Bible does tell people of faith, “Preach the Good News. Be ready at all times, and tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong. Encourage them with great patience and careful teaching,” (2 Timothy 4:2, NCV)

But be gracious in your approach. As any good storyteller knows, “Timing is everything.”

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.