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Monday, December 30, 2019

Another Year of Painful Farewells

Have you ever watched the reality television show, Survivor? It has had a remarkable run on network television. Over the years, I admit to being a somewhat devoted fan.

It’s a simple concept. About twenty people get taken to a remote site. They divide into groups. They live outdoor camp life in miserable conditions. And they try to build “alliances” that keep them from being voted off the program.

In the long history of this show, one of the final programs in each season was called the "Fallen Comrades" segment. This is when the last three remaining players were taken through a field of memories to wax nostalgic about players who had exited the program ahead of them. Of course, the earliest departures were people they hardly got to know! But these finalists feigned to miss the dearly departed.

It’s not that way in real life. People we have met and lived with on this journey while on earth truly impact us. At the end of every year, we will be reminded of the rich and famous who are with us no more. Parade Magazine just did so. While some are people with whom we might have connected through their talents, the pain of loss will usually not directly impact us.

It’s the other losses that we grieve. Many are farewells we could not complete because we didn’t see them coming. Sometimes we find ourselves empathizing in grief for others left behind—even if we don’t know the families.

I find myself in that situation quite often. Most commonly, it involves news stories about children. In recent days we learned of an Indiana shooting that killed a four year old boy and wounded his pregnant mother.

Another terrible story in 2019 involved the fatal beating of a 5-year-old Crystal Lake, Illinois, boy, A.J. Freund. The unfolding of this tragedy had long term traction in the news. Only recently did A.J.’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham confess to the abuse and the boy’s death. She had denied it emphatically for several months.

There was no shortage of memorials for this child. Details of the mistreatment leave us wondering about the lack of humanity on the part of both parents. And one can only imagine how a 5-year-old tried to process any sense of self worth while this was happening.

But it isn’t just these kinds of sad farewells that grab us. One of my coworkers had a beloved 22-year-old niece who tragically drowned with her boyfriend earlier this year. Health failures have removed others from our presence in this life in 2019.

It is amidst this kind of pain that people step back and press God for answers. Most times, there are no answers forthcoming. The holidays can then lose the call to be joyful. And sometimes, even hope for a better future seems distant.

My worst Christmas was the first one after my father died unexpectedly. I was 16. In 1993, my mother passed away just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and we buried her in the same grave with my father on a cold snowy December day. I’ve also had a very young grandchild fade painfully away with a genetic disease.

Yet my confidence in a loving, gracious, and caring God is unchanged. The arrival of Jesus on this earth marked the greatest gift of hope we could imagine. In His day, He healed the sick. He kicked out evil spirits. He raised the dead. And then, He defeated the greatest enemy we have—death itself. It proves there is life to come!

I wish I had the capacity to comfort all those who grieve and hurt this holiday season. So often I wish I would turn back the clock and fix broken things before they happen. I wish I could heal broken family relationships that rob us this time of year. But I can’t.

The year 2020 awaits us. For followers of Jesus, we know our assignment:
  • Be bearers of light in a dark world. 
  • Bring hope where it is fading. 
  • Offer love where it is desperately needed. 
  • And comfort for the hurting. 

 Our world will be better because of you in the year ahead. Guaranteed.

Happy New Year!

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

Monday, December 23, 2019

Are the Glad Tidings for You?

In December of last year, a church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago asked me to deliver a Sunday message in preparing for Christmas. The title I chose was, “Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward men.” I’m planning on sharing an abbreviated version at our church on Christmas Eve.

The most common greetings around Christmas focus on joy, love, and peace. If you’re looking for values related to the Creator of the universe, those are high on the list. We like to preach that Jesus came to bring those values to life in every time period since His birth.

Well, not exactly. In fact, in His own words, Jesus said in the same book where His birth story is told, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.‘Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’” (Luke 12:51-53, NLT)

But what about the angelic messages that the shepherds received outside of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus' birth? You’ve no doubt heard about them! First, a single angel says,“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12, NLT)

Then a whole group—a “a vast host” of “the armies of heaven” show up and and say “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:13-14, NLT) And there you have it! First, great joy is mentioned by the angels. Then, peace on earth.

How do we reconcile this idea that Jesus brings peace when He clearly admitted His arrival would be divisive? The answer is found in that single verse in Luke 2. In the King James and a couple of other translations, it reads, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (vs 14)

However, in numerous other translations, we get the real intent of this message. It isn’t about us promoting peace on earth and some good attitudes and feelings toward others. The angels said that peace would come “to those with whom God is pleased.” Other translations read, “on whom His favor rests.”

There is a hard truth here that must be understood. The only people who can truly rejoice at the arrival of the Christ child are those who, by faith, will believe that He is the divine Son of God who came to take down the barrier between their sick souls and a perfect God. Those “saved by faith”—will indeed have peace!

Many families have seen bitter breakups over the person of Jesus. It has happened as He said. Marriages and families and nations divide over who Jesus truly is.

But what about the first part of the angelic proclamation that offers great news to all people? For the true seeker looking for this answer, I recommend you read Jesus' parable of the wedding banquet found in Matthew 22. It ends with this line, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14, NIV)

We do a disservice to truth by painting a Christmas picture that fails to yield a call to embrace the Holy One who God sent to earth. Christos (Christ) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term Messiah, who is God’s anointed chosen One to save people from sin. Grasp that and you are discovering the Good News.

Without that, this season’s glad tidings are simply falling on deaf ears. And the “Merry Christmas” greetings fall woefully short of meaning.

It’s Christmas. Don’t just “believe.” Believe in HIM. Your eternity depends on it.

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Monday, December 16, 2019

Going Nuts Over Xmas

I have several favorite recorded Christmas oddities. Many of them showed up on the radio on my programs during the “holiday season” in years gone by. These are not from the camp of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” or “Dominic the Donkey.”

Nah. Mine are much more refined silliness. For example, I still enjoy Stan Freberg’s classic, “Green Christmas” with the chorus, “Deck the halls with advertising.”

Then there's a Scandinavian favorite, “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” by the fictional Swede, Yogi Yorgesson. You can search the song title for the lyrics.

Another of my favorites came from the creative mind of Minnesota radio personality Chuck Knapp. He produced the little ditty, “Chipmunks Roasting O’er the Open Fire” replete with crackling fire effects. Lovely.

But on the more relevant side of tolerance and respect are the condensed comments by Ben Stein from a commentary he offered on the CBS Sunday Morning news program. The date was December 18, 2005, and the piece was titled “Confessions for the Holidays.” It’s publicly available. Here’s a good portion of it:

“I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me.

I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.”

Every year, we get the same forces demanding that visible signs of Christmas be removed. For 2019, we can easily find such stories. One titled “The 72-Hour War Over Christmas” was featured in the New York Times on November 29th.

In short form, the mayor of Charleston, West Virginia, made a decision to rename the city’s annual Christmas parade to the “Charleston Winter Parade.” In her mind, she thought this would suggest that WVA’s capital city was a welcome place for people of all faiths and cultures.

As the Times reported, “Across America, the mention of ‘Christmas' in holiday greetings and decorations has become another measure of political divisiveness.” No kidding.

News of this created a swift backlash from the townspeople. And early on the third day following the mayor’s announcement she retreated. Mayor Amy Goodwin announced The Winter Parade was no more and the Christmas Parade was back. Morning talk show host Hoppy Kercheval reported to Mayor Amy, “Everybody is going to be happy again.”

Well I’m pretty sure not EVERYBODY is happy. The mayor did have her share of supporters. But she did learn the political lesson about the will of the people.

I’m also pretty confident these Christmas battles reveal why Jesus never asked His followers to create an annual birthday celebration for Him. Look what it’s become! Black Friday. A fictional fat man coming down a chimney. Reindeer. Office drinking parties. Holiday stress. And songs like, “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.”

Truer words might never have been spoken. Merry Christmas, Yogi.

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Monday, December 9, 2019

I’ve Got a Tip for You

Here we go again. Another round of minimum wage increases will soon be coming to Illinois. Or at least the Chicago area.

The city has set the new minimum wage to $15 by 2021. This will apply to youth, people with disabilities, and other groups that historically earn less money. The caveat in the legislation applies to restaurant servers and other tipped workers. These folk will continue to receive what is known as a “subminimum wage.”

The current minimum wage is $13 per hour. Businesses based in Chicago will see a progressive minimum wage rise to $14 an hour on July 1st, 2020. It goes up to $15 on July 1, 2021. If you are an employer with fewer than 20 workers, you are spared the employee cost increase until 2023. If your business has fewer than four employees, you are exempt.

Outside of Chicago, the minimum wage stays the same for four more years. But we’ll get there. This will pacify the protestors who have been pushing for this wage increase. For now. But only for now.

I’m not an economist. But I know a few good ones and have done plenty of interviews over the years. Enough to conclude that life will improve very little, if at all, for those who get the small hourly increases for which politicians trade votes.

Simple logic tells us that if a business incurs increased costs, something has to give. Or in this case, someone has to give. That would be the customer. Profits must remain intact or there is no point of being an employer.

Most minimum wage jobs are paid to low-skilled or entry level workers. Even a federal minimum wage has problems. Costs of living vary significantly from state to state. A number of companies who want to really help employees get a better life offer incentives to attend college or gain new skills.

Another reason why I don’t like government managed minimum wage is because it encourages automation. Replacing workers to reduce costs is a potential downside of unwieldy labor unions that demand benefit packages out of reach for many employers. It makes the cost of producing goods higher and less competitive.

The interesting twist in this latest round of increases is in the restaurant trade. Th mayor of Chicago is setting the subminimum wage for workers who receive tips to $8.40 an hour on July 1st of next year. They currently receive $6.40. The tipped wage will be set at 60% of the minimum wage so it rises as well.

This gets really messy. At present, an employer is legally required to make up the difference if an employee’s tips don’t add up to the regular minimum wage. Some workers claim that bad record keeping and other dishonest practices often keep this from happening. So what’s nest? The tip police?

And only certain restaurant workers are impacted. Fast food employees get only the minimum wage. Higher service restaurant workers get tips—some of which can make for a pretty decent living. Great service deserves recognition!

At the end of the day, the cost of living will likely outpace the gradual minimum wage increases. The paychecks earned will require a supportive living environment because American life does not function well on minimum wage. But it is a start for many. Years ago, I interviewed Dave Thomas, the creator and former CEO of Wendy’s. He started out as a “hamburger flipper.” There are all kinds of similar stories. It’s part of what makes America a great country. Opportunity still exists.

Hobby Lobby puts its mission statement this way: “We are committed to: Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

With God looking over your shoulder, best take good care of those employees in your charge. God keeps good records.

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Monday, December 2, 2019

Thankful … for the Above and Beyond

Thanksgiving time has become memorable for some unusual blessings for us. It happened on a snowy trip in the 1980s. A second round of good fortune came together in 2000. Now, we can add blessings of this year.

That first item came about after we visited my in-laws near Las Vegas at Thanksgiving time. En route home, we encountered a powerful snowstorm just a few miles out of Tonopah, Nevada. Despite my snow driving skills honed in Minnesota winters, I was out of my league. And not dressed for the occasion. With three young children and a concerned wife aboard, I was getting desperate not being able to tell where the road was. And virtually no traffic to help find my way.

Of course I prayed. Fear will force that upon you even if you weren’t in the mood.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I saw faint red lights off in the distance. Cautiously but optimistically, I sped up until I was only about ten car lengths behind a semi. How that driver could see I have no idea. Another ten miles and the storm subsided and the roads improved with the change of elevation. The truck was my saving grace.

Our second season-specific blessing happened during the first Thanksgiving in our home in Flossmoor, Illinois. Our son and daughter-in-law were set to come visit us from Pittsburgh—something my wife was greatly anticipating.
Wednesday night prior to the big feast, we received a call from our son explaining how his car had broken down on his way home from work. There were no repair shops open. And he was too young to rent a vehicle. We were out of options.

I did what a desperate dad would do. I called my best friend in Pittsburgh and explained the dilemma. Calmly, he described his solution. He would loan Marshall HIS car at no charge to make the weekend journey. What a blessing!

But wait! Thanksgiving day as we waited the arrival of the Chicago bound couple, our oven caught fire! And the blessing of a quick fire department fully dressed in gear came to our rescue. Miraculously, the meal came together and the festivities were most memorable.

That brings us to this year. A few days ago, our furnace began acting up. Just some intermittent clicking and a failure to start properly. We thought we would wait until after the holidays. Bad idea.

Fortunately, we bought a Trane unit from a reputable dealer—the Air Guys. We called on Thanksgiving Eve to say we were without heat. The company principal, Alfredo, drove from near downtown Chicago to our Plainfield home. He explained it was a simple maintenance issue and it was fixed within minutes. He asked about our family in ways that either tested his memory or some well-kept notes. And then he left, charging us—nothing! Who does that?!

To add frosting to the the blessing cake (or pie, as it turns out), another friend made our Thanksgiving a bit more tasty. For several years, I interviewed the head of a ministry based in Texas on issues related to troubled teens. As a way of showing appreciation, the ministry would send me a delicious pecan pie packed carefully in a wooden box.

Since my radio days seem to have ended, I felt a little sad about not getting this anticipated treat. But, behold! My friend in Texas asked for my home address via Facebook. And a few days later, my favorite pie arrived! Another Thanksgiving blessing. Undeserved, but given by a generous heart.

We always have so much for which to be thankful. And especially in this season, I’m grateful for those who are willing to serve beyond the call.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Dancing with the … Devil?

It’s the time of year when we hear the big push for being thankful. We usually do so feasting over food and football. Oh, and giving gifts to ourselves as if we deserve early Christmas presents. Such is the modern day Christmas spirit.

We have a favorite local ministry that sends out annual requests for sharing holiday meals with the men and women whose lives have been filled with misfortune. A lot of it comes from their own doing. But, hey, I’ve done my share of bad decision making. So I gladly send a gift to help these hurting folks.

Truth is, this ministry truly is a ministry! What I mean is, from the start they have clearly outlined their purpose as a “Christian” ministry. They are serious enough about their love for God and for others to give their lives to caring for people. While they accept people as they are when arriving at their doors, the hope is that spiritual awakening will bring them new life.

Compassionate caring for others and accepting people does not mean accepting lifestyles that are contrary to biblical teaching. That would not be love. That would be license. So this ministry has parameters of behavior—as all solid ministries should.

Just like the Salvation Army should. And has. And is now paying the price.

Sadly, that price has come in the reduced contributions from a company that has long supported the ideals of ministries like the Salvation Army. And the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And the Paul Anderson Youth Home. All three (and perhaps others like them) have lost important funding from Chick-fil-A in a recent realignment of their donation policies.

It seems like Chick-fil-A has made a decision to broaden their options (at minimum) for generous giving. The question remains, was that move actually in response to the ridiculous charge that the company is “anti-gay?” Liberal media hypes any protest or rejection of the brand from locating at an airport or college campus. The discerning mind clearly knows liberal thinking on “family.”

Can’t a privately held company have its own core values as it relates to supporting the traditional family structure and marriage? No. Not in the minds of the truly prejudicial gay radicals. They want total acceptance of THEIR values.

CNN recently published a column by author and writer Richard Morgan. Here’s what Morgan said, “[Chick-fil-A] didn't mention any shift in its views on homosexuality. [The new policy] would perhaps be more convincing if Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A's CEO, acknowledged as wrong, and directly apologized for the comments that he made in 2012 about the company's belief and support of the ‘the biblical definition of the family unit.’”

Bottom line, Morgan charges Chick-fil-A with bigotry and homophobia even after the modified giving policies. And he doesn’t want Dan Cathy to eat more chicken. He wants him on his knees eating crow!

Go into ANY Chick-fil-A, and you will quickly discover a team of friendly, helpful people who don’t discriminate against anybody. Management is totally “tolerant” of others' beliefs. The term “bigot,” often applied by the Chick-fil-A haters, means “a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions.” Get it? That’s a description of people like Richard Morgan and his ilk.

The sad part of this story is that with Chick-fil-A’s new donation policy, many people of faith believe they’ve lost a corporate friend. The Bible-believing faith community feels betrayed. Perhaps unnecessarily. But it is what it is.

Here’s a hard lesson about business. Mess with your core customers and you begin a dance with the devil.

And that dance partner will eventually leave you on the floor all alone.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Solitary Soul

Back in the 1990s, I was encouraged by the manager of the radio station at which I was employed to take a one day personal retreat. His thinking was that, like many in the radio business, I had heard the advice to “just be yourself” when on air. Often, however, we are impacted by those who have achieved significant success. And it’s easy to try and use their “techniques” to build your own profile. It doesn’t work. You lose the authenticity of who you really are.

So the one day retreat was to get alone and dig deeper into the person God created me to be. A more reflective search would also yield some very honest appraisals of the fears or self limitations that I might have placed on myself. Giving yourself such a hard mirrored look and journaling about it is rather uncomfortable.

Frankly, time alone will often allow things to surface that otherwise are hiding in your soul. Because sometimes we can be our own worst enemy, it’s possible to allow those negative impressions to keep us from moving forward. Many a motivational speaker has made a living out of helping people get beyond these self limitations.

I found some important lessons on the value of solitude recently in the New York Times. The article, "Why You Should Find Time to be Alone with Yourself," cites Robert Coplan, a developmental psychologist and professor of psychology at Carleton University. He notes, “Historically, solitude has had a ‘pretty bad rap’ because it is sometimes used as a form of punishment.”

It’s common for  people to say something like, “I need some alone time.” This is not to be found in a car ride by yourself. And the benefits are not likely to occur sitting by yourself in a park surrounded by others. 

This time alone would better be described as getting away... to a cabin in the woods. My one-day internal discovery experience took place in a motel 30 miles outside of town. No computers. No television or mobile phone distractions. Just a quiet environment where hours can be spent in honest contemplation.

How often should this be done? I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer on this. When you determine that life has delivered you too many challenges and not enough down time, you should consider a short retreat. Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist quoted in the Times article, says “getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout.” Good advice.

Too many “time outs” like this might send some yellow flag concerns to others. It could signal that you are having serious emotional difficulties when that might not be the case at all. Like I said, there’s no perfect program for solitude.

I’m convinced of this. Jesus of Nazareth found such alone time essential to His well being. Apparently He would be gone for hours—off by Himself. If the Creator of the universe found such breaks necessary (primarily for prayer), then it must have real value for the rest of us.

In a blog from the website “Soul Shepherding” by Bill Gaultiere, he writes “The priority of Jesus’ solitude and silence is everywhere in the Gospels. It’s how he began his ministry. It’s how he made important decisions. It’s how he dealt with troubling emotions like grief. It’s how he dealt with the constant demands of his ministry and cared for his soul. It’s how he taught his disciples. It’s how he prepared for important ministry events. It’s how he prepared for his death on the cross.” All…in solitude!

One final benefit. I find that after a short period of being alone, I’m refreshed enough in perspective to enjoy the company of others. I can even handle times with difficult people better!

So once in a while, take a break from the crowded life. Isolate and get to know yourself. There’s probably a LOT there to like.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

An Oath for Truth

Today is Veterans Day. It’s become one of my favorite special days of the year. For a very long time, veterans were recognized and given appreciation on this day. More recently, a wide swath of restaurants and do-good businesses have jumped on the “honor the vet” bandwagon and give away stuff to past and present members of our armed forces.

I’m one of them. So my four glorious years in the Air Force continues to yield benefits. I’ll pick up my free haircut card after I get my free cup of coffee and my free favorite donut. Later there will be complimentary lunch and dinner at a couple of generous restaurants. Like I said, it’s a great time to be a veteran!

Those entering the military must take an oath. The oath for both enlistment and re-enlistment is the same. A superior officer administers the oath by first reading it and then the person being sworn repeating it. Here’s what is said:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

It’s well established that people holding positions of public office are asked to take an oath as well. This applies to federal, state, and many local government offices. Some of these require the oath be administered with a hand on the Bible, an idea some find unimportant or even offensive.

This causes me to wonder about those who proclaim a loyalty to Jesus. The ones who openly claim to be His followers. Would they be willing to take an oath? And if so, what would it say?

I pondered this as I read an article about a fast rising political candidate. A veteran of our US military. His name is Pete Buttigieg. You’ve likely heard of him.

If you see him today you could say, “Thank you for your service.” The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, spent six years as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves. He also commonly references a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. He’s in that post 9-11 group that volunteered to serve.

I was more interested to read the Christian Headlines article titled, 5 Things Christians Should Know about the Faith of Pete Buttigieg. Here we discover some interesting history about Pete. For example, he grew up and was baptized Catholic. The son of a former Jesuit, Buttigieg attended a Catholic high school. He admits that he didn’t truly understand his faith until he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He wrote his 68-page undergraduate thesis on puritanism. Smart guy.

Today, Buttigieg is an Episcopalian. St. Augustine is one of his spiritual influencers. As for prayer, Pete says “…I do find that ritual organized prayer makes sense because it is a way to tune my own heart to what is right.”

All sounds well. Until the alarm bells go off. After his military deployment, Mayor Pete decided to embrace his homosexual leanings. One is almost tempted to be sympathetic to his yearnings as he claims, “…I was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer.” And so, in June of 2018, the openly “gay” mayor hitched himself to another man—

What makes Pete Buttigieg a highly problematic candidate is his credible military history, political savvy, and the intangible gift of like-ability. Makes you want to cheer for him. Unless your better judgment about what is right and wrong informs you clearly that marriage is between a man and a woman. And that loving someone is a beautiful thing—until you take it beyond what God ever intended.

My view on truth seems to be losing ground in this age. But truth should never shift because of public opinion. Or because the deniers are “nice guys.” No matter how bright or savvy they might be.

In the meantime, no need to make an oath on a Bible you don’t really trust for truth.

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Monday, November 4, 2019

Trophy Turnoffs

The Christian music industry recently held their annual party in Nashville. In fact, it was the 50th Annual Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards. Perhaps you’ve heard of it even if you’ve never watched it.

Of course, the GMA folks have made it a challenge for a television audience to see. They held the actual awards event on October 15th. Then they announced that viewers could watch the whole thing “exclusively on (cable channel) TBN, October 20th, at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT.”

Who does that? Not the Grammys. Or the Academy Awards. Or the Tonys. You watch the show when the goodies are given out! But not in Christian trophy land.

For many years, it was also a given as to who would win best female vocalist. Sandi Patti. Or Amy Grant. The two dominated the available talent pool. Michael W. Smith was a frequent winner for best male vocalist along with Steven Curtis Chapman. In fact, Chapman is now the “winningest” male Dove award winner in their history. He can launch his own flock!

I attended the Dove Awards several years ago when I worked at a Christian radio music station. Something about the big production seemed out of place for me. I know it’s not intended to be this way, but in my mind I could not help but think the awards contestants were backstage thinking, “I hope MY song about Jesus beats HER song about Jesus.” Or his. Or ours, if it was a group.

A famous older Christian song (hymn) states that, in heaven, “my trophies at last I lay down.” I wish they would lay them down now with those Dove Awards. There’s got to be a better way to recognize Christian musical talent.

More awards show intrigue was added to this year’s event. It came in the form of the very talented Kirk Franklin. He’s won more than 20 Dove Awards and has been nominated several times more. Franklin has also won at least 8 Grammys.

This year, Kirk won another Dove for Gospel Artist of the Year. So let’s get Kirk up on stage to graciously accept yet another award. But….wait! Kirk didn’t show up! What happened?

Call it what you may, in my book it became an issue of “politics.” You know, the kind of thing that has made most awards shows unwatchable. Rather than thank the little people and money managers for helping the artist succeed, these shows have become a platform for telling America where we’re messed up. And who’s fault it is!

Side-note: I must mention that I got to “hang” with Kirk Franklin once. It was at a function where he was performing. At one point, he came off the stage and into the crowd during one of his very popular and hip worship songs. Kirk came to my table, had me stand, and I was able to try out my dance moves with him. He chose not to use me as part of his Kirk Franklin and the Family team. I was not completely shocked.

Anyway, Kirk has, like many of the stars, a heart for certain people and causes. He wanted to use the Dove Awards as an advocate against injustice. Go back a couple of years. In the 2016 Dove Awards, he called out the "civil unrest" highlighted by the killings of Philando Castile and Walter Scott by white police officers. He also called out the killings of five Dallas police officers by Micah Xavier Johnson, who was black.

When his acceptance speech from that year aired on television, his civil unrest comments were edited out. Kirk was NOT a happy man. This year, Franklin took to Instagram so he could explain his decision to stop attending the Dove Awards, which he describes as "the Christian Grammys.” Call it a boycott.

Okay, I get it. But I don’t like it. Mega stars in any field already have a platform they can use to promote their causes and vent their frustrations. Americans are not watching awards shows for lectures on social causes. Period.

Would I still dance with Kirk Franklin? Of course. He’s a brother. He just may consider some of my moves, or views, a turnoff.

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Skin in the Game

The Huffington Post recently took on the often delicate subject of what is appropriate dress in the workplace. The victim of their close-up examination turned out to be one of the largest professional services firms on the planet: Ernst and Young (EY). It wasn’t pretty.

The stage can be set easily by reading the first two paragraphs. I’ll share them:

“When women speak, they shouldn’t be shrill. Clothing must flatter, but short skirts are a no-no. After all, ‘sexuality scrambles the mind.’ Women should look healthy and fit, with a ‘good haircut’ and ‘manicured nails.’”

These were just a few pieces of advice that around 30 female executives at Ernst & Young received at a training held in the accounting giant’s gleaming new office in Hoboken, New Jersey, in June 2018.”

The special training was part of a day-and-a-half seminar. At the time the material was presented, America was in the throes of the #Me Too movement.

The training had a name: Power-Presence-Purpose and included a 55-page workbook. Many takeaways from the seminar left attendees wondering what century they were now living in. Thus, it earned the scrutiny of the somewhat, but not always, reliable Huffington Post.

The article exceeds 3,000 words. Worth reading if you like mini novels. Especially ones that can educate you on what not to put forth or how women should act around men in the workplace.

Here’s a bit from page 36 of the presentation. It advised corporate women to be “polished,” have a “good haircut, manicured nails, (and) well-cut attire that complements your body type.” Women were also told that the most important thing they can do is to “signal fitness and wellness.”

The envelope was then pushed with this instruction, “Don’t flaunt your body―sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).” Giving more clarification to this was a former EY employee named Jane who attended the training. She remembers being given this important tip: to keep men focused on the substance of your presentation, “Don’t show skin.” Because, as Jane recalls, men are less likely to focus “because of sex.” This caused Jane to “feel like a piece of meat.”

There was also a “Masculine/Feminine Score Sheet” to complete. It purportedly encouraged women employees to model the more feminine traits listed. Not doing so would put your credibility in jeopardy with both men and women.

Enough already. You get the point. Bottom line, if you’re living in the real world today of either business or not-for-profits, be very careful what advice you are doling out on living out sexuality.

This topic is also a hot button in the church. A pastor I often interviewed on my previous talk show, Karl Vaters, wrote a piece about “What is Appropriate to Wear in Church?” His very grace-filled approach left a lot of room for “whatever you want”—with a few caveats.

He listed three guidelines, saying, “As believers, we should not dress immodestly, pridefully, or rebelliously.” As for that immodesty point, he writes, “Anything that emphasizes our sexuality is inappropriate for anyone but our spouse. And this goes for men as well as women.”

His challenge on pride states, “It’s amazing how some people get upset about seeing a t-shirt or baseball cap in church, but they have no problem with outrageously expensive suits or dresses, tons of makeup, expensive haircuts, gold watches and fancy jewelry on the preacher.”

I get it. He’s right.

The rebellion issue shows up mostly with teens, but the point is well made. As is Vaters' conclusion. His bottom line, if you will, is that how we dress should help a worshipper “think more about Jesus and less about yourself–-and what will help others do the same. In church. At home. At work. Anywhere.”

Good job, Karl.

And BTW, wise people don’t put much “skin” in the game.

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Yankee Pride...

The New York Yankees are finished. At least for this year. Good.

Over the years, I’ve refined my distaste for the Yankees. I think it goes beyond that. Perhaps I disdain the attitude that seems to emerge from a fair share of folk from New York City.

I must confess that some of this has to do with my faithful fan status for the Minnesota Twins. As a young boy, I had the privilege of watching some of the Yankee greats from the 60s come to play the Twins. I saw Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and the true Christian gentleman, Bobby Richardson. The problem then was the same problem as now. Those darn Yankees kept beating up on my Twins. And, yes, they did it again in the first round of the American League (AL) playoffs this year!

In my early 20s, my short military career took me to Iceland where I was the sports director for American Forces Radio and Television. Part of my job was to select the one or two games each day during baseball season that we would air on our radio station in Keflavik. Who were my problem children? Those darn Yankee fans. They would call and leave messages bugging me to put the Yankees on every day—as if no other team mattered. To them, no other team probably did.

The ugly Yankee fan showed up big time in the recent AL Championship series against Houston. The Astros right field is Josh Reddick. Having been to Darn Yankee Stadium before, he was psyching himself up for the fan abuse he expected. He’s always handled the nasty verbal insults well. But last Tuesday night, fans were throwing objects at him in between innings. Reddick was infuriated.

Objects like what? Says Reddick “I think I saw seven or eight water bottles out in the outfield, and two souvenir baseballs thrown from center field to left…I don’t think a lot of people realize how scary that can really be. You throw a baseball hard enough, hit somebody in the head when we’re not looking, it can do some damage to you as a player.”

What was Reddick’s offense? He had hit a home run in the second inning. That earned the catcalling Darn Yankee fans chanting “You suck” for virtually the whole game. Josh added, “There’s a lot of expletives in there, but stuff I can’t repeat.’’ And Reddick says this has always been the case during his 12 year career when visiting Yankee stadium. Fans even Googled his family information to insult them!

Okay, to give some balance, there are millions of people in the state of New York who would never act so childishly and rudely. My son graduated college from a fine New York school in Rochester. His wonderful wife and family are sweet people from western New York. But those Yankee fans are another breed.

I think those diehards can’t stand losing. The thought of supporting an inferior ball club is crushing. So they lash out. It hurts their pride.

Is there such a thing as “healthy pride?” Counselor Lynn Namka writes, “Feeling proud of your children who have done well in an activity and are good, decent human beings is normal healthy pride. Healthy pride supports people and their growth. It is a reward for expending effort and a job well done.”

In New York City, we saw a powerful example of healthy pride after the destruction of the twin towers on 9-11. The encouragement and support for the emergency responders was overwhelming. Plus the inner strength to rebuild.

And make no mistake. Churches and pastors can be destroyed by the wrong kind of pride as well. Success in ministry can and has led to dangerous downfalls.

We should not be surprised. King Solomon wrote, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, ESV)

So my baseball soul now rests for another year. Except for those Yankee nightmares.

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

Freedom and Faith

Using a business platform to be an advocate for good seems a most noble thing. It gets complicated when the advocacy is highly controversial. Even divisive. Even wrong.

The most casual observers of the news have witnessed what is happening in Hong Kong. The Chinese government is not particularly fond of pro-democracy reforms. Well, they are a Communist country after all.

Many who reside in Hong Kong likely remember the “good old days.” That was when the British ruled over that portion of China. That governance began in 1841 and lasted until 1941. After a brief occupation by Japan, Hong Kong returned to British rule until 1997.

I’ve visited the colony a few times in the 1990s. It was as seemingly capitalistic a place as you could get. And an amazing amount of wealth resided there. Along with greater freedoms. Beginning in the 1950s, the Chinese government frequently made threats towards any British attempts to advocate for democratic changes. But it seems the hunger for freedom among residents in Hong Kong persists.

In June of this year, protests began over plans that would have permitted extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. Those protests have grown. Citizens are pushing for wider democratic reforms. And the mainland doesn’t like it.

So how does America interact on this issue? Two stories this week give us some insight. Wired Magazine reports this headline, “Hong Kong Is the Latest Tripwire for Tech Firms in China.” The subtitle explains, “Blizzard, Apple, and Google remove signs of support for pro-democracy protesters, in apparent concessions to the politics underlying the Chinese market.”

The story details how over the last ten years, a growing relationship has developed between high-tech products interested in US sports in China. Businesses in our country have been blessed by the wealth of many of these Asian consumers. But it’s bigger than that. Several of our high tech firms are dependent on factories and supply chains in China.

Comments cited in the Wired article include those of Chris Meserole. Chris is a foreign policy fellow and technology expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He notes, “I don’t think the public is aware of just how fully intertwined our economies are.” I’m sure he’s right, but who among us has not joked about how many things Americans own that are made in China.

One example of the capitulation of American business on this issue involves an app. This particular app aided protestors in tracking police movements. The same police who attempt to quell the protests sometimes using live ammunition. Apple pulled the app—claiming it was used to ambush law enforcement. This followed a bitterly critical article of Apple by a state run Chinese newspaper.

Then there’s the NBA. This is the place where players on a championship team refuse to accept an invitation to the White House because of politics. They understand a protest. But wait…also reported this week was a story about Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morley. He tweeted support for the Hong Kong freedom protestors! Then…he suddenly deleted his tweet. His NBA overseers said it was "regrettable" that the tweet was found to be offensive to the Chinese, and the Rockets said Morey's views did not represent those of the team. Sissies.

It’s well known that the Chinese government persecutes Christians. They shut down churches and forbid teaching of the faith to children. It’s the Communist way.

Jesus of Nazareth said to expect this. Freedom and faith go hand-in-hand.

In this country, we can protest and make our voice known without fear. Unless, of course, you decide to wish a college student a Happy Columbus Day. Now you’re asking for real trouble!

I think mean-spirited politics is becoming indigenous to our people.

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

Monday, October 7, 2019

Of Wolves and Camels

(This blog of mine was originally published in January of 2014. I re-share today as I’m on vacation.)

I did not see the film The Wolf of Wall Street. Probably never will. I do admit to being fascinated by the intensity of the lifestyle of traders and financial players.

The film featured Leonardo DiCaprio playing the role of one bad and out-of-control banker, Jordan Belfort. It’s supposedly a true story, replete with the trappings that come with incredible wealth. We get a picture of the very ugly side of Belfort and his eventual fall involving crime and corruption. The feds took him down.

Early in my time in Chicago, a friend arranged a lunch for me with a trader after he gave us a tour of the Chicago Board of Trade. It was surprising how in that array of activity someone could focus and maintain sanity. Apparently the burn or burnout rate comes at a fairly young age.

Two recent New York Times stories gave me reasons to think about the passions and lessons learned from financial power brokers. Cliff Oxford wrote the article, “Entrepreneurial Lessons from the Wolf of Wall Street.” Quoting, “Two of them were: You can’t build a culture in a comfort zone, and there is a dark side in the drive to be first.” He added that the film shows “how you can take ordinary people and make them maniacs for the mission.” (Link below)

The second article gave quite a bit more depth to another wolf who has left the pack. It’s powerful. It’s titled “For the Love of Money” and is written by Sam Polk. (Link below)

Polk had an upbringing in a middle class home with a salesman father who dreamed of being rich. Sam did more than dream. After his time at Columbia University, which included significant drug use and suspension, he got himself a trading floor job. It started his rather meteoric rise to wealth. He next went to Bank of America and, four years later, he was offered a Citibank job at $1.75 million per year. Perks galore.

But his self-written story is about how there was never enough. He came to learn about envy. Greed. Power. The kinds of things that take a man down. Like Jordan Belfort.

But Sam Polk had an epiphany. And it came from his superior’s reaction to hedge fund regulations being implemented. As he challenged the assumption that these regulations were not necessarily bad, the responses he received showed almost unbelievable self interest. Almost.

Polk’s epiphany led him to serious self examination. And he acted on the dark sides of his life. He left the company. He experienced withdrawal symptoms of greed. His world today is vastly different as his testimony tells.

Sam Polk does not make a clear connection to any specific spiritual driving force. But reading his story, it reminded me of Jesus telling His audience that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Folks in Jesus’ time believed wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. How possibly could wealth be a barrier to God? We know better.

Here’s our challenge. Forget the amount of wealth involved. Our souls need to be constantly on guard against the destructive forces of envy, greed, the love of power, and pride. There are a few more as well, categorized over the years as “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Google that if you need help identifying them.

To avoid becoming a big bad wolf, discipline yourself to fight those sins as a camel would fight to get through the eye of a needle.

You’ll likely need a lot of get over the hump.

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

Monday, September 30, 2019

Nothing to See Here

Exactly what is a “wacko?” I looked it up. Merriam Webster explained it’s a person who is wacky. Yeah. And what exactly defines that? How about this: absurdly or amusingly eccentric or irrational. It could even mean…crazy.

We’re hesitant to make references like this to people. I mean, would Jesus refer to someone as “wacky”? There is a Yiddish term that fits the bill: meshuga—an adjective which means crazy or senseless.

In the world today, there may be more meshuga type people than we realize. Recent news headlines tend to bear this out. You don’t have to look far.

Take this gem. Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family has alerted us to the latest addition to the Mattel doll collection. It’s called the Creatable World doll.

As reported in Baptist Press, “Mattel released its Creatable World line of dolls on Sept. 25th, describing the six dolls in the series as gender-neutral and coupled with short and long wigs and male, female and gender-neutral attire. At play, children can dress the dolls as male, female or some combination of both, according to Mattel. The dolls debuted at $29.99 and are intended to allow ‘all kids to express themselves freely,’ Mattel said in a press release.”

Glenn Stanton posits, "These are dolls created by adults for adults to make them feel good about their radical gender theories…parents are not clamoring for this. Kids are not clamoring for this.” Duh.

Or how about this meshuga idea from a so-called “Christian” school. Columnist Michael Brown exposed the insanity at Union Theological Seminary on September 17th. It was in a tweet that read, “Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt, and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.”

Seeking to find any possible wisdom in such an act, Brown inquires “What do you confess to the plants in your life?” Of course there’s an answer. And it came in another tweet: “Here was my confession. ‘I confess that even as I’ve waxed poetic and theological about how indispensable you are, I’ve privileged my own comfort and convenience over your wellbeing.’”

However well meaning wackiness might be, it still is, well…wacky. And I’m forced to conclude that supposedly reasonably bright seminarians who’ve made it this far in life with a brain are, in part at least, wacky. And the same goes for those Mattel designers!

There is also borderline wackiness. Although some may believe that this line was crossed with the recent Storm Area 51 gathering. Crowd estimates were around 10,000 who gathered near the towns of Rachel, Alamo, and Hiko, Nevada, on September 20th. One guy was arrested for public indecency. A couple of million people had logged on to the website for this charade.

There were a number in the crowd who were dressed up in tin hats and full alien-like costumes. I’m sure the REAL extra terrestrials inside Area 51 were amused. Or NOT!

Perhaps the safest way to address the meshuga behavior of these wayward souls is to say their behavior is wacky. True wackos are dangerous. These types I mentioned are just painfully annoying.

The book of Proverbs does not hesitate to refer to “fools.” In Chapter 26 we’re advised, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” (Proverbs 26:4, NIV)

To all this wackiness I say, “Move along. Nothing to see here.”

At least nothing worth your time.

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