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Monday, November 29, 2021

Jesus & Walmart

I crossed paths with my neighbor on Friday and was greeted with, “Happy-Day-After-Thanksgiving!” I retorted, “Or as it’s more commonly known, Black Friday!” And then I added, “But in reality, many people go deeply into the RED on Black Friday.”

The shopper’s bonanza that traditionally follows eating too much and gorging on about ten hours of football has changed. We now know businesses start their "Black Friday" sales early. I think it might now be March.

Anyone can readily tell that much of the purchasing is for self—not others. I mean, how many people are giving 80" televisions out over the holidays? I visited a Bath and Body Works (B&BW) store on Saturday and saw people scarfing up more wallflower fragrance refills than 2022 has weeks! Again, who surprises dear Aunt Doris on Christmas with a fragrance refill? (Although it might help that musty smell in her closet.)

Actually, I felt a bit guilty going to B&BW on Saturday. Especially after a morning read of an article titled, “What We Profess on Sunday Ought to Apply to Black Friday.” I don’t think this writer and I are on the same page. One example was her comment, “This free-market economy and the consumerism it has nurtured are not a reflection of all that we hold sacred. They are not a reflection of God’s economy.”

To challenge our habits of indulging our children’s wishes by cleaning out the Walmart aisles, she asks “What would happen if we thought about every dollar we spend this season as an expression of our faith?”

So who is this angel watching over our shoulder? Her name is The Rev. Rosa Lee Harden. Rosa is the executive producer of Faith+Finance. She was also a co-founder of SOCAP, the largest conference on investing for social good. We might consider her a “money critic.”

Her heart is perhaps best expressed when she ponders questions as to how the more spiritually-centered person should think. “We would spend differently. Would we spend our money in ways that help create a more just local economy, in ways that begin to address the racial wealth disparity and the needs of our neighbors? From what I understand of Scripture, that seems like a more fitting way to celebrate the birth of Christ.”

Such socially minded and somewhat anti-too-capitalistic shoppers will be pleased to know that Saturday was designated as “Small Business” Saturday. This was likely thought up by the myriad of merchants who knew they couldn’t compete with the outrageous activity on Black Friday. Their hope during Christmas was that you still had money left! Or credit.

Then, of course, there’s Cyber Monday. Online retailers offer a courtesy gesture to the weekend shoppers by giving us a break on Sunday. But then…wake up and smell the coffee, friend. AND, turn on your computer for even MORE great deals!!

Speaking of Sunday, so far I haven’t seen any retailers suggesting this: “Why not go to church on Sunday and write a big, fat check to support your pastor??” You’ll be pleased to know it’s not too late for this. And your pastor would certainly appreciate it.

Are we done doling out dollars yet?? Nope. There’s Giving Tuesday!! By this point, after all that earlier spending, you’ve looked inward and found your soul feeling a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge. And yet, there is the sweet Tiny Tim asking for a Christmas blessing. C’mon, man…'tis the season!

Speaking of the season, yesterday began Advent on the Church calendar. These are days of preparation to welcome the coming Christ. To help our children appreciate this time, there are even chocolate Advent calendars varying in quality and price. We picked up the ones at our local Aldi.

They also have the “adult”version. Online I saw you could buy “NIPYATA!® BOOZY ADVENT CALENDAR: 12 SHOTS OF CHRISTMAS®!” Hmm. What’s wrong with this picture?

Perhaps the best reality about this “holiday season” is to remind ourselves of two important truths: 1) we don’t really know when Jesus was born and 2) He never requested we celebrate His birth. Or get hyped up on sales and gimmicks for giving.

Frankly, I really don’t think it bothers Jesus if you shop at Walmart. (Oooh…I wonder if that 80” television can be returned?)

Monday, November 22, 2021

Presidential Falls and Pitfalls

Today marks the 58th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I not only remember where I was when the news reported the event (7th grade music class), I recall exactly where I was at the moment 25 years later where the crime unfolded.

We had just wrapped up worship time at First Baptist Church Dallas. It was just a few minutes past noon when we rounded the same corner onto Elm Street heading to Dealey Plaza. As always, there were people gathered in the area onto which the Texas Book Depository had its overlook.

I drove down the middle lane—the same as the Kennedy motorcade did on the fateful 1963 day. Even more ironic, we were owners of an older, used, formal limousine, which I was driving. (See picture) It was all too surreal.

In the years since that tragedy, we have learned that John Kennedy had weaknesses. Like all of us. The Camelot king liked women and did not set proper boundaries. despite having a beautiful wife.

He also had enemies. In fact, some thought the only reason he picked LBJ to be his Vice President was to move him out of a powerful Senate position. Apparently, Kennedy had much bigger enemies. At least one who knew how to shoot a 6.5×52mm Carcano Model 38 infantry carbine rapidly and accurately. That is, if we all believe it was Lee Harvey Oswald.

Many believe Kennedy was very popular. At certain points, yes, but political mistakes and misfortune cost him. The Bay of Pigs fiasco gave him a short ratings bound upward. However, by September of 1963 Kennedy’s approval rating had dropped to the mid-50s. These fall numbers became the lowest of his presidency.

Compare that to the recent numbers of our current president, Joe Biden. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll published on November 8th revealed that 46% of those surveyed believed President Biden has done a worse job than they expected.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans, 64%, say don't want Biden to run for a second term in 2024—including 28% of Democrats. And Vice President Kamala Harris' approval rating is 28%—even worse than President Biden’s.

Perhaps the greatest concern of Americans can be explained by the former White House doctor during President Obama’s term. That would be a current Texas Congressman, Ronny Jackson. He’s been vocal in his concerns over Biden’s mental competency.

When Jackson appeared on a podcast with Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana, he shared his belief that President Joe Biden is not fit to serve as commander in chief. This was not the first time he said this. And Jackson stated emphatically, “I know what that job entails, both physically and mentally, and how demanding it is. And I can tell you right now, I’m 100 percent sure that Joe Biden is incapable of doing that job.”

Perhaps we should also be concerned with the response from the former President. After Barack Obama heard what Jackson said, the Congressman received a “scathing” email from the former president. Jackson claims Obama said the comments about Biden’s cognitive health were a “betrayal of the trust that he and his administration had put in me.”

Must we prop up people who have significant competence issues? We must—if politics rules our ethics. Loyalty must only go so far.

The trouble is, others see the Biden problem as well. One YouTube video offers to teach people how to speak “Bidenese”—a form of gibberish pulled from his speeches. A Sky News Australia host, Rita Panahi, jokingly dubbed one of her segments “What in God’s name is Joe Biden trying to say?”

It’s not wrong to be critical of a president—or any leader—unless that criticism is patently offensive. Such is the case with the “Let’s Go Brandon” marketing items that really are sending President Biden a foul-mouthed message. Bad form.

No matter how good the leader is—even if he or she is perfect—there are critics. Even haters. Look at Jesus of Nazareth. The “whole world” was beginning to follow Him. A great teacher. A healer. A forgiver of true “sinners.” And look what they did to Him!

A truly good and wise leader needs to recognize when to give it up. And that’s before he or she becomes a national laughing-stock. One does that out of the greater good and love for their country.

As it says in Proverbs, “A nation will fall if it has no guidance. Many advisers mean security.” Proverbs 11:14 (GNT)

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

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest: 

Monday, November 15, 2021

A Crushing Reality

It must have been a horrific experience. Some 50,000 people jammed together for a concert in Houston. Eight never made it out.

By now, I trust you have read the accounts of the deadly Travis Scott event called Astroworld held just over a weekend ago. It seemed a bit more real to us in Chicagoland since two of the victims were from Illinois. One of them graduated high school just a few miles from my home. Perhaps I passed him sometime at a store. Or sat in the same movie theater.

What’s surprising is perhaps that we are surprised at the outcome. In a Washington Post article titled, “Astroworld concertgoers struggle to make sense of what happened,” we learn how Travis Scott events attract a certain risk-oriented concert-goer. Note this:

“Hathim Khan and his friends had been looking forward to Travis Scott and his Astroworld Festival for more than two years.They wanted to experience the raucous atmosphere and “raging” mosh pits that Scott’s shows were famous for…’I wanted to lose my voice,’ said Khan, 21." He had flown to Houston with friends from Orlando for Scott’s concert.

Said a 22-year-old friend, Jesse Marcano, “I was ready to break a leg.” And Khan replied, “If I broke a leg, it was going to be a good thing.” Chiming in was Liselle Sanchez, 21. “Yeah, we would have made Travis proud.”

In a later story from WaPo, we read the testimony of Cynthia Lira. This 20-year-old woman was knocked to the ground during the concert and thought she would die. In the crush of people, under “a strata of bodies, everything sounded muffled to Cynthia—as though she were in an underground tunnel. The only color she saw was darkness.”

She would later compare this experience to being in a “sinkhole.” Several seconds before, she heard Travis Scott tell the crowd to “move side-to-side.” She instantly knew what was next: a massive wave would topple her. Sound like fun? Sounds like terror.

Instead, Cynthia claims a calm realization came over her—the reality that as a 20-tear-old, she could possibly die right there, crushed at a concert in Houston. Cynthia lost consciousness, and everything went black. By God’s grace, she has lived to fight another day.

Another boy who died was a mere 14. He also was a fan of rapper Travis Scott.

Okay, I admit. I don’t get it. I’ve never really been much of a concert goer. My first was a Peter, Paul, and Mary event when I was in 8th grade. That was at McCormick Place in Chicago. As you might expect, the crowd was civil. The trio faced a much bigger and boisterous crowd at the Peace March in Washington, DC, in 1971.

I would later attend an Ike & Tina Turner Revue concert in Seattle in 1970. Once the lights went dark in the auditorium, a gush of folks rushed forward for better seats. If anyone died at that event it’s because they ingested something they shouldn’t have.

Crowds tend to scare me. Because I know people. If self-interest in any form is at stake, people act out of impulse.

I guess I’m more perturbed about the fascination and dedication to “artists” like Travis Scott. I’m sad that the 14-year-old who died – and the many others in his age group – find the lyrics of Scott appealing. Beauty is not to be found in this rapper’s songs.

Most churches don’t have to worry about big crowds. Except for hyped special events. And, there too, the crowds can get ugly.

Jesus of Nazareth faced crowds everywhere in His day. I’m sure there were instances of unruly behavior. Hero worship does that to us.

On one occasion, Jesus had an enormous crowd. At least 5000 men plus women and children. It’s recorded, “Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” Matthew 14:19 (ESV)

That’s Jesus. Giving us food for the body. And leaving our souls satisfied.

Travis Scott left a crowd dazed. And confused. A crushing reality that also left eight dead in its wake.

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

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest:

Monday, November 8, 2021

Vetting Our Support

I would imagine this will be a more challenging upcoming Veterans Day for many families. There was something blatantly uncomfortable about the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. For 25 American families, the return home came in the form of a casket.

For many who served in this southern Asia land, it may have felt like defeat. Like America turned its tail and ran. Rebekah Sanderlin, the wife of a U.S. Army vet said, "There are a lot of veterans who are grappling with: ‘Was it worth it? Were all of our sacrifices wasted?’" Her husband was deployed to Afghanistan up to seven times!

The costs of trying to salvage peace in that country were high. More than 2,300 Americans were killed and 20,000 wounded in the 20-year war. It’s estimated the U.S. spent around $2.26 trillion in the Afghani war for freedom. Who can even count that high?

A Pew Research survey was conducted August 23-29 – before all American troops had left Afghanistan. At that time, apparently 52% of military veterans said the U.S. decision to withdraw troops from the country was the right one. Some 47% disagreed.

I’m old enough to remember Vietnam. In fact, I was drafted during that conflict. But I chose to enlist—and avoided the service branches sending ground troops to Vietnam. The Army and Marines who served saw the most action and the most fatalities.

More than 58,000 American service members died in Vietnam. More than 150,000 were wounded. Many men who served in Vietnam and survived witnessed unspeakable horrors.

Returning home had its own trauma. The website cites the example of Steven A. Wowwk, an infantryman in the Army’s First Cavalry Division. He was sent to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, in early January 1969. By June, Wowwk had to receive advanced care.

While en route to the hospital by bus and strapped to a gurney, Wowwk and other wounded servicemen gazed out the window.They could see civilians stop to watch the small convoy of hospital-bound vehicles. Said Wowwk “I remember feeling like, what could I do to acknowledge them, and I just gave the peace signal.” He was given the middle finger in return.

Wowwk and his returning mates had invectives hurled their way. Naval officer Ford Cole remembers being spit on. Returning Vietnam vets were not met with celebratory fanfare, and few benefits, unlike an earlier generation.

Times have changed. A different American spirit emerged after the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Then, we witnessed flag-waving, yellow-ribbon cultural mobilization, and the grand celebrations. Vietnam vets were stunned. There were actually people cheering the return of soldiers.

Post 9/11, we’ve witnessed other patriotic gestures. Most notably, people saying, “Thank you for your service” to ALL who have served. American flags and pins are more noticeable.

The theme for Veterans Day 2021 is: “Honoring All Who Served.” All veterans make a sacrifice to serve their country, whether physically, emotionally, or by being away from their loved ones and missing important life moments. We can honor our military personnel by showing appreciation for their service and praying for their safety and for their families.

Mr. Wowwk is now 100 percent disabled from his Vietnam wounds. He appreciates the words of thanks he gets. But he also adds, “Deeds need to be done in addition to words.”

Sounds almost scriptural. James 2:14 reads, “Another person might say, 'You have faith, but I do good things.' Show me your faith apart from the good things you do. I will show you my faith by the good things I do.” (GWT)

Thankfully, many benefits for vets have been added since the days of Vietnam. Once again we see in this, actions do speak louder than words.

Wowwk asks, “What are you doing in addition to saying ‘thank you’?”

He asks a good question. Worth reflecting on this upcoming Veterans Day.

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

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest:

Monday, November 1, 2021

Coming Up Short

It was our basic monthly employee lunch last Friday. A trip to Culver’s. And I had a free birthday sundae coming. Oh boy.

Surprise! Three orange cones blocked the entrance. What? Another maintenance problem? (They closed the dining room in the summer when the air conditioning failed.) Nope. Blame it on another worker shortage.

Frankly, it’s getting kind of ridiculous. Even restaurants that are open are cautioning patrons about expectations of good (or at least fast) service. Fewer workers means longer waits for water, beverages, food, and even your bill.

Did I say expectations? Micheline Maynard wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post recently telling us all to “get real.” Her words, “Across the country, Americans’ expectations of speedy service and easy access to consumer products have been crushed like a Styrofoam container in a trash compactor. Time for some new, more realistic expectations.”

Micheline takes us back in time to earlier examples when we found ourselves wanting. In the 1920s, housing was in short supply. It’s odd that Detroit was one of those cities since it wasn’t too many years ago that you could buy a house in a certain Detroit neighborhood for around $1.

The second World War sucked our economy dry of a lot of our basic materials including shoes, metal, paper, and rubber. The only practical solution was to establish a rationing system. That’s exactly what the federal government did. Tires were the first of products to be rationed in 1942. Gasoline was rationed in May of that year.

I have lived through a gasoline shortage. It’s recorded that the first of the 1970s gas panics began in October 1973. That’s when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised crude oil prices by 70 percent. And boy did we pay!!

A few months later—in 1974, I was driving from Indianapolis to Minnesota after broadcast school ended. It was a Sunday morning. I had half a tank of gas. No problem. Plenty of stops along I-65. Which there were—only every gas station was closed or had signs saying, “No gas.”

Finally, exiting in the city of Chicago in a place I likely should NOT have been seen (and might have never been again) I found an open gas station with a line a half a block long. We waited. I filled. I vanished faster than one of my neighbors being invited to church with me. Yeah…I remember those days.

But this is different. We actually HAVE plenty of able-bodied workers. Yes, the pandemic has contributed to part of the problem. So did that absurd unemployment benefit policy by the fed. But beyond this, we are living in a time some experts are calling the Great Resignation.

That term was apparently brought to our attention by an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University named Anthony Klotz. He has identified four main causes for the many work departures: 1) a backlog of workers who wanted to resign before the pandemic but held on a bit longer; 2) burnout, particularly among frontline workers in health care, food service, and retail; 3)“pandemic epiphanies” in which people experienced major shifts in identity and purpose that led them to pursue new careers and start their own businesses; and 4) an aversion to returning to offices after a year or more of working remotely.

I honestly believe a day of reckoning will come. Mass frustration in a free economy forces creative solutions. We may not like them. And many may pay the price for refusing to work.

Proverbs 20:4 states, “If you are too lazy to plow, don't expect a harvest.” (CEV)

Yesterday was Halloween. Perhaps our biggest scare this year is that we may not get all we want when we want.

But here’s a life lesson: we never do.

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

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest: