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Monday, February 28, 2022

Bond…Spiritual Bond

In my previous blog, I shared the tips on building friendships from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. It’s titled, “How to Find and Keep Friends: A Guide for Middle Age.” The author is Julie Jargon. She offered a list of suggestions to help people establish strong friendships. They were particularly targeted at women. (See my previous blog for the list.)

I’ve got some convictions along this line as well. Mine are born out of organizing and facilitating “friendship” groups with men in several cities where I’ve lived. Depending on the translation used, Proverbs 18:24 tells us “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (NIV)

We see clear examples of this in the Bible. Perhaps the most well known is that of David and Jonathan, the son of King Saul. In 1 Samuel 18:3 we’re told, “Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” 

Later, in what some have used for misinterpreting the relationship of the two men, these were David’s words upon learning of the death of Jonathan: “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.” 2 Samuel 1:26 (ESV)

To make things clear, we should first know that Jonathan was married to a woman. And King David had NO lack of “love for women." He had MANY wives and many “concubines.” Additionally, he was so attracted to a particular woman (Bathsheba) that he acted sinfully and had her husband killed on the battlefield. This was after King David committed adultery with her and she became pregnant.

We should also note that the Hebrew word for “love” used in the 2 Samuel passage is not the typical word used for sexual activity. Commentators explain that its usage has clear political and diplomatic connotations. The friendship of the two men was a covenantal bond. As one of those commentators has written, “True friendship, according to the Bible, involves loyalty, sacrifice, compromise, and yes, emotional attachment.” Amen.

How can men build such friendships today? Here is my own “how to” list, for starters, for developing one friend or a small group.

  1. Learn to get comfortable with the word “intimacy.” In its raw form this simply means to know and be known. 
  2. Initiate an invitation. This could start over coffee or lunch with someone where you sense there could be a good connection.
  3. When you meet that first time, discuss the challenge of building friendships in our day with other men. Cautiously admit your own desires to have one or a few close friends. (Don’t let the word “close” become a roadblock.)
  4. Suggest meeting once a week for four weeks to see if this works for both of you. (Or those in your group.) It avoids long term commitment.
  5. On your next get together, learn about your mutual interests and ways you enjoy having fun. Discuss family. Work. Travel. More surface conversation. Maybe have an idea of what to discuss next time.
  6. The next visit should go deeper into work and family life, learning how you both found spouses (if married) and how you got into your line of work. Maybe the challenges going on in your life right now.
  7. High points (victories) and low points (pain) of life might come next. This is now key: Transparency is what facilitates the relationship. And here’s a big test: Does your transparency raise eyebrows with your friend? If so, be wary that the other person may not be an ideal candidate for a “close friend.”
  8. Continue to meet through the fourth week and then determine if the parties wish to continue. If you are trying to set up a small group (as I did), one or more may opt out. That’s fine. Later in the journey, others may come into the group. Obviously, if it’s just two of you meeting this defines whether you have the right person.

I have greatly enjoyed the friendships I’ve made in my small groups. Many are lasting and trustworthy. Some of us are closer than others. But we found a “bond” to build upon. It is, if you will, a spiritual bond.

May you be blessed with the same.

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

Monday, February 21, 2022

Need Friends?

I’ve seen them in many places and you have likely as well. It’s the t-shirt carrying the classic Friends television show logo. Not sure why it’s popular. Is it because the wearers love the old program? Or…are they simply advocates for friendship?

I’ve never seen a single episode of Friends. Maybe a highlight or two. The sitcom aired for ten seasons on NBC, ending on May 6, 2004. For the uninformed (like me) the show revolved around six friends in their 20s and 30s who lived in New York City. Some fairly well known talent made up the cast. I shall digress no further.

Instead, I would simply say I am an advocate for having “friends.” Sounds trite, doesn’t it? That’s because surface level friends abound. Really good, lasting, gold standard friendships are much more rare. They take time, energy, and effort to develop and sustain.

I know a bit about this. I have one childhood friend remaining. One. Not a single high school friend remains in close contact. (Yes, a few Facebook friends from that era.) I spent four years in the military. Many “friends.” Only a handful are on my “active friends” list.

In fairness, my family did move around a fair amount. We lived in several different states. Ironically, I still have a number of true friends in each of those states: California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and here in Illinois.

I spent more than 18 years in broadcasting in Chicago at two different radio stations. My lasting friendships from all those days working together are minimal. Those relationships seemed real at the time.

I’ve now been at our church in both a leadership and staff position since 2005. Truth be told, I have several “friends” – all surface level. From my previous time at another church in five years, I still connect with three “good friends.”

My closest long-standing friendships were developed in a small group I initiated in Pittsburgh. Perhaps all told we had 15 men participating at one time or another. I’ve been gone from that group for more than twenty years. And we still gather every year or two in Myrtle Beach with spouses, and fan the flames of friendship established in weekly meetings between 1991-1999. It’s a rich thing to behold.

I have one “outlier” friend nearby–John Blumberg. Author. Blogger. Business leader. Doesn’t fit in any category except...good friend. We meet 5 to 6 times a year to tell stories, laugh, compare lives, and press into life in challenging ways.

I decided to write about this subject after seeing a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “How to Find and Keep Friends: A Guide for Middle Age.” What does this tell you? It is explained best by the opening line written by the author, Julie Jargon (real name). She writes,“Loneliness is a reality for many of us, now more than ever.” Now there’s a sad commentary!

Her previous column on the subject of loneliness was addressing moms feeling this way in middle age. Her email “box” overflowed with responses. People wanted solutions. And she offered them.

Her eight recommendations come down to this:

For all the strategies, you still have to take initiative—and be vulnerable.

  • Just ask 
  • Be social, minus the media
  • Create a routine
  • Try a friendship matchmaking site
  • Rethink the hangout
  • Book time 
  • Do the little things 
  • Make the first move

Obviously, if these pointers of hers have struck a chord with you, then read her article in the WSJ. (link below)

Her first and 8th points are similar and quite valid. My Pittsburgh group “happened” because I personally took a chance and met with each “prospect” and laid out the plan for our group. A friendship group. I assured meaningful conversation.

It was the same approach I used in starting similar groups in Roseville, California, and Dallas, Texas. Men’s friendship groups. The kind where men talk openly about their lives. Often, deep stuff. Trust me – committing to that kind of involvement is work for many guys.

From these experiences I’ve created my OWN list of friend-building tips. I’ll share those next week. They might be just what you need these days.

Remember this: “Some friends don't help, but a true friend is closer than your own family.” Proverbs 18:24 (CEV)

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, February 14, 2022

Deep and Wide

It’s truly sad that we set aside a day to focus on a word that is oft misrepresented and misunderstood. It’s not even easy to define. Some toss it around cheaply. Others rarely, if ever, say it. Love. The secret potion behind Valentine’s Day.

For those who grew up in a home without love, or distanced from any such home, you can see why the word is problematic. In its most basic form, a child should feel fully accepted, encouraged, supported, nurtured, and valued. That should be “normal” home life. The kind that produces healthy adults. A “loving” home.

It often isn’t. And to whatever degree those aspects of family love are missing, a search will be on to find others who offer it. Dark roads may ensue.

Acting out for attention in various ways gets you noticed. Even as a small child. Finding support in friends who are not really friends can eventually lead to gangs or peers who lack judgment. Leaning on approval from teachers, “friends,” or older students and adults can make you vulnerable to their wishes for your life. Another dark path.

Eventually, the question deepens: why can’t people accept me for being…me? Or maybe said this way, “Why am I so hard to love?”

Valentine’s Day pushes the envelope on our inner search. Romance seems the secret behind true love. Magazines, Instagram, and media advertising show happy couples who have found their mate. Some who will even say, “You complete me.” How perfect. How unreal.

This is readily proven by the amount of unfaithfulness and breakups in our society. How can this be? Couples march down the aisle and make promises to love and cherish till death parts them. Or marital infidelity. Or the reality that the two were not really “compatible.” Bottom line of a broken marriage: you’re not worth the work.

In that wake, there are often children left to sort out the damage. And wonder if THEY played a part. Doubts rise about true love and marriage. And St. Valentine becomes just a myth.

Thank God there are exceptions. Most of them are couples where a spiritual focus by one or both parties holds on to true love. A bond was formed they consider unbreakable.

Their children see it. As do friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Many wonder how they do it. How can ANYONE love like that?

The shocking truth is that the Creator of the Universe does love in such a way. He has bonded Himself to us by creating us in His image. And despite our immense unfaithfulness, our God tenderly calls us back into His arms in forgivenesses. And full acceptance.

Once this is fully grasped, or as fully as we are able, it challenges us to be lovers like He is. We see people as He does—fallen creatures. Weak. Needing acceptance. Craving for love.

And somewhere in the journey, we perhaps find another soul who loves us in a similar way as our Father. And we want to spend our future with that person. Then we bring to life bundles of joy from our love. It’s a beautiful thing.

On earth we struggle to appreciate God’s great love. Perhaps if this is you, then get to a card shop today and find the most tender, loving, reassuring Valentine’s card available. One that shows lasting commitment. Buy it. Write God’s name at the bottom of it. And read it often.

Or simply re-read these verses from Ephesians 3:18-19: “And I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love—how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is. Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God.” (NCV)

It’s a love to treasure this Valentine’s Day—and every day of the year.

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, February 7, 2022

Don’t Worry. Be Happy.

Don’t worry. Be happy. Such seemingly profound and simple advice.

Perhaps you know of people who seem to move through life in a relatively carefree manner. They may face the same kinds of challenges common to man, but troubles seem to roll off them like rain on a Scotchgard-coated duck. Is there a secret to this?

Something we do know should have us a bit puzzled and troubled. “Happiness” is on the decline. We know this because of results presented in the General Social Survey. They can prove that Americans are increasingly UNHAPPY. When I turned 21 in 1972, our citizens who said they were “very happy” outnumbered those who said they were “not too happy” by about three-to-one. By last year, big turnaround. The unhappy crowd now outnumber the happies among us by 5%!

I assume you know there is such a thing as the World Happiness Report. It ranks nations using measurement tools like overall well-being, diversity, a clean environment, housing, and political stability, among others. From the bottom up, top ten countries on the 2021 World Happiness Report list include Australia. Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Finland.

Only one of those countries showed up on the list of nations with the highest divorce rates: Denmark. And none of the countries listed above rank among places where suicide is the highest. (FYI, Russia made BOTH lists.)

We also know suicide rates in the US have been increasing in recent years, with 2021 an exception. It’s been also documented that depression among adults in our country tripled in the early 2020 months of COVID-19,—jumping from 8.5 percent before the pandemic to a staggering 27.8 percent. Research from the Boston University School of Public Health showed an elevated rate of depression not only persisted into 2021, but worsened, affecting 1 in every 3 American adults.

I’m not an expert on the subject of happiness. But I do have a grasp on it. I say this because I’ve been blessed to travel a fair bit overseas. I’ve visited communities best described as “squalor.” I’ve sat among souls who have been persecuted for their religious faith and must move in secret to survive. I’ve sat with people like Joni Eareckson Tada whose diving accident at 17 in the Chesapeake Bay left her a quadriplegic.

In each of these situations, there is no void of happiness. These people face a lot more obstacles in life than most of us. But their internal mechanisms of emotion are not controlled by circumstance.

Contrast this to a woman who had “everything going for her": Cheslie Kryst. Not only was she a Division I athlete, Cheslie had earned a law degree and an MBA at Wake Forest University. As a civil litigation attorney, she performed pro bono work for inmates.

And she had God-given beauty! Cheslie won the Miss USA pageant in 2019 and later a top ten spot at the Miss Universe competition. This opened doors for her to become a correspondent for the entertainment news program, Extra.

Then, just over a week ago, this glamorous 30-year-old woman jumped from a high-rise on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The next day, the medical examiner said she died by suicide.

Apparently, about a year ago, Cheslie had written an essay in which she said, “I discovered that the world’s most important question, especially when asked repeatedly and answered frankly, is: why?...Why work so hard to capture the dreams I’ve been taught by society to want when I continue to only find emptiness?”

With all she had going for her, Cheslie lacked the simplest of things: true happiness. Millions are missing the same thing today.

Happiness and joy go hand-in-hand with a deep sense of inner peace—the state of being where all is well.

Jesus of Nazareth said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (ESV)

Yes, tribulation surrounds us. When spiritually centered, we need not worry. And we can…be happy.

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: