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Monday, November 28, 2022

Seasons of Change or God-sized Plans

Just weeks before Christmas, a sizeable number of workers at Twitter were told they were no longer needed. Okay, maybe not in those words, but layoffs always leave that not-so-subtle message. Thanks (for your work here) but no thanks (we can do without you.). Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?

To be fair, I feel for those kindhearted employers who simply must make those hard decisions to survive. And the same for businesses that just can’t make it. I know this. Simply closing the doors and never giving advance warning to people losing their jobs is just rude and insensitive.

Timing is also important. My son was going through a very difficult situation years ago with an ill child. He had moved to California from Idaho to join a small technology related company that valued his skills. The firm went belly up and gave him notice just before Christmas. Bad form.

Another failure of business termination is the great surprise farewell. Corporations and large companies are especially known for this. Everything seems to be normal at the workplace until one day it isn’t. And on that day, “x” worker is called in to an office and the human resources person is there with the manager. They hand person “x” walking papers (usually with all payroll settled) and tell him or her to pack up. The exit is usually carefully supervised. And no…you can’t say your goodbyes. Just turn in any keys, parking pass or whatever and get lost. (Well, that IS how it feels.)

I’ve been fortunate to have several departures that went much better. Whether in terms of weeks or months, I knew changes were coming. And I was one of them. Hey, it happens. Most often, I was treated well.

By God’s grace, He has perpetually moved me forward into my next “assignment” with seemingly perfect timing. That is about to happen again.

First, a little back story. In moving to Chicago in the summer of 1999, I was employed at Moody Radio in Chicago. It was my pleasure to help a couple hundred thousand souls start their day each morning. Just before Thanksgiving in 2013, my role came to an end. A few months later, another radio opportunity came up and I was back into talk radio.

After four and a half years at AM1160-Chicago doing talk radio, I was on to creating a YouTube program and podcast. And in the midst of this, our church needed help, and I took on a part time position to help navigate a pastoral transition. It started as a six-month commitment. That season will end on December 31st – three and half years from my start date! I did not anticipate my role would last this long.

Even though I’m 71 and “deserving" a rest, people consistently ask me, “So what’s next?” My best answer is, “I don’t know.” People often seem unsettled about my response. In part, it’s because we are so driven to have a gameplan for life. I gave up on that years ago.

I’ve become quite comfortable leaving the details of my future – the next day, week, year or whatever – in the hands of God. This does not mean I don’t make plans when needed (like for travel). But I’ve come to rely on God revealing to me the things I should pursue, in His perfect timing. And right now, I don’t plan to pursue anything after December 31st.

Does this diminish my sense of worth or identity? Not at all. I know what God has gifted me to do. And there are plenty of opportunities to use my gifts to serve. And while I’m not actively looking, no one has come knocking. Yet.

One of my favorite Bible verses reads, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3, NIV) My daily personal time with God finds me quoting Psalm 138:8: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. (ESV)

Before year’s end — for those interested in my journey — I’ll expand on my “plans” to be available for service. 

That’s Forward Thinking. 

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, November 21, 2022

Feasting on Thankfulness

A few days ago, I sat with our pastor as he shared a portion of a sermon from one of his favorite preachers. While I don’t know the title of the message, it was based on Ecclesiastes and it opened with a series of questions around, “What did you expect?” The speaker then detailed a number of painful life experiences of people he’s known where life fell way short of their expectations. As he surmised, underlying the question of “why” such things happened to them was the larger question of why GOD would allow such things in their life.

This coming Thursday is our annual Thanksgiving celebration. We arrive at this occasion because, in previous generations, leaders of our nation have recognized the gracious Hand of God in His provisions for us as a people. No matter your country of origin, recognizing these fruitful blessings from the Creator should be a duty to which we all joyfully aspire.

But many don’t. And I fear a major underlying reason why my fellow Americans miss the beauty of Thanksgiving relates to the question of “What did you expect?” Because our provisions have been so ample for so long, we’ve come to expect that the Almighty is required to provide them. He is not. They come to us only because of His most gracious care and compassion for His creation.

A second reason of ungratefulness is a more troubling one with political implications. It can be summed up in the word “entitlement.” From our earliest settlers in this land – Native Americans certainly included – food, shelter, and clothing demanded that you work to provide them! Prayer became a staple of life for early settlers because you knew weather and natural disasters could destroy your shelter. It could kill off your crops. It could hamper whatever efforts were needed to secure clothing.

The America of today has become the Land of the Hand-out. Government programs of all kinds help you through the insecurities of life. Total misuse of credit cards and terrible decision making are frequently ignored, as legal firms push the idea that this debt is “not your fault.” Of course it is!! But their rescue is worse! You are “entitled” to be free from this burden by using lawyers!

Consciously or not, parents pass this sinister mindset along to their children. By indulging in supplying the wants – well beyond the needs – of our children, the kids have learned to say things like, “Well, Tommy has an X box. Why can’t I?” In other words, “You are not meeting my expectations!” Or my preferred version, “I’m entitled to this!”

I see this played out in the most basic of ways. Rain falls and we complain. Rain doesn’t fall and we complain. (See the western states drought as an example.) We have restaurant workers serving us and kitchen workers preparing our food and we complain if it’s not perfect. The list is too long to continue.

The rubber really meets the road when people can’t take but a few moments each day to thank God for all of His blessings. As the old hymn says, “Count your blessings. Name them one by one. Count your MANY blessings. See what God has done.” Even a simple table prayer seems to push the boundaries for many.

Anyone reading their Bible would find that the starting point to move past entitlement is gratefulness. Thanksgiving.

There are too many Bible verses to cite. But here’s a good one. “I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.” Psalm 9:1 (NLT) Or read Psalm 111 in its entirety.

If you ever hope to have a meaningful Thanksgiving, best develop the practice of thankfulness all throughout the year. And teach it to your children. Let them know that God is the ultimate provider of all good things.

If we get that in perspective, we may quickly find ourselves on our knees. As Abraham Lincoln said in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1864, “that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust.”

Come…ye thankful people... come! The table is waiting.

That’s Forward Thinking. 

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 14, 2022

Losing Heart…a Bit at a Time

Is losing your “heart" for something the same as losing hope? I don’t think so.

Millions have seen the movie Braveheart directed by and starring Mel Gibson. It’s the story of the Scotsman William Wallace who led a revolt against the English after the woman he loved is slaughtered. Wallace is eventually captured and executed. But his bravery is an inspiration to thousands of men.

At one point in the film, Wallace challenges the troops with this: “I AM William Wallace! And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here, in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?”

Military battles and warfare challenge aspects of courage and commitment like none other. There is a point where, when watching a cause being defeated amidst the deadly shelling and brutality by an enemy,  it’s almost impossible not to lose heart. Bravery alone does not win battles.

Many are the ways we can lose heart. The recent elections across the nation pitted committed people with opposing views against each other. As the returns were counted, you could see the sense of defeat and loss of hope permeate election night gatherings of the losing candidate. All that work. All that effort. Gone.

You see it in a marriage that has failed. There at the altar, two lives commit to love each other til the end. They vow to stay together in sickness and in health. For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. But then the hidden personalities get revealed over time. Good intentions were never going to be enough to save two badly broken people. The two hearts grow apart until neither has the heart for each other.

It happens in business. It’s common knowledge that around half of all new ventures fail in the first year or two of operation. And an even greater percentage in the first five years. I’ve walked that road. I know the pain of meeting with a small group of investors to tell them our dream is dead. At some point late in the journey, the heart to continue ran out.

I find that election nights are often one of my most depressing of times. It isn’t as much about the candidates as it is about the soul of what we term as politics. It’s the steady drumbeat of insults, mistruths, and half-truths about people running for office and issues that matter. It’s sickening. And it causes me to lose heart. A little more with each election.

This year, a rallying cry for the progressives was the “fight” to preserve the right to abortion. The people of Michigan were joined by voters in Kentucky, Vermont, and California, opening wide the door for abortions. By law. How excited these lost souls were at the idea that they can terminate the life of a divine creation made in God’s image even up until birth. They celebrate this. And in Montana, voters actually rejected providing healthcare for an infant who survives abortion!

Make no mistake. Illinois and all politicians who align with the governor of this state are on the same page. Lying through their teeth that this is about protecting “reproduction rights.” It’s about killing the innocent and the most vulnerable humans.

And that brings me to why I say that election night can be such a depressing experience. One can lose heart that the soul of our nation can be so dark. Because of my faith, I know that losing heart over lost battles is not the same as losing hope in the God who can change hearts. Hope is fuel for the soul to keep us going even when we lose heart.

The Apostle Paul taught us, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV) Absolutely true. Love is the greatest force of all. But hope can’t be far behind.

And so, we press on.

That’s Forward Thinking. 

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 7, 2022

A Salute to Sanity

It must be a challenge to be military recruiters in our day. Their job is to balance putting the best spin on their branch of service, while not creating a distorted reality for the recruit. The constantly changing environment of the military makes this tricky.

Friday is Veterans Day. For us old timers, the past rules for military life seemed pretty clear. Do what you're told. Do it well. Or get out. For those candidating to be officers, I would guess the dropout rate was different from enlisted draftees of my era. Plenty begrudged their call to service.

Two classes of enlisted personnel emerged during the Vietnam era. There were the ones drafted who accepted the choice of Uncle Sam for a two year commitment. Usually that meant the Army or Marines. Guys like me opted for the service branch that they believed was the best match. That “choice” extended the term of service.

So the greatest number of grudge holders seemed to be those who were drafted and let the government decide. But not always. Resentment arises whenever our choices are taken away. And the military takes LOTS of choices away.

Times in the military have changed. To grasp to what degree these changes have impacted our various branches of service, I recommend reading an article by Thomas Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general who now serves as director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. The article is titled, “The Rise of Wokeness in the Military.”

The earliest usage of the word “woke” in a political sense first appeared in a 1962 New York Times Magazine article by William Melvin Kelley. It was titled “If You’re Woke You Dig It.” By the 2010s, being woke included an awareness of social inequalities and now involved identity politics and social justice. White privilege and slavery reparations are commonly discussed.

As General Spoehr explains, various forms of “wokeness” have been advancing in the military for several years. He believes the ideology undermines military readiness, saying “It undermines cohesiveness by emphasizing differences based on race, ethnicity, and sex. It undermines leadership authority by introducing questions about whether promotion is based on merit or quota requirements. It leads to military personnel serving in specialties and areas for which they are not qualified or ready. And it takes time and resources away from training activities and weapons development that contribute to readiness.”

As for recent examples of the wokeness problem? In January 2021, President Biden signed an executive order that opened military service to all transgender individuals. Since then, the Biden administration has decreed that active members of the military can take time off from their duties to obtain sex-change surgeries. All related hormones and drugs are at taxpayer expense.

General Spoehr cites changing fitness standards of the military, purportedly with a woke goal “leveling the playing field.” He writes, “The Army recently lowered its minimum passing standards for pushups to an unimpressive total of ten and increased its minimum two-mile run time from 19 to 23 minutes. The new Space Force is considering doing away with periodic fitness testing altogether.”

In 2021, Navy sailors had to watch videos to understand the proper way of using personal pronouns. Service members were instructed to create a “safe space for everybody” by using “inclusive language.” Gender-neutral job titles may follow.

Last summer, multiple media outlets reported on training materials featuring the problems of “whiteness.” These were found at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. One training slide read: “In order to understand racial inequality and slavery, it is first necessary to address whiteness.”

(A link to the article from General Spoehr is below.)

The prophet Hosea wrote, “Let whoever is wise understand these things, and whoever is insightful recognize them. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” (Hosea 14:9, CSB)

I’m hoping our country’s military finds it way back to the rightf way. It is then I will offer my salute…to sanity.

That’s Forward Thinking. 

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: