Scott's Blog

What do you do after a storm?

Trees come in lots of different shapes and sizes. The stately loblolly pine tree is one of the fastest growing southern pines. It grows well in a variety of soils and is able to withstand prolonged drought. Loblolly pines often grow to heights of 100 feet, and their branches may extend outward as much as 35 feet. The ponderosa pine, similar in size to the loblolly, likes moist, well-drained soils, and typically is found growing further north. It is easy to tell them apart. Loblolly branches typically reach towards the sky while the ponderosas are either parallel to or pointed slightly towards the ground.

At first glance, individuals coming through our doors at Memphis Union Mission may look similar. They have a need for food, clothing, or shelter. But behind these basic needs there is a reason for the need. Sometimes the need is for employment or a temporary place to stay. It might be that substance abuse has taken its toll, or that mental health issues have eliminated opportunities for self sufficiency. Like trees, people and their needs come in different shapes and sizes. 

There is another way you can tell the difference between a loblolly and a ponderosa pine: wait for winter. As snow and ice build up on the ponderosa’s branches, they typically will bend towards the ground and survive the storm. But for the loblolly the tremendous weight of snow and ice on its branches often is too much for it to bear. We dread the frightful sound of cracking and breaking branches that may occur, and the mess that is left behind. The damage to the tree may take years to heal. 

Storms leave damage, and damage needs to be cleaned up. There is not much we can do to prevent winter’s storms, but much we can do to help clean up. For some that we serve, their branches spring back rather quickly after a storm. But for others, the damage takes time for healing to occur. Our privilege here at Memphis Union Mission is to be a small part of helping a broken person become the man or woman that God intended them to be. 

What do you do after a storm?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

How big is your fuel tank?

One of the unique features of Charles Lindbergh’s plane The Spirit of St. Louis was the location of the oversized fuel tank. The enormous tank was placed directly in front of the pilot’s seat, completely blocking Lindbergh’s ability to see directly ahead of the plane. His only visual cues would be to look out the side windows and through a periscope that would allow him to see what was in front of him. When asked about the configuration Lindbergh said, “There is not much need to see ahead in normal flight.”

Despite the inability to see directly ahead, Lindbergh was confident that he would be able to become the first aviator to fly non stop from New York to Paris. His plane had been meticulously built, eliminating all unnecessary weight. Regarding his own ability Lindbergh said, “Why shouldn't I fly from New York to Paris? ...I have more than four years of aviation behind me, and close to 2,000 hours in the air. I've barnstormed over half of the 48 states.”

For Lindbergh those 2,000 hours provided the foundation for the confidence that his flight would be successful. They also became the basis for his decision to realize that fuel was more important than forward sight. And he was right! 

After becoming the first pilot to cross the Atlantic, Lindbergh wrote: “The Spirit of St. Louis is a wonderful plane. It’s like a living creature, gliding along smoothly, happily, as though a successful flight means as much to it as to me, as though we shared our experiences together, each feeling beauty, life, and death as keenly, each dependent on the other’s loyalty. We have made this flight across the ocean, not I or it.” He and the plane had accomplished this incredible feat together.

When we can’t see directly ahead of us, what life will bring, what provides the foundation for our confidence that we will make it? Have we invested our time in reading God’s word and meditating on His promises? How big is your fuel tank? Would your prayer life fill a meager quart, or provide enough fuel to be certain of your destination? Do we know that with God all things are possible?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Is this your goal, too?

If we don’t know where we are, how can we know where we are going? Strategies built upon luck rarely work out. The Roman stoic philosopher Seneca once said: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Obviously strategies built on sound analysis and planning have a greater opportunity to be successful. 

The acronym SWOT is well known to those who participate in strategic planning. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Situation analysis looks at both inside and outside an organization. Listing an organization’s strengths often can be a fun exercise. After all, these are the activities in which we do well and even excel, the bright spots. But listing our weaknesses is more difficult because we must expose areas organizationally in which we are not very good. Sometimes, glaringly we reveal deficiencies that hinder our mission or handicap our well-intentioned goals. Identifying opportunities may be creative and invigorating, while examining organizational threats is not something we enjoy because we may reveal our vulnerabilities. 

But what about us? Do we ever pause and examine our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and what may Threaten us? The great American theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards in his book The Necessity of Self-Examination proposed that we regularly ask ourselves 76 questions. http://www.digitalpuritan.net/questionsforself 

These are tough questions for which the answers too often reveal the condition of my heart. Here at Memphis Union Mission we see many individuals whose lifestyles have been the precipitate for the circumstances in which they find themselves. Many times we will have to ask that individual in a loving way “How is that working for you?” Change does not occur until we see ourselves as we truly are, and want something different. Our prayer for those we serve is that they become the men and women that God intended them to be. 

Is this your goal, too?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23,24

Are you free?

On this very day 238 years ago, the Second Continental Congress approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration included a litany of 27 specific examples of “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these states.” John Adams, one of 56 signatories to the document, penned these words in a letter to his wife Abigail: “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” Seven long years later on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the American Colonies. 

And so, on the Fourth of July with picnics, parades, and colorful displays of fireworks, we celebrate our independence and freedom as a nation, freedom that had been bought with a price. Eleven of the Declaration signers had their homes and property destroyed by the British. One had to move his family to safety five times in just a few months. Seventeen signers served in the militia, and five were captured. Fifty thousand fighting colonial patriots were either killed or wounded before the war ended, leaving their blood and their lives on the battlefields, for freedom.

We know from scripture that there is another battle going on in the world today. Ephesians 6:12 says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Satan wants us to live in tyranny. Sin has a way of injuring us and usurping our freedom as well. 

More than 2,000 years ago, there was another declaration of independence. Jesus said “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Our freedom from the tyranny and consequences of sin had been bought with a price! And that price was the precious blood of Jesus! But we must believe in him, and make him our King! Only then, can we ever be free, free from the consequences of sin. 

Are you free?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

What does our attitude say about us?

I have very fond memories of the company where I worked for almost 14 years. Often, though, we had to deal with individuals who took exception to, or complained about, being asked to do something a bit different than what they were presently doing. Schedules were always a point of contention with some because we frequently worked late hours or even weekends. One Thanksgiving morning Mary and I got up early and drove three hours so that we might enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with her parents, and then we drove three hours back home that same day. I worked that Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. 

Normally my boss and I arrived at work at 5:30 or so in the morning. I always enjoyed the early mornings before everyone else came in. One such morning my boss put a quote on our company bulletin board. After reading it I turned to him and said, “I think that this is exactly what distinguishes our exceptional employees from our whiners.” It’s attitude. Charles Swindoll, the famous pastor, hit the nail squarely on the head when he said:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

Many of the people we serve here at Memphis Union Mission have been hardened by the vicissitudes of life. It is reasonable to expect that their attitude may be less than desirable at times. But what of us who know and have a personal relationship with the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords? 

What does our attitude say about us?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Are you grateful?

Years ago, an ungrateful heart was among my many ugly flaws. As I look back almost 25 years ago to that time in my life, it was apparent to me that I expressed very little gratitude or appreciation for things and people that I took for granted. My job, my home, health, family, neighbors, skills, abilities, the weather, my church, education... and the list could go on. What it really revealed was the condition of my heart! And other people saw it too! 

One Sunday there was an insert in our church bulletin with this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who was executed during WWII for his vocal and public stand against Adolf Hitler: 

“Only those who give thanks for little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think that we should not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must be constantly seeking the great gifts. Then we complain that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experiences that God has given to other Christians, and we consider these complaints to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not so small!) gifts we receive daily. 

How can God entrust great things to those who will not gratefully receive the little things from God’s hand? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian community in which we have been placed, even when there are no great experiences, no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty, and little faith—and if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so miserable and so insignificant and does not at all live up to our expectations—then we hinder God from letting our community grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”

After reading Bonhoeffer’s analysis of my heart I began by asking God to create in me a grateful heart. Each morning on my way to work I would thank God for a relationship with him, for his word, a new day, for the vehicle he gave me, for my job, my boss, for our customers, for those that I worked with, for my family, for safety, for health, for wise counsel.... and so on. And during the day I would thank God for the sunrise, the clouds, for the rain, or heat, or snow, for putting educators and teachers in my life, etc. 

What are you thankful for?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” Ephesians 5:20

What are you communicating?

I was not looking forward to my visit to the Verizon store; it had been three and a half years since I was last there. My Android smart phone was rapidly becoming a senior citizen, and starting to display shades of gray with black lines where emails and internet searches once filled the screen. It probably had nothing to do with the time my phone went sailing on the hot interstate pavement at 65 miles an hour, falling from the roof of my car where I had accidently left it. Nonetheless, it was time for a new one.

From the moment I walked in, the store communicated high tech. Phones, tablets, and gadgets were every where. The walls were filled with displays illustrating the latest and greatest. Fortunately for me, I was rescued by the same sales person who had sold me our phones years ago. He asked me how he could help me, and without even thinking I responded “Well, I don’t know.”

He said “Let’s take a look at your plan.” He then showed me how a few plan modifications would actually save us money and include new phones. Naturally, I was all ears at that point. He then began to describe the advantages and disadvantages of different devices, pointing out that my decision should be based on how I would use the new device. He even suggested that I wait for a week so that our billing cycle would be the same. Leaving with his business card in my hand, I left a happy camper!

Customers are smart people. They pick up on an impression, a feeling, and feelings are contagious. What we want our guests here at Memphis Union Mission to experience is that we truly care for them. That whatever needs they have when they come though our doors, we will try to help them meet it. And, we want to see them meet their need for a Savior! 

Do we communicate that the person we are serving has value? Are you attentive to the individual behind the need? Do we respond to the need rather than the person? What does my attitude communicate to those around me? Have you taken on the negative emotions of some of the unhappy or hurting individuals you serve? Everything you do communicates! What are you communicating?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

Have you been marinated?

Living in Memphis is to live in the barbeque capital of the world! Competitors from all around the United States, and often other parts of the world, come to showcase their culinary talents here. But when the competition is over, deep down inside, we all know that Memphis barbeque is the best. Chicken, ribs, shoulder and brisket are the staples, yet who else but Memphians would have dreamed of barbeque spaghetti? Yum!

If you want to make mouth-watering barbeque, careful preparation is essential, beginning with a penetrating marinade and a good dry rub. Often these recipes are as closely guarded secrets as our nation’s military nuclear bomb codes. The marinade tenderizes and flavors the meat. It keeps the meat moist during cooking, giving us that scrumptious juicy taste we all love. But marinading takes time. 

Rubs and marinades are made with spices, but most of us are not in the habit of eating the individual spices by themselves. Vinegar is not on my list of thirst quenching beverages, either. I don’t grab the salt shaker to pour myself a cup of salt to snack on with my pepper and garlic. But mixed together, these ingredients add delicious flavor to the meat.

Our walk with the Lord needs to have several key ingredients, too. And when we combine them together, a wonderful marinade results. One that tenderizes us, flavors us, and allows us to be used by God to serve others. 

Reading God’s word without meditating on it may cause us to miss the application that God intends for us. A day without prayer is to miss out on the relationship that God created us to have with him. When we take all that we know about God, his holiness, his love, his grace and his mercy, and never share these attributes with others, we miss the opportunity to see him at work in their lives. 

Every morning we should remember that careful preparation is essential to start the day. But unlike the closely guarded secrets of the barbeque champions, the recipe is available to all. We must spend time alone, meditating on God’s word and in prayer with him. Marinading takes time, but it prepares us to serve. 

Have you been marinated?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

Do Something!

When we landed at the airport in Port Au Prince, Haiti my visions of a tranquil Caribbean island replete with white sand beaches lined with cocoanut-laden palm trees were quickly shattered. Our group of high school students was spending Christmas break on a mission trip assisting with various projects, including serving children at a local orphanage. 

The year was 1969. Most on our trip grew up in what you might call the typical middle class family. Two-parent stable homes, good schools, church attendance, and activities focused on fun were the norms. We were all raised with the expectations that we could enjoy the American dream if we stayed in school and worked hard.

The customs area of the airport had almost a mob-like atmosphere. When we exited, young children wearing tattered clothing were begging, and men vied for the opportunity to carry our luggage. The tap tap taxi trucks were overflowing with people who had loaded every square inch of space with chickens, produce and personal belongings. On the drive to the hotel we saw cardboard shanties, and garbage was everywhere. Open sewers were like little streams in the streets, and the air was filled with a smokey, sweaty, outhouse kind of smell.

It was easy to fall to fall in love with the Haitian people, especially the children. Having nothing, yet smiling and cheerful, they expressed gratitude for our meager efforts to serve them. There would be no American dream for them, not in a country where few people were literate and schools almost nonexistent. Life expectancy was a little more than a short forty-six years.

Arriving home, it was hard to erase the smells, the scenes, and the insurmountable needs we had experienced. I felt a sense of guilt over my own good lot in life. What could I or anyone do that would ever make a small dent in the suffering and needs of an impoverished world? 

Sometime later, I heard these wise words from the founder of World Vision, Bob Pierce: “Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do something.” Now I knew the answer: Do something! God doesn’t bless us just for our own good. He has blessed us so that we can serve others in his name. Are you doing something?

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

Matthew 25:40: "And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'"

Damaged Goods

This past fall, as I was driving to work on I-240, the traffic between South Parkway and the Union Avenue exit came to a screeching halt. I stopped, but the young lady behind me didn’t. With brakes squealing, her SUV slammed into my Chevrolet Malibu. The impact wrenched my hands off the steering wheel, my foot off the brakes, and I was thrust into the pickup truck in front of me. It only took a fraction of a second; fortunately, no one was hurt.

My car was another matter. The rear trunk was pushed in, the rear bumper twisted beyond recognition. Even the licence plate looked like Hulk Hogan had turned it into a pretzel. The front of my car was no better. The bumper, grill and hood assembly were all mangled. My beautiful car was now damaged goods.

Sadly, many of the individuals we serve at Memphis Union Mission consider themselves damaged goods, too. Broken families, dysfunctional relationships, substance abuse, past felonies, lack of a high school diploma or GED may be the tip of the iceberg. Digging deeper often reveals their fear of success, shame, or even guilt. 

Fixing my car was not something that I had the knowledge, skill or ability to do. The wonderful folks at the Jim Keras Chevrolet body shop did, though. They worked with the insurance adjuster, took the damaged parts off, put new ones on, and matched the paint. When finished, my car looked like the day I drove it out of their showroom. My car was transformed from damaged goods to a car made whole again. 

When I bought my car I had no intention of becoming involved in an accident. And no one is born with the intention of become homeless someday, either. When I brought my car to the body shop I was treated with dignity and respect. No one looked down on me because I had been involved in an accident. Neither should we ever treat anyone coming through our doors with anything but decorum and with value.

Our goal is to serve our guests in such a way that they no longer see themselves as damaged goods, to help them become the men and women that God intended them to be. Hopefully, indistinguishable from you and me!

Serving with you,

D. Scott Bjork
President & CEO

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