Friday, February 16, 2018

"Enriching the Soil" for Ongoing Spiritual Growth

Good soil is the first necessity of healthy growth for any plant. And, as John
Malek reminded Patrick Osborne and myself in one of our recent Thursday morning Panera conversations, “good soil” (as it is used, for example, in James 5:7 and Mark 4:8) is the first necessity for spiritual growth as well.

It was a stimulating conversation that followed as we spoke of specific things involved in maintaining a “good soil.” Those things include a grateful heart towards God that is eager to learn and obey; the ongoing practice of reading the Bible carefully and with a willingness to apply it’s truths; keeping in place wholesome spiritual disciplines; the stimulating fellowship of like-minded saints who provide accountability, inspiration, and assistance; a commitment to holy, counter-culture living that confidently invests in the world become; and a winsome, happy sharing of the fruits of the Holy Spirit to those around us.

That morning's discussion then prompted me to take inventory of some of the things that have helped enriched the “good soil” that I’ve enjoyed in these first few weeks of 2018. I share a few in hopes you might find something of value.

* Claire and I are again engaged in a read-through-the-Bible program, one that keeps us in the word daily as we read along while listening to Alexander Scourby’s stirring narration of the text.

* This year Claire and I have added another reading practice by reading from selected books of the Bible every week. That's 3-4 chapters a week when it's an Old Testament book, 1-2 chapters when we start into New Testament books. (We're currently still in Genesis.) We take notes over what we read and then find a time each week to discuss our ideas, applications, and questions.

* The Panera meeting mentioned above where I meet with John and Patrick is a terrific help to me. Our purposeful conversations over what we’re reading, doing, and praying about are priceless as a sanity check, an encouragement, and a source of inspiration to stay on course for the Lord. This is also the case with the two other coffee conversations I have every week with good friends — one with Dick Wilson and the other with Allen Nelson.

* New to 2018 for Claire and I is reading the daily email devotional from Joni
Eareckson Tada. These have been superb and we couldn’t recommend them more highly.

* The “good soil” of 2018 has also been well-tilled, watered, and tended to by my reading some excellent books. Those include Randy Alcorn’s Happiness, Francis Schaeffer’s No Little people, Paul Tournier’s The Meaning of Gifts and The Adventure of Living, and Jan Karon’s Out to Canaan.

* And then there’s the conversation and prayers emerging from our ongoing Thanksgiving Jar project, our concerted prayers at the abortion business, correspondence with friends far away, our many activities with Vital Signs Ministries, and, of course, the effects of various sorrows and trials of life which, when responded to in humble faith, also enrich the soil in which one’s Christian growth occurs.

Do any of the above sound like they might be helpful in increasing the potency of the “good soil” in which your Christian faith is planted? If so, please give them a try.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Who Are the Happiest Among Us? And Yet, Why Don't We Want Them?

“The American Journal of Medical Genetics documents the results of remarkable study of a particular people group that is not generally characterized by worry: ‘Among those surveyed, nearly 99%...indicated that they were happy with their lives, 97% like who they are, and 96% liked how they look. Nearly 99%... expressed a love for their families, and 97% like their brothers and sisters.’ 

Who are these extraordinary people? The answer: those with Down syndrome.

‘A slew of recent studies has shown that people with Down syndrome report happier lives than us ‘normal’ folk. Even happier than rich, good looking, and intelligent people.’

Wouldn’t you suppose we’d want more people of any group characterized by such happiness? Tragically, however, studies show that of mothers who receive a positive diagnosis of Down syndrome during the prenatal period, 89 to 97% choose to get abortions. This means that the children most likely to be happy are also most likely to be killed before birth.” (Randy Alcorn, Happiness, page 377)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Happy Valentine's -- "When Swing Was King" Style

The February LifeSharer letter will be available later on today with some very heartwarming and inspirational stories of what's been happening recently in this remarkable outreach to audiences in nursing homes and other senior living facilities. In the meantime, I'm listing the songs that are featured in the Valentine's show we're presenting to all 11 of the facilities we're visiting this month. We would love to have you join us for one of the shows and to do a little visiting with people who would love to see you. The schedule is right here.

1) Glenn Miller Orchestra -- “King Porter Stomp”

2) Tommy Dorsey Orchestra -- “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”

3) Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra (vocals by Helen O'Connell) -- “I’m Stepping Out with a Memory Tonight”

4) Artie Shaw Orchestra -- “Lover, Come Back To Me”

5) Perry Como -- "Till the End of Time"

6) Nat King Cole (backed by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra) -- “You Stepped Out of a Dream”

7) Lawrence Welk Orchestra (featuring Henry Cuesta on clarinet) -- “Stranger On the Shore”

8) Frank Sinatra -- “Blue Skies”

9) McGuire Sisters -- “Our Love Is Here to Stay”

10) Harry James Orchestra -- “Pennies from Heaven”

11) Benny Goodman Orchestra (vocals by Helen Forrest) -- “Taking a Chance on Love”

12) Judy Garland -- “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

Monday, February 12, 2018

Top Ten Lessons from Noah and the Ark

After reading and then thinking a bit about  Chapters 6-9 of Genesis this morning, I was prompted to once again post a pretty popular article from times gone by. The first list appeared on Vital Signs Blog way back in 2005, the latest version in June of 2014.

The painting, by the way, was done by Jan Brueghel the Elder in 1613, “The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark.”

There are a lot of important life lessons to be learned from Noah's experience with the ark. Simple but profound lessons. Here's my list of the top ten.

1) Don’t miss the boat! Listen to what God says and do

2) Plan ahead.  Once Noah got the design specs from God, he acted ahead of the crisis.

3) Don’t be deterred by criticism or unpopularity. Once the Lord has set the agenda, you stay on task.

4) Appreciate nature in the way God has designed it.  Stewardship of His creation is a serious responsibility.

5) Stay alert for action, whatever your age. Noah was 600 years old when he became a ship maker. (He was even older when he became a sailor.)

6) We’re all in the same boat, baby. Help each other out.

7) Avoid loneliness – travel in pairs.

8) Learn to be patient and accept God’s will. Sometimes that means you’re a builder; sometimes a zookeeper. Other times, you’ve just gotta’ float awhile.

9) As long as you put your trust in the Lord, even the very worst of life's storms can be weathered.

10) Do your duty to God no matter how tedious or difficult or lonely. For, in His time, there will come rest from your efforts. Plus, for the present, there's the beauty and security of the rainbow that's yours as well.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Godspell: Forget About the Resurrection; It’s How Jesus Makes You Feel That’s Important

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise...and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins... If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (The apostle Paul, from 1 Corinthians)

Is it truly necessary for a soul-satisfying subscription to Christianity that Jesus was an actual Person, that His teachings and miracles were historic events, and that His death on a cross (let alone His resurrection from the grave) occurred in a true space-time continuum?

Of course.

As the apostle Paul emphasizes in the passage quoted above, if Jesus’ death and resurrection were not (in every physical, evidential, and rational way) true historic events, then our religion is not only worthless, it is tragic.

Nevertheless, the relativistic spirit of our age has deeply corroded the life of the church so that we now have many Christians who are deeply desirous that their religious experiences provide emotional satisfaction, social interaction, and an uplift in self-esteem but who disregard as unimportant (and maybe even false) the bedrock teachings of orthodox Christianity: original and universal sin, the wages of sin being eternal judgment, the desperate need of all mankind for salvation, the miraculous intervention of God into human history, the time-space reality of the gospel events, and the imminently reasonableness (and relevance) of the written Word of God.

Stephen Schwartz, the composer of the music and lyrics to Godspell, once defended the 1971 musical’s lack of a resurrection scene, by saying the truth or falsity of the thing didn’t really matter. It was what Jesus’s teachings and examples stimulated in others that was important. It’s a sentiment quite popular nowadays; that is, religion is an irrational, subjective leap whose purposes are completely served if they provide satisfying sentiments for individual adherents. Universal, objective truth? That ain’t where it’s at, brother. It’s just about what works for you.

Schwartz wrote in a later edition of the musical’s script, “Over the years, there has been comment from some about the lack of an apparent Resurrection in the show. Some choose to view the curtain call, in which Jesus appears, as symbolic of the resurrection; others point to the moment when the cast raise Jesus above their heads. While either view is valid, both miss the point. Godspell is about the formation of a community which carries on Jesus’ teachings after he has gone. In other words, it is the effect Jesus has on the others which is the story of the show, not whether or not he himself is resurrected. Therefore, it is very important at the end of the show that it be clear that the others have come through the violence and pain of the crucifixion sequence and leave with a joyful determination to carry on the ideas and feelings they have learned during the course of the show.”

Get the picture. Godspell was designed to emphasize merely the “effect” Jesus had on “others,” “the formation of a community,” and “a joyful determination to carry on the ideas and feelings” that came from being around Jesus. The musical doesn’t care about a physical resurrection and therefore, it doesn’t care about the express purpose for the crucifixion in the first place History, rationality, theological continuity and integrity — these mean (for all intents and purposes) next to nothing to Stephen Schwartz and to so many who are intent on preaching a new doctrine…even when they must disrespect and distort the foundational doctrines of Christianity and the historical record to do so.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Contrasting Sunday Morning Music to Soul-Stirring Stuff

Yes, I’ve shared this video clip before and it is certainly well worth listening to again for its own inspirational value. However, I was prompted to post it today after my reading this morning of “The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace,” a chapter in Francis Schaeffer’s fine 1974 book, No Little People.

And a second reason for posting it is to encourage you to compare this stirring, confrontational, Bible-centered song with the stuff we regularly listen to on Sunday mornings in our churches. Which do you think would most appeal and more effectively move to action the men and boys in our congregations?

The Democrats Demand Abortion...With No Limits Whatsoever

The United States is one of just 7 countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks.

Just think about that for a moment.

The nation that boasts of its compassion, of its justice, of its dedication to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all is a nation that defends (even pays millions of dollars for) the brutal killing of preborn boys and girls.

By the way, that list of 7 countries I mentioned, includes such intolerant (indeed, repressive) governments as North Korea, Communist China, Vietnam, and Canada. Great company to be in, huh?


Most certainly.

And yet, to the modern Democrat Party, this kind of barbarism is exactly what they want....what they demand. And the most recent evidence of this travesty is that on Monday all of the U.S. Democrat Senators except for Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted against the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, an extremely limited bill which would only have prohibited abortions after the preborn baby had reached 20 weeks gestational age.

My, my. The Democrats, who have gone wildly wrong on so many moral issues in recent years, have completely lost their soul in their extremist promotion of abortion.

Time for you to quit riding the donkey?

The First Feminists Were Adamantly Pro-Life

Hmm. Even the BBC admits, “The early leaders of the feminist movement were against abortion. The radical feminist Susan B. Anthony referred to abortion as ‘child murder’ and viewed it as a means of exploiting both women and children. Alice Paul, who drafted the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment, referred to abortion as ‘the ultimate exploitation of women.’”

Indeed, this is only the beginning. Check out this excellent National Review article for more.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Pro-Lifers in the Public Square (And a Lot of Them Too!)

Here’s a few observations from Saturday’s Walk for Life in Lincoln…

* It was, once again, a large crowd…something over 5000 people. Some might say this is an indication that the pro-life movement is riding the wave of a new enthusiasm. And while I would certainly agree, I would also point out that these public demonstrations against abortion have always brought out huge numbers, even in the darkest days of the aggressively pro-abortion administrations of Presidents Clinton and Obama. Of course, pro-life advocates are thrilled with the signs of moral progress in this critical battle -- the declining rate of abortion, the increased public awareness of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric crimes, the dramatic evidence of the preciousness of pre-born children as illuminated by medical technology and imaging, the political advances of the pro-life cause from the Donald Trump administration, and so on. However, it’s important to remember that pro-life Americans have been faithful to raise the banners of the sanctity of life even when these evidences were not so apparent.

* It was impressive to hear from so many of Nebraska’s political leaders and to hear them speak of very specific actions and legislative goals instead of giving the crowd the kind of tepid and too-often meaningless clich├ęs we have hard before. The most important of the things spoken of on Saturday morning was the resolve of the pro-life politicians to work for the de-funding of Planned Parenthood. This is something that is long overdue from Nebraska leaders. So, many thanks to Gov. Ricketts, Lieutenant Governor Foley, Senators Sasse and Fischer, and Congressman Bacon and Fortenberry for joining us at the Walk...and making that pledge.

* There are always at these events several striking examples of media bias against the pro-life cause. That’s no surprise but it still should be noted as a great travesty. From grossly under-reporting the numbers involved…to ignoring the salient points made by pro-life speakers…to giving “equal time” (at least) to the minuscule scattering of pro-abortion protesters on hand…to often failing to even cover the pro-life event at all, and so on...the press shows itself again and again to be anything but fair, objective, and professional. However, another example of indefensible bias that I’ve noticed over the years is how carefully and devotedly the press avoids covering the screaming stridency of "pro-choice" agitators, the threats of violence they make (let alone the actual violence they have perpetrated), and the over-the-top profanity and blasphemy they use in their chants and signs. This gross indecency and mean-spirited fanaticism which is regularly displayed by the pro-abortion bullies is never shown, never reported, and never commented on by journalists. 

* In Gov. Ricketts remarks, he mentioned three examples of citizen activity which demonstrate his contention that “Nebraska is a pro-life state.” Those three things were: visiting senior citizens in nursing homes, being involved in crisis pregnancy centers, and participating in prayer vigils. Claire and I couldn’t help but look at each other and smile because, of course, Vital Signs Ministries has been in the forefront of those ministries and heavily engaged in all three for decades now. And added to that is our involvement in sidewalk counseling at the abortion businesses, writing letters of advocacy and encouragement, speaking out in the public square, training and equipping other pro-life activists, and much more. So...way to go, Vital Signs Ministries!

* Finally, I want to express my thanks to all of those connected with Nebraska Right to Life who have worked so hard over the years to make the Walk for Life such a profoundly winsome and effective pro-life event. That would include Julie Schmit-Albin, Sandy Danek, Barb McPhillips, Chuck Conrad, Julie Lostroh, Shirley Lang, Brenda Eller, Brian Kimminau, Denise Ashby, and many others. Thank you all!

(The photo at the top, by the way, was taken by Jessica Moore for The Daily Nebraskan.)