Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Light & Warmth Through Christmas Cards

Vital Signs Ministries' annual Christmas card party last night turned out to be a lively success. There were only 9 of us (Larry & Deb, Quint, Ruth, Allen & Cindy, Carol E., Claire and I) yet in 90 minutes we produced a remarkable amount of correspondence designed to lift spirits, encourage action, and draw people closer to the Lord Jesus. It was a splendid Christmas experience.

Among our Christmas card recipients were 16 Christians who have been persecuted and unjustly imprisoned for their faith in such places as China, Iran, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Eritrea. Using the resources of The Voice of the Martyrs' superb website, we had prepared messages to these saints before the party began and we then glued those messages inside lovely, colorful Christmas cards. The messages (again, thanks to VOM) included Scripture verses in the prisoner's own language. All 16 of these prisoners were sent three cards, each card with a different Christmas scene, each card with a different message inside, and each card signed by three of us.

We also wrote Christmas cards (with appropriate messages inside) to Senator-elect Ben Sasse, Governor-elect Pete Ricketts, Congressman-elect Brad Ashford, outgoing Congressman Lee Terry, Mayor Jean Stothert, and others. Also, we all signed thank you Christmas cards to Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Norm Geisler, Joni & Ken Tada, Ben Carson, and others.

And finally — hold onto your Santa hat — we wrote Christmas cards to every resident of the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home! That’s right, over 100 veterans, spouses and widows will be receiving beautiful Christmas cards today as Claire and I will take them over personally today. The handwritten messages inside expressed our warmest Christmas greetings, thanked them for their loyal service to our nation, and shared our desire that the holy light of Jesus’ birthday would brighten their hearts in this precious season, bringing them special joy and peace and spiritual strength.

Also part of the evening were prayers for each of the persecuted Christians as well as prayers that God would protect each Christmas card along its way. We prayed too for all the others to whom we sent cards, asking the Lord to use them for His purposes. And, of course, we also had some time to enjoy conversation, cookies, and coffee together. It was a terrific evening, full of Christmas cheer and productivity.

Everyone present last night had one other request to make to the Lord before we left. And that was for similar letter-writing parties to become a regular activity for churches, Sunday school classes, and other groups of Christian friends. Let's remember that raising our voices in the King's service of encouragement, advocacy, enlightenment, and challenge is a necessary and ongoing responsibility for the believer in Christ. And prayerful letters are a marvelously effective means of carrying those voices way beyond our own neighborhoods. This why Vital Signs Ministries has hosted letter-writing parties for over 30 years.

How about you? Perhaps you're interested in joining us for our next letter-writing evening? Or maybe you'd like a little help in setting up your own. Either way, give us a call or email or FB message and we'll do our very best to help make it happen. Thanks. And merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2014

What a Difference You Can Make

Dick Wilson knows I don’t read the local newspaper so he recently passed along a copy of a column called Annie’s Mailbox. I don’t know what this usually presents (I think it’s an advice column) but on Thanksgiving Day, there was reprinted there a very moving piece written by a RN who serves as an activities director for a nursing home in Tennessee.

Being involved as we have been with ministries in senior centers throughout Vital Signs’ history (the latest activity being our “When Swing Was King” shows in 12 facilities each month), I can testify to the insightful, compelling truths of the column. Check it out.

Dear Readers: Today is Thanksgiving. If you know someone who is alone today, please invite him or her to share your Thanksgiving dinner and help make the occasion truly special.

Today we'd like to run a piece that has appeared in this space several times. It was written by Judy Vekasy, a registered nurse and director of activities in a nursing home in Savannah, Tenn. Here it is:

In this season of thanksgiving and just plain giving, I have some suggestions for those who need something to be thankful for or those who need someone to allow them to give. Nursing homes are full of opportunities.

You say you can't do anything. Can you read? Good. Read to me. My eyes aren't what they used to be.

Can you write? Good. Write a letter or a card for me. My hands are shaky.

Can you sing? Good. Help me with the words and I'll sing along.

Can you tell me about your job? I was a nurse once myself.

Can you listen? Wonderful. I'm starved for conversation.

Can you bake a sponge cake or zucchini bread or angel biscuits or make fudge? They aren't on the nursing home menu, but I remember how good they were and I would like to taste them again.

Do you play checkers or dominoes or rummy? Fine, so do I, but there is never anyone who has the time. They are understaffed around here, you know.

Do you play the violin or the flute or the piano? My hearing is poor, but I can hear any kind of music. Even if I fall asleep, you'll know I enjoyed it.

Once we were somebodies, just like you. We were farmers and farmers' wives and teachers, nurses, beauticians, stockbrokers and electricians, bankers and sheriffs and maybe a few outlaws, too.

We're not all senile — just old and needing more help than our families can give us. This home, whatever its name, is "home" to us, and you're an invited guest. Please come. The welcome mat is always out and not just on Thanksgiving. I hope you will keep this and read it again in January, February, and every other month of the year. We'll still be here, and our needs will be the same.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Anne Frank's Poem, "St. Nicholas Day"

Once again St. Nicholas Day
Has even come to our hideaway;
It won't be quite as fun, I fear,
As the happy day we had last year.
Then we were hopeful, no reason to doubt
That optimism would win the bout,
And by the time this year came round,
We'd all be free, and safe and sound.
Still, let's not forget it's St. Nicholas Day,
Though we've nothing left to give away.
We'll have to find something else to do:
So everyone please look in their shoe!?

(Anne Frank, "The Diary of a Young Girl," December 6, 1944) 

The last line of the poem refers to the practice in the Netherlands (and beyond) of children leaving shoes outside their bedroom door on the eve of St. Nicholas Day in hopes that the dear fellow would drop in them a few coins or pieces of candy — or, for naughty children, a lump of coal.

The poem radiates young Anne's hope and courage and cheerfulness, virtues that were sorely tested in the extremity of her family's circumstances. Thus, the poem serves as a timeless lesson of perseverance amid great dangers and difficulties. It is indeed a relevant exhortation for all of us on this St. Nicholas Day.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Catching Up

Okay, you are back from your Thanksgiving travels and a bit rested from the holiday's hectic activities. Below are a few excellent articles (and cartoons) that you might have missed in those days. They include news and commentary from the culture wars AND a couple that deal with the ongoing work of Vital Signs Ministries.

* “How Obama blatantly disregards the law” (Paul Sperry, New York Post)

* “Enough with The Ferguson Pandering” (Lloyd Marcus, American Thinker)

* “Media Ignore 224 Teenagers Killed in Chicago Since Michael Brown’s Death” (Warner Todd Houston, Breitbart)

* “A Very Special Christmas Tree Lighting” (Denny Hartford, Vital Signs Ministries)

* "A 'When Swing Was King' Christmas Road Trip"

* “A Milestone Sunday: Saying Goodbye”

* “A Culture of Lies: The changes after Ferguson will likely be for the worse.” (George Neumayr, The American Spectator)

* “Be afraid: This is the real Obama” (Joseph Curl, Washington Times)

* “How to Replace Obamacare: Affordable Care Act opponents must make their goal the enactment of a better plan.” (James C. Capretta, National Review)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Milestone Sunday: Saying Goodbye

Tomorrow is a significant milestone for us.

I came the Sunday morning before Christmas as a guest speaker to Faith Bible Church, a small congregation on Omaha's near south side that had been without a regular pastor for a couple of years. In fact, they were strongly considering throwing in the towel and merging with a large suburban church.  As a favor to a new friend, I agreed to provide “pulpit supply” to the church for a few Sundays in January. And then that stretched into the spring. And then that stretched into…7 years!

Never an actual member because of a doctrinal difference with the denomination, I was not involved in the leadership of the church nor did I ever seek (beyond the biblical teaching of my sermons) to direct the future course of the church. I was content to be their “perennial guest speaker,” offering ongoing series of expository sermons to “build up the Body for the sake of ministry.”  However, even though my “real job” remained Director of Vital Signs Ministries, leaving my only duty at Faith Bible Church to be delivering the Sunday sermon, the church soon began to describe me as their teaching pastor. And I tried hard to live up to that. Not only did I take my sermon preparation seriously (12-15 hours of study and prayer and writing out my text), but I couldn’t help but get involved in the lives of the people in other ways too. Thus, I ended up teaching other classes, hosted letter-writing evenings, counseled (and confronted), frequently entertained parishioners in our home, did hospital and nursing home visits, led special activities, performed funerals, spoke at AWANA, and so on.

As many of you know, I had done quite a lot of preaching and teaching in the years since my conversion to Christianity in 1970 (including a lot of “pulpit supply” at Pleasantview Berean Church here in town and Tabernacle Baptist Church in George, Iowa) but providing week after week sermons for this length of time has made for quite an experience. Both Claire and I are grateful for the opportunity to serve in this way. And we have made many friends that we will stay in contact with for the rest of our lives…and beyond.

But the time has now come to turn the page. Our obligations related to Vital Signs Ministries have continued to grow and, for the last couple of years now, it has been increasingly difficult to pursue them as we should while still taking those extra hours a week for sermon preparation. In particular, our “When Swing Was King” presentations, hospitality ministries, cyberspace outreaches, and writing projects all need more attention. Therefore, I informed the leadership of Faith Bible Church (and then the congregation) last August that I would be leaving.

And tomorrow is our last Sunday, thus the milestone designation. May the Lord lead Faith Bible Church in the next stages of its ministry. May the Lord guide Claire and I to our new church home. And may He give us joy and effectiveness as we persevere in our many duties with Vital Signs Ministries.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A "When Swing Was King" Christmas Road Trip

There’s nothing quite like the “When Swing Was King” Christmas show. 13 songs featuring the original crooners, canaries, and big bands of the swing era. More than 250 beautiful and interesting pictures playing on the screen. And an intriguing, fun commentary that heightens the holiday excitement for the residents of the nursing homes and senior centers for whom we present it...completely free of charge.

But the surprising news? We’re delighted to announce that, in addition to the regular 13 facilities where we bring “When Swing Was King” every month plus two extra showings this December that we have scheduled for senior groups at Country Bible Church and Glad Tidings Church, Claire and I are taking the show on the road to central Nebraska next week!

December 3rd and 4th will be a Christmassy sleigh ride for us as we take the program to senior facilities in Holdrege, Gothenburg, Doniphan, and Grand Island.

Your prayers for safe travel, success with the technical aspects of the program, and spiritual blessing as we visit with residents are deeply appreciated. Indeed, prayers are deeply appreciated for all of our December presentations of “When Swing Was King.”

But, yes; there still might be a chance for a Christmas version of “When Swing Was King” to warm the hearts of the seniors (and others) at your church for there are Sunday mornings in December that are not yet scheduled. That may change at any moment, though. So, if you’re interested, please contact us ASAP.

A Very Special Christmas Tree Lighting

Want a happy "Christmassy" story, one that delightfully illustrates our longstanding beliefs that 1) Christians can yet influence culture towards winsome, wholesome ways and 2) a personal letter remains a remarkably powerful tool in that quest?

Then check out the November letter from Vital Signs Ministries that tells a story of a delightful Christmas tree lighting.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Picks of the Weekend

If you were watching college football or hanging the Christmas lights this weekend, you may have missed these important articles. Here's a second chance.

* “Major blowback from Obama's insult to Australia at the G20 in Brisbane” (Thomas Lifson, American Thinker) As Lucianne Goldberg notes, "Without the Internet you wouldn't know this.")

* “Fools of the Week: Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News” (Eric Bolling, Fox News)

* "Renewable Energy Will Never Work, But Can Nuclear?" (John Hinderaker, PowerLine)  Hinderaker writes about “two of the most interesting articles I have read in a very long time. The first is by two Google engineers who were charged with thinking creatively about how to replace fossil fuels with renewables. After four years, Google shut down the project. The engineers concluded that it simply couldn’t be done.” Very interesting article.

* “The Microaggression Farce: The latest campus fad, which sees racism everywhere, will create a new generation of permanent victims.” (Heather MacDonald, City Journal) This is a longer piece but well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand why we're losing the next generation to the culture wars.