Monday, November 30, 2015

All This and Jesus Too! (The Latest Heaven Post)

Background — Almost 3 months ago I invited a few friends from across the country (and beyond) to join me in reading Randy Alcorn’s masterful study, HEAVEN and then to engage in some dialogue about what we read and think about it.

My responses and those of those from friends can be found in previous posts.

Here is the latest in that conversation from Jim Bingham.

I knew he gave us many things richly to enjoy. 1 Tim 6:17. So I inferred that it pleased Him to please us. As a father myself, I felt joy when I saw my sons' joy at gifts I gave them. And I knew God was a better and more loving father than I am. So at the least it was certain He would give more of the gifts that please us now: fellowship with Christ and with our brothers and sisters in Christ; precious pets; beauty; acts of grace; worship; meaningful and satisfying creative enterprise; anticipation; joy.

The thing that has most impacted my view of Heaven though is that Jesus included Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration! It proved to me that He regards fellowship with people. I was stunned! It's what I want more than streets of gold and gates of pearls. I want to enjoy completely unhurried fellowship with my creator.

I've always visualized it like this: Jesus is sitting with me on a bench on the 1700th floor of the great city. To our right is a magnificent view outdoors. Foliage is all around and the city stretches out below us and to our left. We're having a joyful time and there's no pressing appointment to interrupt our fellowship.

That is my greatest anticipation of Heaven. I never doubted there would be beauty and joy and peace and love and pets and fellowship there because we have them all now. And God never changes!! So instead of taking them away, God will make them better.

But the fellowship is what I most look forward to.

In the book, Alcorn details these same things. In overview, I agree completely with him that God created us to delight fully in Himself. And most certainly heaven will be full of the perfection of what He has shown us here and now as current citizens of His Great Kingdom.


Thanksgiving Leftovers

With the whirlwind of Thanksgiving, family visits, football, shopping, and so on, you may have missed these important articles.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Few Thanksgiving Quotes (Part 4)

(Previous posts on this theme are here: 1, 2, and 3.)

“Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.”
(George Herbert)

"From David learn to give thanks for everything. Every furrow in the Book of Psalms is sown with the seeds of thanksgiving." (Jeremy Taylor)

"Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don't unravel."  (Unknown)

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all.” (Psalm 95:2-3)

"Giving thanks to God for both His temporal and spiritual blessings in our lives is not just a nice thing to do; it is the moral will of God. Failure to give Him the thanks due Him is sin." (Jerry Bridges)

"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving." (H. U. Westermayer)

Speaking of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul writes, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

"The Christian who walks with the Lord and keeps constant communion with Him will see many reasons for rejoicing and thanksgiving all day long." (Warren Wiersbe)

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.” (Psalm 28:7)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Few Thanksgiving Quotes (Part 3)

(Previous posts on this theme are here and here.)

"Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road." (John Henry Jowett)

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

"We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction."  (Harry A. Ironside)

"You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.' You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled." (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

"But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." (Ephesians 5: 3-4)

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” (G.K. Chesterton)

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Reports from the Culture Wars

* “Hillary Clinton: U.S. Should Fund Abortions Around the World as a Method of Family Planning” (Micaiah Bilger,

* “Producer of ABC’s Scandal, Showing Abortion During “Silent Night,” Sits on Planned Parenthood Board” (Steven Ertelt,

* “Obama is dangerously nonchalant about ISIS threats” (Michael Goodwin, New York Post)

* “Political Translations” (Thomas Sowell, Jewish World Review)

* “Ohio State law school under microsope for reaction to pro-life column”  (Valerie Richardson, Washington Times)

* “Antonin Scalia, Bogeyman of the Liberal Imagination: The justice stars in Hollywood revenge fantasies” (Christopher Scalia, Weekly Standard)

* “Annals of Inanity” (Scott Johnson, Power Line)

* “ObamaCare Endures the Death of a Thousand Facts” (David Catron, American Spectator)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Today's Must Reads

* “America the Vulnerable” (Judith Miller, City Journal)

* “After Paris: A Christian View on Protecting the Innocent” (Mark Tooley, National Review)

* “Sweden has it all - except freedom of conscience: A court has ruled that abortion rights leave no room for a midwife to be exempted.” (Carolyn Moynihan, Mercator)

* “Clueless Hillary: ‘Muslims Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Terrorism’” (Editorial, Investor’s Business Daily)

* “U.S. ran out of ammo in attack on ISIS trucks” (Byron York, Washington Examiner)

* “Emails show DOD analysts told to 'cut it out' on ISIS warnings; IG probe expands” (Catherine Herridge, Fox News)

* “Can Opposing Same-Sex Marriage Get You Fired at Marquette University?” (M.D. Kittle, Daily Signal)

* “Millennials being ‘priced out of parenthood’” (Tamara El-Rahi, Mercator)

* “150 on flight from Mexico allowed to skip customs, leave JFK airport” (Brian Niemetz, Victoria Bekiempis, New York Daily News)

* “Democrats Unveil New Strategy: Take Unpopular Positions” (John Hinderaker, Power Line)

For Your Thanksgiving Meditations: The Mayflower Compact

Below is the Mayflower Compact, the providential covenant made by the Pilgrims at New Plymouth in 1620, signed while still aboard ship.

In the Name of God, Amen. 

We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; 

Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: 

And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. 

IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Few Thanksgiving Quotes (Part 2)

“I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.” (Psalm 7:17)

"How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child’s personality. Thankful children want to give; they radiate happiness; they draw people." (Sir John Templeton)

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” (John Milton)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever.’…Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.” (Psalm 118: 1-4, 19-21)

"Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count past mercies." (Charles E. Jefferson)

“How slow we are to thank and swift to grumble." (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

“In that day you will say: "Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.” (Isaiah 12:4)

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues." (Cicero)

“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Did You Miss This?

From last week's alternative media, here's a few exceptional articles you may have missed. They are all quite good. Don't have time to read them now? Fine. Why not save this post as a bookmark and then read them over the next couple of days.

* “Obama Rests Comfortably after Paris Attacks” (Deroy Murdock, National Review)

* “Millennials, Starbucks, and Identity” (Joseph Rossell, Juicy Ecumenism)

* “Reagan biographer Craig Shirley: O'Reilly's Killing Reagan is a 'pile of garbage’” (Myra Adams, Washington Examiner)

* “Did Bill O'Reilly Jump The Shark?” (Victor Davis Hanson, Investor’s Business Daily)

* “A Pattern of Executive Overreach” (David Berstein, National Review)

* “Planned Parenthood Charged Me $25 for a $2 Pregnancy Test and Knew of No Free Alternatives” (Micaiah Bilger,

* “Univ. of Vermont holds privilege retreat for students who ‘self-identify as white’” (Peter Hasson, Campus Reform)

* “Obama’s inaction plants doubt he can keep America safe” (Michael Goodwin, New York Post)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Just Why Is Thankfulness So Important?

“In everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

The Bible is not subtle in its calls for thanksgiving. Repeatedly, urgently, and throughout its many books the reader is urged to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,” and “in all things give thanks.” In both Old and New Testaments, both Gospels and Epistles, we are urged to consider our blessings, and the character of the One from whom they flow, and to offer praise and thanks in response.

Centuries later, Martin Luther described gratitude as “the basic Christian attitude” and the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards asserted that a spirit of thankfulness to God was an indicator of one's spiritual state.

Why, one might wonder, is thankfulness so important?

The act of thanksgiving requires both memory and humility -- both reflection on the causes and sources of gratitude, and the recognition of the blessing as a grace, rather than an entitlement. As such, a spirit of thanksgiving is incompatible with pride and distracted self-absorption, two of the greatest threats to spiritual life. It is virtually impossible to be thankful when one is distracted or indignant; thankfulness requires a laying aside of slights and irritations to focus on one's unearned blessings and their source…

(From “Thinking About Thanksgiving,” a 2013 column by Cherie Harder, President of Trinity Forum.)

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Few Thanksgiving Quotes (Part 1)

For your Thanksgiving preparations, prayers, meditations, conversation starters…whatever.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” (Psalm 100:4)

“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” (Ambrose of Milan)

"By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name." (Hebrews 13:15)

“The lack of gratitude is the foundation of all sin.” (G.K. Chesterton)

"True thanksgiving means that we need to thank God for what He has done for us, and not to tell Him what we have done for Him." (George R. Hendrick)

"Ingratitude is the worst of vices." (Thomas Fuller)

"Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns." (Anonymous)

Seeing the World (and Heaven) in a New Light

Background — A couple of months ago I invited a few friends from across the country (and beyond) to join me in reading Randy Alcorn’s masterful study, HEAVEN and then engage in some dialogue about what we read and think about it. Even though I've re-read the book a few times, I'm again taking notes and praying through key points...and there are a gang of those!

Previous posts can be found by scrolling down through the blog.

Here is the latest in that conversation, some very stirring thoughts from Dr. Greg Gardner in England, a physician, pro-life activist, and family man for whom Claire and I feel a great deal of admiration and gratitude.

Dear Denny,

Thanks so much for recommending this book. I’ve enjoyed reading every page and have learned a lot. The concept of heaven being ‘heaven on earth’ was not new to me but Randy’s knowledge of and application of scripture was really impressive. What confirmed to me that this is a remarkable piece of research and scholarship is the number of scriptural references – nearly 800 from a rough calculation. And from 51 out of 66 books in the Bible.

Frank Viola has a list of the ‘100 best Christian books ever written’ but HEAVEN is not on the list. I think that’s a serious omission. I think Randy Alcorn has shown that his knowledge of scripture is considerable. I would put it in my top 10 Christian books, possibly in the top five.

After reading the book it feels like you have put on a new pair of glasses and see the world in a different light. The chapters on animals were brilliant but there were other highlights too. I’m going to look at language learning in a different light. Also the whole concept of continuity between now and then. Even simple comments like his observation about sweat has great potential for understanding. Randy points out that our resurrection bodies will contain sweat glands so sweat as part of exercise or hard work will still be something that we will experience on the new earth.

You can let your imagination run wild. I regret not being a better tennis player but that won’t be an obstacle any more. Hiking, or what the New Zealanders call ‘tramping’ will be on another level. Humour will be even better and jokes will get funnier. Continually. Music will develop in as yet unknown ways.

Peter Kreeft points out that just as numbers have no limit, there is no such thing as ‘the best of all possible worlds’ because there is no limitation to goodness. Our knowledge of and love of God will literally have no end and will keep growing. So will our love of each other. What will politics be like without politicians?

The irony is that all this is basic Bible teaching. How can we have been so blind for so long? The Christoplatonists have a lot to answer for. The question is, in what other ways have they messed up the church? For an answer to that question, read PAGAN CHRISTIANITY by Viola and Barna. It’s very good in a different way but challenges a lot of deeply ingrained assumptions.

I’m on page 416 so nearly finished but I think the book deserves a slower re-read at some point.



Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving: The Whole Story

The following is an informative, stimulating article written by the late Barbara Curtis, author, blogger, pro-life activist, and mother of nine. I frequently linked to her essays in past years and this one, posted on Vital Signs Blog 5 years ago, is certainly appropriate.

Thanksgiving: The Whole Story

Ever hear the story about the young bride who caused a stir when her new husband found her preparing their first Thanksgiving turkey by cutting it in half?

"That's how Mama always did it," she said.

"That's how Grandma always did it," Mama said.

So they called Grandma. Grandma couldn't remember why they cut the turkey in half. She thought back over all the past Thanksgivings. She remembered the turkeys her mother had heaved out of the wide old-fashioned oven in their cozy kitchen. Her mother had never cut the turkey in half. But for at least 40 years, she and her children--and now grandchildren--had been cutting their turkeys in half. When had they decided it was better that way? Her mind kept going back to her mother's kitchen . . . it was the oven! The first years of her marriage her own oven was too small to accommodate a whole turkey.

Sometimes I wonder if our Thanksgiving turkey has been cut in half. In the oven of multiculturalism, there has been less room for the complete story of our nation's heritage. It's just not acceptable to emphasize the role of faith in the first Thanksgiving. Yet that's what it was all about. The faith of the first Thanksgiving celebrants was as real as the bowls and baskets of food they prepared, as up close and personal as the events that had led them to this moment, as compelling as their pursuit of religious freedom.

Thanksgiving in a Nutshell

The story of the first Thanksgiving begins in 1608, when a group of people called the Separatists, persecuted for forming a church apart from the Church of England, left their homeland to settle in Leyden, Holland. There they found religious freedom but also poverty, grueling work and a secular culture that threatened to undo the values they had carefully instilled in their children. After seeking God's guidance, under the leadership of William Bradford they sold everything and, to finance their journey, indentured themselves to an English company for their first seven years in America. On the Mayflower, the Separatists joined others seeking the new land for other reasons; these they called the Strangers. These two groups, a passenger list of 102, together were the Pilgrims.

The journey lasted nine weeks, with the ship finally losing its course. Instead of reaching Virginia, they landed at Cape Cod, Mass. Now outside the territory covered by the King's Charter, the Pilgrims were responsible for their own government. After much prayer, the Pilgrims wrote a set of laws - called The Mayflower Compact. Only after it was signed, on Nov. 11, 1620, did they leave the ship to begin their new life at the place they named Plymouth.

Half the Pilgrims died that first winter. Yet the survivors clung to their faith in God, and when the Mayflower returned to England the next spring, pilgrims.gifnot one Pilgrim chose to return. That spring the little colony literally put down roots with the help of Squanto, an Indian who years before had been kidnapped and taken to England, where he had learned English and become a Christian. Squanto taught them how to grow corn, use fertilizer, stalk deer and catch fish. William Bradford, the governor, wrote of Squanto that he was "a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectations."

The first harvest brought plenty. In October, Gov. Bradford set aside a day for everyone to thank God for meeting their needs through that arduous year. Squanto, his chief, Massasoit, and other members of his tribe were their invited guests. The Indians brought deer and turkeys, while the Pilgrim women cooked vegetables and fruit pies.

Faith Above All

Which one of us in these far too comfortable times could imagine freezing and starving through a harsh winter, losing half of our community, then lifting such joyous celebration to God? What an inspiring picture of our Christian faith.

Unfortunately, this picture is lost in the watered-down versions of Thanksgiving that pass the tests of political correctness, including those offered in recently published books and encyclopedias. In some public school classrooms, children are taught that the Pilgrims offered the first Thanksgiving to thank the Indians, or worse yet, Mother Earth.

In many ways, our situation as Christians is drawing closer each year to that of the English Separatists. As the Church of England at the time disregarded biblical truths, our nation is no longer acknowledging its spiritual history. We can't ignore our personal responsibility to transmit our cultural heritage to the next generation. It's a responsibility with many rewards.

Sharing our country's heritage will inspire and give meaning to your children's lives, enriching the legacy of your own family as well as that of our nation. But you need to know that heritage well to pass it on. Check your library for books and encyclopedias published before 1970 to find the authentic history of our nation, as well as the inseparable role of faith in our history.

As Woodrow Wilson said in 1913, "A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.

"America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture." 

In short, America has always been a nation of faithful people. Now we need faith that the current reign of revisionist history will be followed by a remembrance of our authentic past. Until then it is our responsibility to see that our legacy is not forgotten.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Back in the Swing? The Latest "When Swing Was King."

Returning to Omaha from our two weeks of working vacation saw me jump right into major revisions of this month’s “When Swing Was King” volume…like 5 song changes and over a hundred different photographs. It took me Saturday night, all day and night Sunday, and Monday morning too. But the audience response at our two presentations yesterday seemed to indicate it was well worth the effort. We have 4 more this week, 4 next week, and 1 the week after.

Hectic? Not when you consider our December schedule already has 17 shows


Here's this month’s final song list:

1) Glenn Miller Orchestra — “Tuxedo Junction”
2) Bing & Dixie Lee Crosby — “The Way You Look Tonight”
3) Artie Shaw Orchestra — “Frenesi”
4) Chick Webb Orchestra (vocals by Ella Fitzgerald) — “I Love Each Move You Make”
5) Glen Gray & the Casa Loma Orchestra — “Can’t We Be Friends?”
6) Ozzie Nelson Orchestra (vocals by Harriet Hilliard Nelson) — “Says My Heart”
7) Harry James Orchestra — “Three Coins in the Fountain”
8) Gene Krupa Orchestra (vocals by Anita O’Day) — “Skylark”
9) Lawrence Welk Orchestra — “Anniversary Waltz”
10) The Four Lads — “No, Not Much”
11) Benny Goodman Trio — “Body and Soul”
12) Donald O’Connor (from “Singin’ in the Rain”) — “Make ‘Em Laugh”

Want to come along for one of the shows? You’ll hear great music, interesting trivia, and see photos that will take you on a sentimental journey back to the heady days of the big band era. And you’ll meet some terrific folks who would love to have you visit. You'll find the schedule right here.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Autumn in Branson: The Wrap Up Report

Yes, we are home and this vacation summary is already over a week old. But I’ll still file it…for my own journal records if for no other reason!

(The first journal entry is here.)

Friday morning, a bit before 7, Keith & Carol Moran and Claire and I drove together to College of the Ozarks for the last Farmers Market of the season.  (We had done this last year too and really enjoyed it.)  We bought carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, brauts, a mess of peppers, and a T-shirt for Claire.  Then we drove north of town and then west so Keith and Carol could see the spectacular views there.  We were heading for breakfast at Billy Gail’s, a place we hit every year.  Good food, good service, and a fun down-home atmosphere.  Later in the morning we drove to Dogwood Canyon, a really lovely place in the heart of the Ozarks.  We dared take the challenge of the 6 ½ mile self-guided walk through the canyon forests and actually down across the Arkansas border. We were absolutely delighted we did.  Beautiful and interesting surroundings.  Sweet fellowship.  Creating significant memories.

We spent almost 5 hours there and I can’t think of what would make for a more peaceful, inspirational time. Oh yes, there was once more fun element to our day at Dogwood Canyon.  We struck up a conversation with a fellow who worked there who was also the worship leader/discipleship pastor of a church down in Arkansas.  Randy Franz is also the patriarch of a singing family that was well known by the Morans.  Even more, he knew my cousin and an Omaha friend now living in Texas.  Small world?  Or perhaps, like the meeting with Tom and Barb earlier in the week, it’s just in the nature of divine appointment. Thanks, Lord. Claire gave him a copy of The Christmas Room before we left.

Claire and I closed out Friday evening with dinner at home, watching the Series game, and a bit of reading.  Keith and Carol took off for a reunion with Carol’s cousin and we did have a late night cup of tea together before we turned in.

Early Saturday morning I headed over to Panera for a few hours work until Claire, Keith, and Carol came by and we went to lunch at the Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks.  As always, it was great.  We also toured the lodge and the mill.  We would have checked out the fruitcake and jelly manufacturing and the book store but they were closed.  The couples split up in the afternoon, the Morans looking for an old family haunt as well as a brief tour of old town Branson while Claire and I took a roundabout way through the hills northwest of Branson to try and find Garrison, Missouri, an unincorporated “town” that was founded by Linda Wilson’s great grandfather.  It was an adventure getting there but we finally found it “way back in the holler.”  We took some pictures of the town’s two buildings: a general store that looked long closed and a Union Church made of stone in 1946 that also looked unattended.  We also found an old graveyard on a hill above the highway and took a few photos there as well to pass along to Dick and Linda when we get home.

While we were involved in this “way out of the way” spot, our phone connection was off and we missed the call from Pat Osborne and our home security system. We learned later that Claire’s misleading directions had caused Pat to set off the alarm when he came over to handle trick or treat duties at our house.  Poor guy – he not only had to listen to the beeping of the secondary alarm all night, he also had to convince the police that he wasn’t a burglar!  And we thought we were having a Halloween adventure! We will make it up to you, Pat...somehow.

Meanwhile in the calm of a Branson evening, Claire made a delicious dinner for us all at the condo, a meal which starred several of the vegetables and brauts we had purchased at the Farmers Market at the College.  Afterward, while the World Series played quietly in the background, we talked and played Taboo until pretty late.

Sunday’s schedule included the worship service at the gorgeous Williams Chapel on the campus of College of the Ozarks.  It was really nice – biblical preaching, classic hymns by the congregation (how nice to do without the emotional coercion of a “worship team”), a gorgeous hymn from the student choir and orchestra, responsive readings from Scripture, and all in a truly glorious church whose architecture and atmosphere harkens back to when churches were built to purposefully inspire the soul to lofty meditation.

The Nelsons left us after church for some time with a friend who lives in the area but they are “moving in” to the condo adjoining ours this afternoon – the same condo where the Morans have been staying the last couple of days.

But before Keith and Carol left the area, they treated us to lunch at a Branson landmark, the Farmhouse Restaurant in old town.  It was pretty well packed and we had about 40 minutes to wait before we could be seated.  It was just enough time to stop in a Christian-owned shop next door where Claire found a lovely king-size quilt at a great sale price.  She’s been looking for one for a few years now and so it was a real delight to buy it…and then celebrate over lunch.  Saying goodbye to Keith and Carol was a little sad but we’ll be seeing them soon.  What wonderful friends they’ve been to us over these many years!

The Nelsons arrived almost the same time we got back to the condo.  While Allen napped and Claire and Cindy caught up over a cup of tea, I got in a two-hour hike, getting home just as the evening came on strong.  The Nelsons had dinner out and turned in early.  We watched the Broncos win a rather surprising victory over Green Bay and did some reading.

Monday’s highlights including a few games of chess, conversation, a couple of hours of work at Panera’s, and, in the afternoon, we took in one of the few Christmas shows that looked attractive to us. It starred country singer Billy Dean and was okay, but we found the comedian (these guys seem to be obligatory in a Branson music show) overbearing, inappropriate, and definitely unfunny.  We bought Dean’s Christmas CD but we wouldn’t recommend the show.

Tuesday’s highlights included lunch at the Keeter Center at the College of the Ozarks, a splendid visit with students and a supervisor at the Fruitcake and Jelly manufacturing at the school, and attendance at a truly exceptional student drama, Railway to Heaven.  We returned to the condo after purchasing a couple of items at the college bookstore. The Nelsons joined us for dinner.  We had hamburgers, Italian sausage, brauts (made by the College of the Ozarks students), and vegetables for our menu. Allen graciously agreed to grill things out on the superlative setup by the pool.  I decided to get a two-hour walk in and I did.  But I hadn’t planned on the change of daylight savings time.  I got too far out, lost track of time while praying, and ended up struggling through the dark in that last 45 minutes or so.  Denny, you need to thin and plan better, old son.

Wednesday was a really productive day with a few hours work at Panera in the morning before meeting Sherry who came in from Wichita.  While Claire and Sherry checked out a few shops and had tea at the condo in Branson West where Sherry was staying, I had my best walk of all my time in Branson.  I hit a paved trail, pretty flat, and was right next to Table Rock Lake.  Very pretty.  Great conditions.  A cool marina to check out at the trail’s loop.  And pretty private.  Great for prayers, for exercise, and for sightseeing.

I picked up Claire afterward and we drove down to the Keeter Center again, this time to buy a big bunch of jellies, apple butter, and summer sausage.  Some of it was for a gift for my Aunt Farris and the rest will be used as Christmas gifts.  The evening concluded with a simple meal back home and a catch-up talk with Allen and Cindy.

Oh yes…Wednesday marked our 44th anniversary.

Thursday brought a nice breakfast at Bill Gail’s with Sherry, the Nelsons, and us.  Then Sherry and Claire and I headed up to Crane for another visit with my Aunt Farris and cousin Susan.  We were there for about three hours.  On the way back, we stopped at Reeds Springs to check out an antiques shop – as usual, no purchases, just looking around and talking. We dropped Sherry off at her condo in Notch Landing as her daughter Heather and her family are coming in tonight from Kansas City.  In the mid and late afternoon Claire worked on the computer (Vital Signs matters, The Christmas Room) while I spent time writing at my Branson branch office, the aforementioned Panera’s.  Our evening included a nice meal out (Farmhouse Restaurant), checking out the Christmas lights downtown, and a bit of chess back home. Very nice day.  (But no hike.)  Heavy rain.

Okay, let’s warp this up. The highlights of Friday included breakfast at Billy Gail’s with Sherry, her daughter and son-in-law (Heather and Tommy) and their teenage daughter, Hailey.  Another 2 hour walk along Table Rock Lake. A bit of reading. Beginning to pack up. Dinner with and a couple of 36 hole rounds of miniature golf with the Nelsons. By 8:30 the next morning we were on the way home.

An excellent working vacation: rest, a nice change in routine, a bit of adventure, a lot of walking, good fellowship with friends and family.

A Vacation in Heaven?

Background — I have invited a few friends from across the country to join me (and each other) in reading Randy Alcorn’s masterful study, HEAVEN, and then engaging in some dialogue about what we’re reading and thinking about it. Even though I've re-read the book a few times, I'm again taking notes and praying through key points...and there are a gang of those! Previous posts can be found by scrolling down through the blog.

A Vacation in Heaven? Well, not exactly.  But among the items on the agenda of our working vacation in Branson was catching up on my reading of Randy Alcorn’s magnificent study, Heaven.  My reading there was complemented by my prayer walks and my meditations on Psalm 19 and the sermon from the last two Sundays.  So, for my friends who have been on the same reading course with me these last few weeks, please know that some of the observations I’ll make below come a combination of these sources.

* Abraham Kuyper’s quote at the start of Chapter 14 was really thrilling.  “There is not one inch in the entire area of our human life about which Christ Who is so Sovereign of all does not cry out, ‘Mine.’”  I’ve been thinking of this a lot, especially related to His Lordship over my sanctification – continually, purposefully inviting Jesus into every area of my life.  That includes the darkened corners, the fears and failures, my plans and routines, my attempt to find significance, my worship, my relationships, the “presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13) which can so easily dominate one's life, and so on.

* I love thinking about my bodily resurrection…and the resurrection of sin-scarred creation.  I also love thinking about the physical resurrection of my loved ones and friends who have already tasted death.  Not only will I will see them again, I will embrace them again.  And I will climb mountains and swim mountain streams and play baseball with them too.  The weakness and brokenness of these present bodies will be completely transformed…forever.

* I’m starting to use Isaiah 62 in my prayers often.

* Reading Chapter 15, Randy’s fidelity to the biblical narratives (instead of old prejudices, common errors and misconceptions, Christoplatonic influences, bad art, etc.) is so revealing.  And incredibly refreshing.

* The exhortation that anticipating heaven is something for all believers (rather than only the old, sick, troubled, or bored) is so desperately needed for healthy, joyful, productive living now.  Very good stuff.

* Also, the connection of home to heaven is something that has thrilled me deeply ever since my conversion to Christianity in 1970.  I love the quotes from Lewis and GKC towards the end of Chapter 16.  But I would suggest an extra assignment to really drive this home; namely, read Chesterton’s marvelous poem, “The House of Christmas.”

* And my last item from Section 5?  Randy’s quote, “The God Who commends hospitality will not be outdone in His hospitality to us.”

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Stepping It Up: Autumn in Branson

We have so far enjoyed a wonderful first week in our now traditional autumn working vacation in Branson, Missouri.  We got a late start last Saturday (packing, last minute Vital Signs matters, dropping off a couple of copies of THE CHRISTMAS ROOM) but we managed to still get into Branson not too long after dark.  The trip down was relaxing – good conversations, good times of prayer, listening to college football games and old radio programs of Sherlock Holmes, Claire getting in a little nap – and we were delighted with the time-share condo awaiting us at Palace View on the southwest end of town.

The next morning (Sunday) we were up early for a drive up north to Aurora, Missouri where we attended the worship service at New Hope Fellowship.  My cousin David Ellsworth is the pastor there (he also has an important job at Silver Dollar City as a construction engineer) and we had a great time.  We were then the lunch guests of David and Heather at a neat little restaurant in the old downtown of Aurora where we discussed the sermon, got caught up on the stories of our lives, and had a very nice time.

The next stop in our Sunday was in Crane, Missouri where my Aunt Farris lives with my cousin Belinda.  Spending time with them has become a highlight of our trips to the area and we had our usual time of encouraging, uplifting visiting.  Sharing in a deep love for Jesus, our conversation always has a two-directional aspect; that is, we look back and we talk a lot about family history but we also look forward in our anticipations of spending eternity with our born-again family members and our Savior in the New Jerusalem. Neat fellowship. Getting back into Branson in the early evening, we did some grocery shopping in town, some reading back at the condo, and some much sought after sleeping!

Early the next morning, in fact, before the sun made it up, I took off for a walk around the area. I plotted out a 5.5 mile course that I ended up using several days this week. Monday also included some reading, some resting, and an obligatory session with the time-share salesman, which was not nearly as bad as we feared it would be.  Tuesday was a really great day.  We had breakfast out at a place nearby called Jackie B. Goode's Uptown Cafe. Then later on that rainy morning, I took off for Panera’s where I had coffee and inscribed several copies of The Christmas Room  to friends who had read the manuscript and made helpful suggestions.  Claire met me a bit later and we boxed up the books for mailing.  At the downtown post office, we were attended to Harold, a good ‘ol boy who was a treasure with helpful advice, interesting conversation, and a memorable joke or two.  Next we went to Dove Oil at Branson Landing to fill our depleted stock of infused olive oil and vinegar. (Our Paleo lifestyle features a continual use of great salad dressing.) While at Branson Landing, we also did some successful clothes shopping for both Claire and me at Belk's Department Store.

Heading back to the car we came across an older couple (Tom and Barb) who were having car trouble.  I pulled the Equinox over to give them a jump start which got their battery recharged but still their engine wouldn't turn over.  We hit it off well. They were from Lebanon, Missouri and didn’t have much of a local connection.  Tom had been in construction most of his 86 years and was now deeply involved in a new project for the pro-life pregnancy center in his town. We offered them a ride, even a place to stay if they needed it.  And they promised they’d take us up on our offer if it came to that. Claire gave them our card, our cell number, and made them promise to keep us informed.  And they did.  It turned out the engine had been flooded and, with the battery recharged, it started about 10 minutes after we had left them.  What a sweet answer to our prayers and what a neat couple to befriend. 

It was getting pretty late by the time we got back to the condo but I did get my walk in before dinner. The rest of Tuesday night was taken up with watching Game One of the World Series.

On Wednesday Claire was feeling a bit under the weather and so she took it easy, had a couple of hot baths in the delightfully deep tub our condo offers, and enjoyed a long nap.  For my part, I got in my walk early, did the grocery shopping, finished the Richard Tregaskis classic, Guadalcanal Diary , and watched Game Two of the World Series that night.

Claire was much better by Thursday.  In fact, she was healthy and rarin’ to go. She fixed breakfast and we drove down to our favorite college (and our favorite place in the whole area), the College of the Ozarks. The purpose of that particular trip was to meet Nick, Dick Wilson’s grandson, and to pass along a package that Dick and Linda had prepared for him.  Because I knew the package included what Dick had described as “a little walkin’ around money,” we wanted to make sure Nick got it before the weekend.  (Note: Dick became first acquainted with the college from our trips here, our Christmas presents of jellies and apple butter made by the students, and our high praise for the place they call “Hard Work U.”  Those seeds led to Dick's encouraging his daughter to investigate the college as a possibility for Nick.  Eventually, Nick did apply, was accepted, and is now nearly finished with his freshman year. How neat is that?)

Later on Thursday I decided to mix things up in my exercise regimen by hiking in the Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area.  Claire was so much better that she joined me. Indeed, she was with me for most of that hike including the lengthy loop which the rangers had labeled "Difficult." Way to go, babe!  I then tacked on to the day another trail which goes all the way down the mountain to the Taneycomo River.  That path includes 315 stone steps that were cut out of the rock in 1937-1938 by Lyle Owen.  (See photo above.) The scenery was splendid and the hike quite exhilarating, especially for a fellow affected by vertigo as I am. And, I can certainly testify, those 315 steps down were quite a different challenge when they became 315 steps UP!  Thank the Lord, I made it in surprisingly fine shape.  I even managed to leg it down to a used book store while Claire finished grocery shopping where I found a nice hardbound copy of James Hilton’s So Well Remembered for me for only $3.

Late Thursday evening, Keith and Carol Moran arrived in town. They moved in to the other section of our condo complete with a separate entrance and its own kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living room.  They had been in New Mexico and had little time at home before driving here for a long overdue reunion with Carol’s cousin so we let them turn in early.  We did too.

My next report? I'll post the next stage tomorrow.