Friday, September 30, 2016

Reflections on Radical Discipleship

Last month Claire and I were blessed to participate in a reunion party involving people from the Christian Brotherhood’s early years. It was a momentous event as more than 50 of us celebrated the grace of God poured out upon America during the days of the Jesus Movement in the early 1970s.  We celebrated too the Lord’s ongoing grace as He has continued to lead, protect, correct, and use the lives of many believers who came through the unique ministry that was the Christian Brotherhood.

In reading through the printed testimonies, talking to people at the reunion party, and then reflecting on our common experiences over the last few weeks, I couldn’t help but compare what happened to us in those exciting days with what’s happening or, more to the point, what’s not happening with Christian youth today.  As a result of those reflections, I decided to address the topic of radical discipleship in this month’s letter. For I continue to hope that the days of “great awakenings” are not all behind us. We are, after all, promised that the mercies of God are new every morning. Therefore, revolutionary change can yet occur in individual lives and even in culture, if we simply unplug ourselves from the world and connect our minds instead to the glorious Creator God Who gave His Son for our salvation.  So, please come with me for a look at 5 themes marking the radical discipleship of the early years of the Christian Brotherhood.

1) A dramatic change of identity.  The converts to Christianity in those heady days of the Jesus Revolution wholeheartedly embraced the chance to be forgiven, to be made completely different from what they had been, and to live completely different from the culture in which they had previously walked.  Nowadays, I’m afraid, too many Christians boast in being just like everybody else. They downplay, even mock, the idea of a radical lifestyle change.  In fashion, in entertainment choices, in accepting the aggressive liberalism of the government schools, in chasing the constant lure of advertisers, in language and demeanor, young people in the church tend to copy their non-Christian peers. But the young people involved with the Christian Brotherhood were delighted to be different. We willingly accepted the responsibilities of living counter-culture lifestyles because, after all, we knew all too well that the world had nothing to offer us.  We had been there and done that. Thus, we jumped at the chance to exchange darkness for light, lies for truth, slavery for freedom.

We stopped boozing and doing drugs. We ended our promiscuity and criminal behavior.  We moved away from bad influences. We stopped watching TV, not because it was necessarily evil, but simply because we now had a host of other things to do…things that were interesting and active, things that were pure and beneficial. I believe we need a new sense today of how peculiar (the Bible’s word) a people we are; how set apart and set against the cosmos we are; how revolutionary should be our outlook on life, truth, God, the future, and the world around us.

2) A solid theological foundation. The Christian Brotherhood gave us a strong, unshakeable theological foundation.  This was somewhat unique among other Jesus People ministries as it featured Bible classes that were taught by skilled and experienced Bible scholars, including instructors at Grace Bible Institute who came into the inner city to deliver expositional, exegetical Bible classes to us several nights a week.

And we couldn’t get enough of it!  We not only listened intently, we filled our spiral notebooks with the notes we took from those lectures. And it wasn’t easy stuff either.  No cream puff Christianity here. Indeed, we learned later that the Grace instructors were giving us the very lectures they gave in their upper level theology courses at the college.  But, unlike many of the Grace students, we new converts would eagerly listen, carefully study our notes, and then compare them with what we were learning in our personal Bible study. We would also discuss them in depth with one another.  We knew we had an awful lot to learn…and a lot to unlearn too. Indeed, we sometimes fell back into patterns from our past and so our sanctification required us to regularly repent and even make restitution when possible. But God’s grace kept moving us forward and we took our duties as disciples very seriously.

Do you see much of that in today’s churches?  Young people so eager to learn that they forsake entertainment and sports and social media in order to attend hard-edged Bible studies?  Young people crowding into the front rows at church (as the Brotherhood kids did when we went together to hear Darrell Scott at Pleasantview Berean Church), kids holding well-marked Bibles along with pens and notebooks to learn more?  Young people who added to lectures and sermons their own studies in apologetics, church history, evangelism, and comparative religion?  Young people being stretched intellectually, held accountable for their beliefs and lifestyles, and challenged to learn to pray and serve and be ever conformed to the image of Christ?

Or do you see instead church youth of today isolated in their own age groups,
being coddled and pampered, given heavy doses of comfort and fun, protected from sacrifice and hard work, promised popularity and prosperity?  Such a state is a far cry from the discipleship required of young Christians throughout history. And it’s a far cry too from the discipleship undergone by most young believers in Third World churches today. Isn’t it time the Western Church embrace again the biblical ideals of radical discipleship? For our sake as well as God’s?

3) Godly fellowship. The discipleship process at the Christian Brotherhood was very strong on fellowship.  But our fellowship was not about fun and games, even though there was often a fun element to it.  Rather, it concentrated on our common participation in the new adventure we were enjoying in the Lord.  Bible study.  Giving witness to the gospel in the parks and on front porches.  Praying.  Commiserating with one another over our past hurts and failures while taking bold actions to change.  Talking about what we were reading.  Involvement in various ministries. Worshipping together with guitars and choruses and old hymns.

We quickly realized we needed frequent stimulation to love and good deeds, the spur to keep learning and maturing. We also knew we needed an accountability factor to help protect us from the easily-besetting sins of our past.  And, as a bonus, this kind of intimate, energizing fellowship taught us what our spiritual gifts were and how to best use them in ministry.

4) Practice in Christian service.  As was the case with the apostles who walked with Jesus in the 1st Century, the new converts at the Christian Brotherhood learned from precept, from example, and from direct participation.  We were young (most of us) and very inexperienced, yet we welcomed the activity the Lord brought our way in evangelism, prayer, counseling, physical labor, developing study habits, getting involved in church, repairing the damage we had caused in our families. The writer of Hebrews describes mature believers as “those who by practice have had their senses trained to discern good and evil.” We also were being trained as we practiced our faith in the real world.  Oh, yes; there was a lot of uncertain and amateurish action on our part and plenty of learning through our failures.  But learn we did.

5) Reading and reflecting. There’s one more item that was crucial to my early
discipleship, one so influential that it deserves special note.  And that is that the Christian Brotherhood “baptized” me into books! I had been an avid reader in my youth and, even in my otherwise wasted years of high school, I found pleasure and value in literature. But in my sad spiral downward after high school, I had stopped reading altogether.  And even when I was converted to Christianity in the early spring of 1970, I was very slow to get serious about books.  That all changed dramatically when I hitchhiked into the strange town of Omaha that summer of 1970.  For within 24 hours of hitting town, I was living at the Christian Brotherhood and directed to start reading Harry Ironside’s commentary on The Book of Acts. That was followed by a dozen more Ironside commentaries and then books by C.S. Lewis, Dwight Pentecost, Howard Hendricks, Donald Grey Barnhouse, and Anthony Hoekma.  I also began to buy my own Bible study books: concordances, commentaries, a Greek/English interlinear New Testament, the 5-volume ISBE, and more.  And towards the end of my time at the Brotherhood, I discovered Francis Schaeffer and others that were part of L’Abri. Those books opened up an adventurous new chapter in my learning…and my life.

Those books provided a strong foundation for me, one that only grew stronger in the decades since as I was introduced to other writers who rocked my world (notably G.K. Chesterton), as I read more widely (including a return to classic literature), and as I learned the value of re-reading.  Books have contributed greatly to my life and ministry.  They have enriched my relationships. They have given me great personal pleasure.  They have been a key defense against the moral pollution and intellectual debilitation brought on by watching too much television and modern film.  And, again, that all started at the Christian Brotherhood where I was blessed beyond measure to receive a radical discipleship.

A healthy Christianity that yields peace, happiness, and confidence? A holy lifestyle that lights up the darkness instead of being compromised and covered up by the surrounding cosmos? I’m convinced that these things begin with a regimen of radical discipleship highlighted by the five themes I’ve described: 1) A dramatic change of identity.  2) A solid theological foundation.  3) Godly fellowship.  4) Practice in Christian service.  5) Reading and reflecting.    If the Church has any hope of reclaiming its power to influence the world, it must bring these things back into play for our congregations.  And especially for our youth. We must pray to that end. But, in addition to our fervent intercession, you and I must act in whatever ways we can to advocate, and model, and encourage radical discipleship in the cause of Christ.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tugging At Your Heartstrings

The video clips play on the television and you are strongly tempted to turn away because the topic is so tragic and the images so wrenchingly disturbing.  But you watch and your heart is touched, your conscience informed and challenged. You are seeing into the eyes of the victims - innocent victims of man’s indifference, neglect, and even cruelty. The narrator urges you to take a good look at those in need and she then urges you to personally, immediately intervene to deliver them from further suffering, even from being destroyed out of a false sense of compassion.

The voice of the narrator, by the way, is a pleasant one for it belongs to a Hollywood celebrity. The sense of moral authority she portrays underscores for you how right and important it is to act in behalf of the innocent, to rescue them from danger.  You are told that you can make a huge difference, that you can be a hero and a lifesaver, and that your action will enrich and ennoble your soul.  The video clip is a powerful piece and you are not surprised that the television station plays it often, unafraid of any charges of controversy, offense, or political bias. After all, the message is a critically necessary one; it is a message that the whole culture must heed if it truly aspires to be moral and kind and compassionate.

The video clips I’m talking about, as you might not have guessed, are those created by the Society for the Protection of Animals, the Humane Society, and so on.  They are run free of charge by television stations under the banners of public service and charity.  They are applauded by progressives of all sorts.

And yet, these same progressives, these same public service committees, these same television stations categorically refuse any announcement that would apply the same methods, the same reasoning, or the same emotional triggers towards action that might save human boys and girls from the wicked cruelty of abortion.  Does it make sense?  No.  Is it fair?  No.  Do the so-called progressives not see the horrible irony of treating the plight of animals in shelters to be a greater moral responsibility than the fate of human children scheduled to be torn to pieces or poisoned by abortionists? Sadly, the answer is again, no.

And thus goes the terrible devolution of American culture.

(Postscript -- I have no problems with appeals for kindness to animals. Indeed, men and women are presented with a biblical responsibility to show wisdom and compassion as they serve as God's stewards over all of creation. Remember, for instance, the Sabbath rest that God commanded extended to animals as well as men. My point is a simple but profound one; namely, that Western culture has got its priorities completely turned round. Our refusal to protect preborn children, while yet posing as kind-hearted, is irrational, ugly, and evil.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Thoughts on Symbolic Structures

My longtime friend, Hleb Yermakou is a Belarusian Christian who serves the Lord as a translator, guide, and advisor with Encouragement International as well as pastoring a congregation in Portugal composed primarily of Ukrainian emigres. He sends along a few observations relevant to the historic ideals of liberty in American culture.

Writes Hleb, “My ministry with Encouragement International takes me to various places in Europe where I help communicate between U.S. missionaries (and others from the West) and the local people. This past August, for instance, I escorted a group from Arizona helping on a church construction project in a Belarusian city. Taking a tour around the city, the Americans found a statue of Lenin, the Communist leader who was almost worshipped during the old Soviet times. Some of them were surprised. I explained that nearly every little town still has a statue of Lenin in the very center, usually next to the city government building. And, sure enough, the Americans wanted to take a picture of themselves next to the statue of Vladimir Lenin.

The next morning the team leader’s daughter saw one of the pictures posted on Facebook and suggested how illustrative of the Christian mission it was to show a picture of missionaries next to the statue of a Communist dictator. Her comments got me to thinking about the power of symbolic structures. I realized that when we Belarusians (or other Eastern Europeans) travel in Western Europe, we desire to have our photos taken next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, and the Bundestag in Berlin. But when we are blessed to travel to the United States, our fondest wish is to commemorate our trip to the center of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law by having our photos taken with the New York City’s Statue of Liberty in the background.  For so many people throughout the whole world, that grand and beautiful statue is the symbol of America, something that stands for so much more than history, more than an architectural achievement, more than the fame of a politician or military hero.

Indeed, the Statue of Liberty has long represented to the world their most cherished hopes: justice, religious and political freedom, and opportunity.

I wonder…do Americans themselves still see this in their national symbol? And do they still feel the passion for the ideals she has long represented to the whole world?”

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Media Masquerades

In this remarkable age of alternative media, people have the opportunity to read news stories, political views, and cultural commentary that is oriented to reality...despite the best efforts of the Left to hide, disguise, ignore, and distort the truth.

Here, for your weekend reading, are a few important articles.

* “Civil Rights Commission: ‘Religious Liberty,’ ‘Religious Freedom’ Code Words for Intolerance, Homophobia, and ‘Christian Supremacy’” (Penny Starr, CNS News)

* “The legacies of Barack Obama” (Victor Davis Hanson, Jewish World Review)

* “Last Gasp of Birther-Mania” (John Hiunderaker, Power Line)

* “Obama’s Parting Gift to Planned Parenthood” (Casey Mattox, Daily Signal)

* “Senator Slams Pro-Abortion Media: They Just Want to Abort Disabled Babies With Zika” (Katie Yoder,

* “A Deal to Finance the Iranian A-Bomb” (Daniel Doron May, PJ Media)

* “Syrian Christian Refugees to US Still in Line Behind Muslims, and Obama’s Just Fine With That” (Nancy Flory, The Stream)

* “Boycott the NCAA” (Paul Mirengoff, Power Line)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Okay, What's the Deal with Religious Freedom?

This is an excellent, enlightening, and well-balanced video clip. Well worth the 4 minutes to watch...and well worth the 3 seconds needed to pass it along in your Facebook posts. Thanks to Nebraska Family Alliance for this great primer on religious freedom.

Keeping Pace: Key Articles for Your Weekend Reading

Here's a few not-to-be-missed articles from recent days:

* “A Celebration of Death” (Alexandra DeSanctis, National Review)

* “Nancy Pelosi: We Will Oppose Zika Virus Funding Unless Planned Parenthood is Funded Too” (Micaiah Bilger,

* “How Liberal Judges Took Control of 70% of US Appeals Courts” (Philip Wegmann, Daily Signal)

* “How the FBI went easy on Hillary Clinton” (Paul Sperry, New York Post)

* “Are video games killing work for young men?” (Carolyn Moynihan, Mercator)

* “Hillary calls ‘half’ of Trump supporters ‘basket of deplorables’” (Carol Brown, American Thinker)

* “Entire Media Freaks Out After Trump Over-Performance in Forum” (Ashe Schow, Observer)

* “Iran May Have Received as Much as $33.6 Billion in Cash, Gold Payments From U.S.” (Adam Kredo, Washington Free Beacon)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Swinging Into Autumn!

Today was the first presentation of the month for a new volume of “When Swing Was King.” But then again…every volume is a new one! You see, we have 24 basic programs that we’ve created, but we constantly make changes as the 2-year rotation comes round. For instance, in the latest case, I changed about a 1/3 of the 250+ photos therein and 4 of the 12 songs. Thus, we are giving the residents of the 12 senior care facilities we visit every month the most top-notch entertainment program we can.

And boy, do they let us know how much they appreciate it!

Today’s show (at Life Care Center in north Omaha) was extra special for another reason too. It was the first time we brought along copies of our 4-page “When Swing Was King” newsletter which we will be printing up and distributing to residents every quarter. We were thrilled to see how excited and appreciated the newsletter was by both staff and residents.

(By the way, you can read more about the first issue and the purposes we’ve created it to serve right here.)

Like the “When Swing Was King” shows themselves, this fun and nifty newsletter is given to the care facilities free of charge. And, among other things, that means we would sure appreciate any donations to Vital Signs Ministries so that we can keep this outreach going strong. Thank you.

And, oh yes, two more items. 1) This month’s song list is printed below. (It’s a terrific list!) And 2) The schedule of all of the September “When Swing Was King” shows can be found right here…just in case you’d like to come along and help us bring some cheer into the lives of our community’s seniors.

1) Glenn Miller Orchestra (Ray Eberle, vocals) -- “When You Wish Upon a Star”
2) Nat King Cole -- “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”
3) Harry James Orchestra -- “Crazy Rhythm”
4) Artie Shaw Orchestra (Helen Forrest, vocals) -- “I Have Eyes”
5) The Andrews Sisters -- “Rock-a-bye Baby” (Photo Theme: Babies)
6) Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (Frank Sinatra, vocals) -- “What About You?”
7) Guy Lombardo Orchestra (Kenny Gardner, vocals) -- “For Me and My Gal”
8) Ella Fitzgerald -- “Where or When”
9) Glen Gray & the Casa Loma Orchestra -- “Blue Room”
10) Gene Krupa Orchestra (Carolyn Grey, vocals) -- “They Wouldn’t Believe Me”
11) Benny Goodman Orchestra (Dottie Reid) -- “Paper Moon”
12) Bob Hope and Shirley Ross -- “Thanks for the Memory”

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

“When Swing Was King” Goes to Press!

Goes to press?

I thought “When Swing Was King” was the entertainment/visitation outreach you guys took into senior care centers. So, what’s that headline all about?

Well, here’s the deal. We have just printed the first of our “When Swing Was King” news sheets for the residents of the 12 senior care facilities we visit each month. It is a 4-page, big-print publication which we will pass out four times a year. Each issue will provide interesting and fun facts about the music, performers, and the times of the big band era as well as seasonal quotations, a bit of poetry and Scripture, and a short personal note from Claire and I.

There are three basic purposes for this new project.  1) We hope to extend our ministry by giving our audiences something to read, think about, and share with friends and family. 2) We believe it will serve as a winsome promotion for the “When Swing Was King” shows themselves. And 3) It allows us yet another avenue to touch on matters of the heart and spirit as we deepen our friendship with the residents.

What’s in our first issue? There’s a ten-question quiz, a brief spotlight on bandleader Ozzie Nelson, a few quotes from Duke Ellington, several beautiful quotations and Scriptures about autumn, a poem from Robert Louis Stevenson, the best-selling records in the fall of 1945 and 1955, fun facts about the song “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael, and a few “don’t you wish you were there when” items.

Oh, yes; there’s also the note we include from Claire and I. Here it is.

As we reach the autumn of our lives, we often become more nostalgic, even if we realize that the “good old days” were not always that good.  As someone put it, people sometimes get nostalgic about things they weren’t all that crazy about the first time around!  And, of course, our nostalgia creates mixed emotions: sadness for the loved ones we miss, regret over good times that have gone by, frustrations brought on by the changes in our culture and in our own bodies.  

But there are also pleasures in remembering and appreciating and in being grateful for the blessings God has given.  As one “When Swing Was King” fan told us, “Your shows bring back so many memories.  Some of them are happy. Some of them are sad.  But they’re all mine and I’m truly grateful for them all.”

That’s what we hope our programs provide for all of our audiences – great music, entertaining information, interesting and fun photographs, the blessing of friendship…and memories that are all yours! 

In this autumn season when we appreciate the harvest, enjoy the unique beauties of color and change, celebrate Thanksgiving, watch a little football, and prepare for the Christmas season and the rigors of winter, we pray God’s abundant blessings on you all.

By the way, the news sheet is printed on one long sheet of paper and folded. And it’s printed in black and white. Both of these things make it rather inexpensive to print. (Also, because we mention that it is printed by Oh-K Fast Print on 120th & Center, they give us a 10% discount.) But, just as important perhaps, is that this method allows YOU to make copies which you could pass out to the folks in the senior care center (or anywhere else) in YOUR area. We would be delighted to send you a hard copy or a pdf file and you could get started right away. Just let us know if you’re interested.