Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Passing Into Heaven of Billy Graham

On learning of the death of Billy Graham, Vice President Mike Pence responded with condolences to Graham’s family and reflections on his ministry. “Billy Graham’s ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, ‘well done good and faithful servant.’”

On his 96th birthday in 2015, the great evangelist Billy Graham released his last public word to America and the world. Here is that brief message.

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 it...now.

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.