Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Of Loaves & Little Fishes (John 6: 1-14)

Denny gives a 15-minute talk here on the miracle of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes.  The life lesson from this sermon is to bring whatever we have, no matter how small, to Jesus Who has the power to make it sufficient.  There were also 3 lovely songs about the wonderful love of God for His children.

"Crown Him with Many Crowns" sung by Mass Choir, St. George's School, Madras, India  

"I Need Thee Every Hour" sung by The Wartburg Choir from Waverly, Iowa -- performed at Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany 

"I Don't Know About Tomorrow" sung by George Younce, Larry Ford, and a Gaither Family Reunion Chorus 


Monday, April 12, 2021

Vital Signs' Sunday Afternoon Church Service Is Going Very Well

Sunday afternoon church services at Aksarben Village Assisted Living represent the newest outreach of Vital Signs Ministries and we are delighted to say that things are going very well. At yesterday's service, for instance, 24 residents joined Claire and me, Patrick, Karla, and Ruth for a time of prayer, music videos (which are projected onto a large screen and played through our speaker system), a 15-minute Bible lesson, and then almost an hour of visiting over coffee and cookies afterward. What a terrific time we had. 

To give you a clearer picture, here is yesterday's order of service:

* A distribution of handouts as congregants arrive. (Handouts include order of service and lyrics to the songs which will be played.)

* Welcome and Opening Prayer

* Music: Crown Him With Many Crowns (Mass Choir, St George’s School, Madras, India)

* Music: I Need Thee Every Hour (The Wartburg Choir from Waverly, Iowa and performed at Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany)

* Today’s Lesson: “Of Loaves and Little Fishes” (John 6: 1-14)

* Music: I Don’t Know About Tomorrow (George Younce, Larry Ford, and a Gaither Family Reunion Chorus)

* Closing Prayer

* Visitation Ministry

In addition to the on-site services, we have been recording the Bible lessons and making them available to whoever might find them of value, including the residents of other senior facilities. You can, by the way, find those on the Vital Signs Ministries YouTube channel right here. 

Are You Waiting For God?

If you’re like me, wait is an rather uncomfortable word.  I mean, who likes to wait?  Think of waiting at the DMV or other government offices. Think of the boredom and tension of the waiting room at the doctor’s office.  Even a short wait like the car warming up on a winter morning, being in line at the supermarket checkout, or keeping your foot off the gas pedal for a red light can be a bother to us.

Nevertheless, waiting is presented in the Bible as a necessary duty in the lives of God's people. The prophetic chapter of Isaiah 25, for instance, describes the faithful as reveling in the lavish banquet God has prepared as they joyfully declare, “Behold, this is our God for Whom we have waited that He might save us.”

The chapter makes clear that these are men and women from all eras and all nations whose faith in God was finally receiving its rewards, including a full knowledge of God and fellowship with Him, the elimination of death, the reconciliation of all things to their Creator, the comfort from all sorrows, and the ultimate triumph of His holy power.  

But, of course, there is that word there — wait. 

These believers had to wait for that sweet and forever day of victory. It didn’t come when they wanted it; it came at God’s appointed time. They had to wait on Him: patiently, devotedly, keeping their eyes not on the temporary trials of this sin-scarred earth but on the promised prize.

There are several other Scriptures which speak to this matter and, in various ways, they illustrate that waiting on God requires existential faith in the Lord’s promises and a confident expectation that His power, His love, His righteousness, and His wise purposes are perfect…even in their timing.  As we exercise faith in a God Who loves us and Who is sovereign over all circumstances, we can certainly endure. By the Spirit's power, we can maintain joy, loyal worship, and good deeds which shine God's light even in dark and difficult times.

We can, in a word, wait.  And, as Isaiah 25 shows, with its awesome pictures of God’s (and our) ultimate triumph, we will one great day testify that His glorious, liberating victory in our behalf was well worth the wait.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Let Us Walk Through the Door (or “What's John Updike Got To Do with Easter?”)

The following post is a part of an Easter sermon I presented 8 years ago. It was a sermon which dealt with a seemingly unlikely trio of subjects: bad news from the culture wars, the biblical descriptions of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and a poem from none other than John Updike. I hope you’ll find this excerpt from that sermon of value.

…Christ is risen. And because Christ is risen, all who believe in Him will arise also. Death could not hold Him. And death will not hold us either...

I’m afraid that in many, many Protestant church buildings around the country this morning, there are Easter services going on that do not reflect the miraculous event which is at the holiday’s core – that is, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Decades of naturalism and liberalism have had their effect. And in many churches where sermons once rang with praise for the glorious reality of Christ’s physical resurrection, there are now clergymen (and women) who are actually embarrassed by the event. Indeed, the sermons they will preach will hem and haw around the resurrection, offering only benign poetry and allegorical applications.

One remarkable protest of this revisionist history and the soft-headed religion that now dominates the liberal Protestant churches of America comes from what might seem to be an unlikely critic, the late John Updike. Updike is one of the 20th Century’s most famous novelists and poets, a writer more widely read and talked about than anyone since Hemingway.

Updike’s work reflects many of the themes of the post-Christian era. He is, for instance, rather preoccupied by the subject of sex. Yet his novels are also full of religious themes. Updike read Kierkegaard and Tillich and Niebuhr and, though he was not comfortable with evangelical theology, what bothered him even more was the milquetoast religion of liberal Protestantism.

I'm going to read one of Updike’s poems to you now. It’s a poem that exposes the lack of intellectual honesty, the lack of courage, and the lack of practical faith of those liberals who want an Easter without the hard fact of miracle, without what Updike calls the “monstrous” fact of Christ's physical resurrection. The poem is entitled, “Seven Stanzas At Easter.”


“Seven Stanzas At Easter” by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

the Church will fall.


It was not as the flowers,

each soft Spring recurrent;

it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled

eyes of the eleven apostles;

it was as His flesh: ours.


The same hinged thumbs and toes,

the same valved heart

that – pierced -- died, withered, paused, and then

regathered out of enduring Might

new strength to enclose.


Let us not mock God with metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

faded credulity of earlier ages:

let us walk through the door.


The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,

not a stone in a story,

but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

the wide light of day.


And if we will have an angel at the tomb,

make it a real angel,

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,

opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen

spun on a definite loom.


Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,

for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

embarrassed by the miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.

The miracle was real, Updike warns. The physical resurrection of Jesus actually happened. And those who deny it should act honestly and just clear out of the religious game altogether. Because Christianity must include the cross, the atoning death, and the physical resurrection. Otherwise, it’s less than worthless. It’s a mean joke. And a joke, he sternly warns, that will eventually crush the doubters who pass it along.

In this, John Updike echoes the apostle Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 15. Here are highlights of that presentation as they pertain to this matter. Wrote Paul, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain…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.”

But, of course, Jesus DID rise from the grave. And for those who trust in the sacrifice He made for us, the Innocent One dying to pay the penalties of the guilty, they too will rise from the grave.

Later in that chapter Paul continues, “But when this perishable [body] will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal [body] will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."

Christ is risen. And that makes all the difference for heaven and earth…and hell too.

Furthermore, it’s a difference that is not merely historical or eschatological; it makes a huge difference for men and women living in the maelstrom of the present day. While North Korea rattles the sabers, while the sounds of gunshots echo through our inner city neighborhoods, while all of creation groans under the weight of such bizarre sins as child-murder, sexual perversion, and the brazen discarding of divine revelation -- the resurrection of Jesus gives to His adopted children the sure hope of their own resurrection and the power to overcome today’s temptations and trials.

Oh yes, the raising of Jesus has very active help for us today. It gives us perspective, comfort, strength, and joy. And, in time, it will give us all the treasures of heaven.

John Updike’s criticism of the insipid nature of liberal theology is spot on. And a few million Americans and Europeans have, over the last two generations, left the mainline Protestant denominations because they agreed with him. The liberal religionists have little to offer the mind and nothing whatsoever to soothe the soul. And, whether or not Updike himself ever “walked through the door”(as he put it) and fully grasped the implications of the open tomb, “Seven Stanzas At Easter” stands brilliantly true and is a compelling illustration of the apostle Paul's exhortation of 1 Corinthians 15.

So let’s you and I heed the advice well. Let us not mock God by treating Easter as only a sweet holiday -- one that speaks of bunnies and spring, decorated eggs and new outfits.  Let us not choose the allegory, the metaphor, and the sidestepping which foolishly trades in the true miracle of Easter for the papier-mâché scene created by the “faded credulity of earlier ages.”

Rather, let us walk through the door of that open tomb, appreciating the universe-shattering event that Christ's resurrection was, receiving into our spirits the powerful effects it has for our service in His kingdom right now, and looking forward to the full realization of His victory when all things will be reconciled to God.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Did You Hear the Latest News? (Probably Not.)

And that's because the art (and critical responsibility) of journalism has left the building...except in the greatly endangered field of the alternative media.

So to help catch you up, Vital Signs Blog frequently posts short lists of some of the best and most important articles from sources that can yet be trusted to report something other than the left's "talking points" of the day.

Here is the latest of those lists.

* "8 Ways That HR 1, 'For the People Act,' Imperils Free and Fair Elections" (Hans von Spakovsky, Daily Signal)

* "Death and Lockdowns: There’s no proof that lockdowns save lives but plenty of evidence that they end them." (John Tierney, City Journal)

* "Follow The 'Science,' They Said" (Victor Davis Hanson, American Greatness)

* "Israel’s Daily Battle to Block Iranian Aggression" (Yaakov Lappin, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)


* "Why is our military choosing new enemies?" (Victor Davis Hanson, JWR)