Saturday, December 31, 2016

Want To Do Better In Your New Year's Resolutions?

Have you made your New Year's resolutions yet?

Yes, I know that many Christians ignore the whole idea. In fact, some are downright grinchy about it, believing that making resolutions is more about reliance on one's own willpower than on God's grace to effect change in their lives. Many more, however, dismiss the idea simply because they've failed so many times in the past. They decide they're actually better off by staying the way they are, playing around with the same excuses, and trying to keep themselves comfortably distant from higher aspirations.

But here's the deal -- making resolutions isn't optional for the Christian. Not at all. Think for just a moment about the Scripture's frequent use of exhortational verbs like "dedicate," "reckon," "establish," "consider," "purpose," "consecrate," "prove," "remember," "put aside," and many more. All refer to the prayerful making (and keeping) of spiritual resolutions.

You just can't avoid it...not if you want to live in accordance with the Word.

It may help for you to dispense with the idea of New Year's resolutions and instead see careful, purposeful changes in your life as Christmas gifts to Jesus. That's what Claire and I try to do. And it's been a great reminder to us that God is a God of wondrous and inexhaustible grace. Through the cross of Jesus, He is always ready to forgive sin and failure. And He is also ready to empower His disciples to begin again and again.

Note also that the Latin word behind resolution means to untie. And an awful lot of our obstacles to spiritual growth involve un-tying the knots of bad thinking and bad habits. To untie these knots, we need patience and other virtues given by the Holy Spirit. We need better information which means more frequent and more effective Bible study. We need to make sure we're praying hard as well as trying hard. We also need a heavenly perspective, one that sees our honest resolutions and efforts as investments in eternity. And finally, the successful achievement of our prayerful resolutions is greatly helped by authentic Christian fellowship, the kind that provides rich supplies of encouragement, accountability and assistance.

Resolutions are not our enemies. But we need to envision the benefits of spiritual growth (liberation, peace, joy, greater effectiveness in ministry, etc.) in order to more willingly embrace the work involved to get there.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Trusting Sawdust?

Instead of trusting the sawdust produced by the tired, irresponsible, and ridiculously biased old-guard-media (the TV networks, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, Time Magazine, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and all the other newspapers, talk shows, and entertainment programs that rely upon them), why not find relevant and reliable sources of news and commentary like the ones in which these items appear?

* “5 Ways to Move from a Great Shaking in 2016 to a Great Awakening in 2017” (Michael Brown, Town Hall)

* “The UN Declares War on Judeo-Christian Civilization” (Giulio Meotti, Gatestone Institute)

* “Progressively Regressive Sexuality: A Return to Pagan Morality” (Eric Metaxas, Breakpoint)

* “The Ancient Foreign Policy” (Victor Davis Hanson, National Review)

* “Illinois Is a Failed State” (Keith Liscio, Observer)

* “Sorry, But Our Fight Against Liberal Fascism Has Only Just Begun” (Kurt Schlichter, Town Hall)

* “Under Obama, 10.7 Million More Use Food Stamps — A 32 Percent Jump” (Katherine Rodriguez, Breitbart)

* “Mother’s Little Helper” (Paul Mirengoff, Power Line)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Whole Season of Christmas -- Why 12 Days Are Better Than One!

(The following is reposted, with a couple of edits, from 11 years ago!)

Contrary to popular belief, the season of Christmas is not the period from Thanksgiving through December 25th. That idea comes more from modern advertisers and merchandise salesman – the “only so many shopping days ’til Christmas” folks. But the true season of Christmas is not the period leading up to Christmas Day but rather the one leading from it! The Twelve Days of Christmas is much more than the title of a terribly redundant song; it suggests a way that the Advent of our Lord could be better celebrated.

Claire and I believe that Christmas is just too big and beautiful to be contained in one day. We love December and its various anticipations of Christmas, but our real celebration starts rather than ends on December 25th. While so many are weighed down by the post-holiday blues, we're just getting underway! Interested in stretching your Christmas out to its fullest? Here are a few suggestions.

1) The enjoyment of Christmas movies, reading, music, and parties go on apace for Claire and me even after the 25th. This is an extremely helpful exercise for all those people who complain about how fast Christmas comes and goes. Take it easy! When you utilize the whole season (all of December and then the 12 Days of Christmas proper), you'll see you'll have more time for Christmas priorities as well as its most pleasant diversions. Many who adopt this approach find that as they de-emphasize the one day celebration (with its hectic stress on big dollar presents and big dinner preparations), they are much more able to enjoy family, contemplation, and the other more spiritual elements of Christmas.

2) The nobility of celebrating the entire season of Christmas is that it emphasizes extending over spending. Our gift-giving goes a long way beyond Christmas Morning because we open presents each of the Twelve Days. Imagine how much fun that is! And yet the costs of gift giving actually went down with this practice, not up. For even though we are giving each other more gifts than ever, we have become more creative and personal in our selection. We might still buy each other a couple of “pricey” gifts but, with a whole 12 Days to cover, we were forced to come up with other ideas. And those other ideas have proven to be delightful ways of coming together in the spirit of Christmas.

For example, now our Christmas gifts include more personal favors and time spent together. For instance, Claire opens an envelope on the Seventh Day of Christmas which contains a new recipe along with a note declaring that I'm fixing that particular dish for supper tonight. Or it might be a day off from housework, the addresses of three newly discovered websites I know she'll enjoy checking out, or just a promise of a leisurely car ride out in the country. As for my pleasure in gifts, it is centered on inexpensive things anyway like used books, used records, and...let's see; did I mention used books and records already? Anyhow, the point is that whether you use twelve days or one day to celebrate Christmas, the gifts that matter most are ones that underscore things like time, creativity, and personal attention more than mere “stuff.” For us, the extended approach was very helpful in pursuing the better things.

3) Even within the Twelve Days of Christmas, Claire and I have a few special observances, especially St. Stephen's Day (December 26th) and the Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28th). Activities for observing the former should certainly include reading the Acts passages relating to Stephen's selection as deacon, his sermon before the Council, and his martyrdom. It could also involve writing a letter or two to missionaries, witnessing to your Faith, or visiting a widow or someone else in need of encouragement. And Holy Innocents Day, of course, has an obvious significance for pro-life activists like us. It is an excellent time for spiritual exercises and public actions that promote the sanctity of life.

4) Another important element of our Christmas season is taking time to consider, pray about, and discuss our New Year's resolutions. Now, I know some Christians are critical of those who make New Year's resolutions. That's unfortunate. I assume it's because these critics believe making resolutions suggests a dependence upon one's own strength rather than God's grace. Wrong. Making resolutions is most definitely a biblical practice. Think for a moment about the Scripture's use of exhortational verbs like reckon, count, establish, consider, dedicate, consecrate, remember, put aside, purpose, gird your mind, and many more. All refer to the prayerful making (and keeping) of resolutions to live godly. An evaluation of one's life is always in order as is a careful plan of action to be more effective as a “doer of the Word.” After all, this is a key purpose of the Sabbath rest God instituted. So, why not use the Twelve Days to go deeper than usual in your spiritual analysis so that you can better serve the Savior in the year to come?

5) And finally, all things come to their completion. The Christmas season is over for us when Twelfth Night comes around but there's one more important Christmas event. That is our celebration of Epiphany on January 6th. Epiphany is the holiday when the manifestation of Jesus is celebrated in much of the world, the day when we remember the visit of the magi as well as the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. It is also the gift-giving Christmas for much of the eastern world. Claire and I use Epiphany as a way to close our Christmas season and we do so with a final Christmas party. Most significantly, we take time with our friends to wrap up the figures from our main nativity set, each person sharing a testimony or a prayer relating to each nativity figure. It is always a very moving time of fellowship.

So, there you go -- a few ideas from our house to yours about how Christmas can be extended in time and, we believe, elevated in spirit.

The Latest Roundup (Of Important News & Commentary)

* “Diplomatic terrorism at the UN, courtesy President Obama” (Anne Bayefsky, Fox News)

* “Final tally shows Trump lost popular vote by 2.8 million – but he BEAT Clinton by 3 million votes outside of California and New York” (David Martosko, Daily Mail)

* “White House Chief of Staff Absurdly Claims Obama ‘Most Catholic of Presidents’” (Dustin Siggins, The Stream)

* “Count your blessings much, Mrs. Grinch?” (Michelle Malkin, Jewish World Review)

* “Obsolete Climate Science On CO2” (Richard A. Epstein, Defining Ideas)

* “Obama shock: Another $6 billion in ‘midnight regulations’” (Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner)

* “A last kiss for mama: Jihadi parents bid young daughters goodbye... before one walks into a Damascus police station and is blown up by remote detonator” (Julian Robinson, Daily Mail)

* “Cops nab 20-year-old student who allegedly littered his Long Island college campus with swastika graffiti” (John Annese, New York Daily News)

* “The Trump nail in the media coffin” (Victor Davis Hanson, Jewish World Review)

* “George Washington University Removes U.S. History as a Requirement for History Majors” ( Andrew Stiles, Heat Street)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Heading Out for a Santa Run

Among our traditional “Santa runs” where we take homemade, home-decorated cookies round to friends and neighbors are trips to our local police officers and firefighters.

Of course, these public servants deserve far more thanks than just plates of Christmas cookies but we’re pleased that the treats are always well are promises to keep praying for them.

Christmas Conversation Starters

From the “Making the Most of Christmas” packet we created years ago comes an exercise that might help you have a more Christmassy conversation around the tree this year. Have fun.

(And yes; this photo alone might start a conversation.)

1) What would be the perfect Christmas setting for you? A snow-covered inn in Vermont? A “silent night” overlooking Bethlehem? A bustling New York street in the 1940's? You name it!

2) Are there any ethnic or ancestral holiday traditions you keep? Are there traditions you have invented or adapted for your own family?

3) You are the director of the ultimate Christmas television special. So who are your musical guests (living or late)?

4) What is your favorite Christmas scent?

5) Do you prefer blinking or non-blinking lights?

6) What is your favorite Christmas film?

7) Describe a special ornament that hangs on your tree.

8) Did you ever peek to discover your Christmas presents?

9) What is your favorite Christmas song?

10) Did you ever participate in a Christmas pageant? Give a quick review of how it went.

11) What is one of ways you first realize Christmas is coming?

12) What do you believe is the most delicious fruit in a fruitcake?

13) Describe the Christmas eves of your childhood. How are they different today?

14) What is the most memorable Christmas gift you ever gave?

15) Describe your worst Christmas travel experience.

16) What is your favorite Christmas beverage?

17) Tell something about the Christmas trees you remember from your childhood.

18) Do you send out Christmas cards? Explain why or why not.

19) Where do you place your nativity set?

20) Christmas dinner at your house. Describe it.

21) Do you have any special service projects lined up for Christmastime?

22) What's the newest Christmas music you have in the house?

23) Clothes for Christmas gifts. Where do you weigh in on this controversy?

24) What do you make (or have you made) with your own hands at Christmas?

25) What is your favorite Christmas literature?

26) What did you do as a child when Christmas vacation came around?

27) What's a good way to deal with the post-holiday blues?

28) Describe the Christmas mornings of your childhood. How are they different today?

29) Of all the figures around the nativity scene, whom do you most identify with?

30) What do you think is an appropriate gift to give Jesus on His birthday?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Left Wing Gas

While the AP, the New York Times, network TV, and the rest of the old guard media are (hour by hour) pumping out progressive propaganda, you need careful, responsible news and commentary more than ever. Here’s a few articles you’ll find of great interest. Read them and pass along the information to the unfortunate low-octane, low-info Americans around you.

* “Liberals to Poor Third World Children: Drop Dead” (Steven Hayward, Power Line)

* “How Women in Media Missed the Women’s Vote” (Kay S. Hymowitz, City Journal)

* “A New Era for Abortion Law” (Alexandra DeSanctis, National Review)

* “Lost children of the revolution: Castro’s abortion legacy” (Carolyn Moynihan, Mercator)

* “Cuba cracks down on dissidents after Castro death” (Carlos Bastista, Yahoo News)

* “Navy Begins Transgender Indoctrination” (Peter Sprigg, The Stream)

* “Report: 820,000 criminal illegals, 84% with felonies, serious misdemeanors” (Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner)

* “The Bounties of Obama’s Weakness” (Jed Babbin, American Spectator)

* “The Conservative Case for Nuclear Energy” (Robert Bryce, National Review)

Denny's Letter to Santa & Santa's Letter to Politicians

(This was posted on the Vital Signs Blog 4 years ago, but it's worth reposting as we welcome in a new administration.)

I pass along two documents for you to peruse. One is a copy of a letter I sent to Santa. The second is the note that Santa attached when he sent my letter on to several political leaders.

Dear Santa,

What I most want for Christmas this year may be beyond even your North Pole magic so I’ve decided to ask for just three things – things that are undoubtedly practical, certainly directed for the common good, and do-able even in the current political climate.   

1) I would like serious actions taken to protect America’s democracy from voter fraud. We desperately need voter I.D. laws, fair and effective voting machines, non-partisan oversight, harsh penalties for vote fraud crooks -- and tough enforcement of all of these.

2) I would like government funds to the mega-abortion corporation Planned Parenthood completely eliminated.  For crying out loud, it’s a multi-million dollar business that kills preborn boys and girls, zealously promotes and enables promiscuity and, in a dozen other ways, contributes to the decadence of American culture.  So why, when the nation is broke, do we scrape up $350 million from the taxpayers every year to give to this sinister group?

3) Renewed efforts from America’s lawmakers and opinion leaders to defend and promote the U.S. Constitution -- especially its protection of the freedoms of religion, speech, and association.

Please Santa, I’m deeply appreciative of all the wonderful presents you’ve given me over the years, but this year I’m asking for you to concentrate on these three wishes.



From the desk of Santa Claus, North Pole.
To President-elect Trump, Senators Sasse & Fischer, and Congressman Bacon.

I’m redirecting Denny’s letter to you since it is more in line with your responsibilities than mine.  However, I do pass it along with two personal notations. 

First, I can vouch for the character of the letter’s author – at least to the extent that ever since his conversion to Christianity way back in 1970, he’s maintained a place on my “Nice” list. I won’t say anything at all about the times before that.

And second, I personally (and wholeheartedly) agree with his requests.  Indeed, I especially urge you to act diligently upon his second wish.  As someone with a solid history as a friend of children, I consider Planned Parenthood one of the most monstrous menaces in modern history.  So anything and everything you do to de-fund this business would be dearly appreciated up here too.

Thank you, 

S. Claus 

Friday, December 16, 2016

“The Man Who Tried to Kill Christmas”

Certainly the coldest, cruelest personage in the Christmas story is Herod, the vicious tyrant whose political ambitions, fear, and hatred of righteousness resulted in the slaughter of Bethlehem's infants.  But how much do you really know about Herod?

Before the near-insanity of his last years on the throne, Herod had been a rising star in the Roman world.  Nearly four decades before Jesus was born, Herod had been given the title “King of the Jews” by the co-rulers of Rome, Octavian and Antony.  But the title was an optimistic one because Palestine was, at the time, under the control of the Parthians.  Herod was sent to re-conquer the area and after many tough years, he did so.  He was then given the throne (always under Rome's ultimate rule, of course) and he proved himself as clever and capable a politician as he was a warrior.

Herod was a visionary, building the port city of Caesarea and the fortress of Masada but he was also a pragmatist.  He built theaters and racetracks to please the populace; he melted down palace gold to feed people when a severe famine hit; and he married into the Hasmonean house, the ancient ruling family of the Jews.  However, it was Herod's ruthless ambition that was key to his nature.  To secure his wealth and power, Herod had hundreds of court officials and attendants executed; indeed, he even ordered the murders of his mother-in-law, his wife, and three of his sons.  In fact, knowing no one would mourn his death, he insured there would be mourning in Jerusalem by ordering several leading citizens to be executed on the day he died.

And, of course, after being alerted by the visiting Magi about the birth of the Messiah, Herod sought to protect his crown by putting to the sword all of the babies of the Bethlehem area.

Nevertheless, even Herod's pernicious power lust could not thwart the plan of God. The Holy Family was rescued from the clutches of this vicious killer, sent to Egypt for protection, and the plan of salvation for all who would believe in His Son went forward.

Oh yes, the Christmas story is one of more ways than one.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The First Emmanuel Event

Emmanuel…God with us.
This is the amazing fact on which this entire Christmas season is established.  But just when did this “Emmanuel event” actually happen? Did the Messiah's advent into that Bethlehem stable occur on the 25th of December or not? Well, my friends, whichever date you end up with as the birthday of Jesus, you must understand that the most important issue is what happened about 9 months before! That's right  – it is the conception of Jesus that is the true “Emmanuel event,” the moment when God was first with us.  Christmas was only the revelation...the unwrapping of the Christmas present.

We celebrate Jesus' birthday and glorify God for the astounding miracle of the virgin birth.  That's certainly appropriate and good to do.  But our celebration should include a joyous appreciation of the virgin conception, that moment when Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and the Incarnation truly began. That awesome miracle is the real “Emmanuel event” - the turning point in history that not only presents compelling evidence of the love and power of our overcoming God, but a severe warning to a culture that so callously undermines the lives of children in the womb.

So, in the festive celebrations of this Christmas season, let's certainly take care to treasure the “Emmanuel event” that preceded Christmas and also learn its lessons.

(The above painting is “The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas Tree Reflections

From the very first year of Vital Signs Blog (2005), I repost this Christmas-themed note that came from a dear friend and spiritual mentor from the early years of the Christian Brotherhood, Abe Penner.

I find myself staring at the Christmas tree with all the lights and the beauty that it shows, and at times I am reminded of something a fellow Christian said one day at Christmas time. It was very profound and I will always remember it. 

He said, "Isn't that tree really pretty with all the lights, decorations and gifts under it? Do you know what that reminds me of? It reminds me of the three trees in Scripture. The first tree was the tree of knowledge, and how Adam and Eve were not to touch it, but because they touched it the second tree had come, and that was the tree of Jesus' cross on which Jesus died for our sins, but then because of that death we will be able to partake of the tree of life described in Revelation.

The lights remind me of John 8:12, that Jesus is the light of the world, and that if we follow Him we will be led to eternal life. The gifts under the tree remind me of God's gift of His Son (John 3:16) Who would die so that we can be saved." I had never looked at the Christmas tree like that before, and what he said will stick.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Surveying the Ground

Here's the latest compilations of news and commentary that you can use...and that you'll certainly not see dealt with fairly in the old guard media.

* “The Slaughter at Cairo” (Editorial, New York Sun)

* “The 7 Worst Examples of Fake News From the Mainstream Media” (John Hawkins, Town Hall)

* “Convicting Geert Wilders of ‘speaking’ seems to have backfired” (Jazz Shaw, Hot Air)

* “Obama’s Second Term Was a Complete Failure” (Jim Geraghty, National Review)

* “Trump Election Saves Us From the Evil Party” (Ross Kaminsky, American Spectator)

* “CDC: Heroin Deaths Surpassed Firearm-Related Homicides in 2015” (Awr Hawkins, Breitbart)

* “Report: Costly wind turbines projected to yield $1.39 in daily savings” (Fox News)

* “Venezuela’s Socialists Play Santa Claus” (John Hinderaker, Power Line)

The Passing of Christmas

(This post originally appeared here at Christmastime 2012. But it wears well.)

Dear Virginia,

Because you have been such a loyal friend of Christmas, I wanted to write a personal letter to try and explain the sad news I’ll be announcing at a press conference tomorrow. Virginia, I’m retiring.  I’ve already deleted my database, put the sleigh up on Craig’s List, and changed forever into civilian clothes. Mrs. Claus and I have sublet our cottage here to a Russian drilling crew (they insist they own the North Pole anyway) and we’ve sold the workshops to a Chinese toy manufacturer.  For ourselves, we’ll be moving to Malta, at least for awhile.  There are at least some remains of civilization on that island; the health care system is top notch; and the climate may well help my arthritis.        

Virginia, I know this may seem like an abrupt and drastic move but, trust me, I really had no other choice.  I’m deeply saddened to think of the heartbreak the cancellation of Christmas will bring to good-hearted supporters like you.  Yet I also believe that the true friends of Christmas will sympathize with my plight. I have, of course, been grieved and frustrated over the increasing commercialization of the holiday.  That’s been going on for decades.  But the demands from the children of the last couple of generations have driven me over the edge. You and I both can remember when you were thrilled and very grateful to receive a doll, a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, and some candy. Your brother felt the same way that Christmas when I left him a football, some Lincoln Logs, and a couple of oranges.  But now children are absolutely insatiable. You simply cannot give them enough. And even a magic bag isn’t without a bottom.

And then there are the kinds of presents they crave!  There’s no way I can leave them the horrid things they ask of me.  Little girl dolls dressed in sexually suggestive outfits.  Grotesque and gory video games.  Rap music which glorifies savagery against women.  Movies full of blasphemy and brutish violence. There’s no way I could give an impressionable child such nasty, noxious things. And as a result, I’ve lost a big chunk of my market share.  Back in the 1950’s baby boom, I really had to hustle to keep up with demand.  But, in recent years, my trip takes a quarter of the time because I have so few children who want the presents I have to give.  To keep from laying off the elves, I’ve kept production high but we have completely run out of storage space. Our overstock of board games, baby dolls, puzzles, fire engines, books – I could go on and on – is crushing us.

But the present crisis, Virginia, has arisen from still other matters -- key among them being a vociferous committee of elves which started with grumbling, then moved on to organized protests, and ended up by forming unions connected, respectively, with the AFL, the SEIU, and the Teamsters.  The subsequent demands from union leaders are not only irrational, they are downright immoral. For instance, I refuse to allow, under my name, the manufacture of gifts which I believe to be decadent and culturally destructive.  Nor will I provide health coverage plans that would cause me to violate my religious convictions. Virginia, I shudder to think of the hard-working elves who have been loyal to the spirit of Christmas having to sign up for unemployment but the troublemakers have left me no other option. So, alas, I am shutting down Christmas altogether.

The fun, the festivity, and the faith is gone.  Even if I could somehow solve the market share problem and the labor problem (big ifs, indeed), there are plenty of other matters also pressing hard against Christmas.  You know about some of these, Virginia, like the movements of secularism, paganism, and consumerism that insist traditional Christmas give way to Holiday Break, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Black Friday, and so on.  But you probably haven’t heard about the harassment coming at me from those who claim (without genuine scientific evidence, I might add) that the pixie dust that I’ve used for centuries has dangerously depleted the ozone layer. And there’s the increasing clamor of animal rights groups who argue that the pace required to travel the whole world on Christmas Eve constitutes reindeer abuse.

And, Virginia, unless you noticed it on Drudge, you also wouldn’t know about the post-election Executive Order from the White House. It insists that American children receive X amount of presents regardless of whether they’ve been naughty or nice.  Reads the order, “An equitable redistribution of wealth cannot be achieved if the recipients are to be judged by merit, initiative, or moral character.  A just society is an entitled society.”

Yet that wasn’t the only change that the White House order contained – not by a longshot.  I was informed (in no uncertain terms) that were I to persist in gifting American children there were several other requirements.  I had to slim down.  I had to decry the practice of children leaving me and the reindeer cookies or anything else that wasn’t within the First Lady’s dietary guidelines. I had to stop smoking.  To help out the atrociously inept Post Office, I had to agree to a subcontract which would cede to them 1/3 of my U.S. deliveries. Furthermore, I had to yield authority of all North Pole operations to OSHA, EPA, NRLB, HIPA, IRS, the UN, and other alphabet agencies to be named later.

And, one more thing, I had to change the color of my red suit to blue.

So you see how things stand, Virginia.  Post-modern forces have long made it extremely difficult to practice Christmas in its traditional, warm-hearted ways. But those forces no longer constitute influential pressure alone, they have now become intolerant to the point of coercion. Christmas has been a wonderful blessing to the world but the powers that be are now forcing it to become the antithesis of what it was. I cannot be a part of that evil evolution. So, yes, Virginia, there still is a Santa Claus.  But Christmas…Well, Christmas itself has passed away.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Politics & Christmas

From a purely logical point of view, the Advent of Christ occurred at a most inconvenient time and in a most inhospitable place. The details of this scheme certainly would not have been cleared by professional planners or modern-day management consultants. I mean the circumstances seemed so wrong.

Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the Roman world into which Jesus was born, was no friend of religious freedom. Indeed, he was a tyrant of the old school who used repression, intimidation and violence as effective controls over the populations he dominated. And his underlings in the chain of command? Just as bad. Quirinius, the governor of Syria was a thug and Herod, the Roman-acclaimed King of the Jews who controlled Palestine, was a vicious assassin.

This then was the hostile, unstable, sin-sick political situation into which God sent His Son for His plan of redemption to be acted out. It’s absolutely amazing how God’s ways are so different than ours, isn’t it? And, not only different but superior beyond measure. For salvation was secured in this alarmingly dangerous situation and God’s overcoming power was manifested all the more brilliantly because of its background. In our present political instability, this Christmas reality is a good one to remember.

A similar divine irony is in play in Matthew 2:6 where Jesus is presented as not only the ruler of Israel but her shepherd too. Now the Jews knew all too well how earthly rulers conducted themselves. After all, they had been dominated by ruthless potentates during much of their history and were now oppressed by Rome’s insanely vicious tyrant, Herod. But the rule of the Messiah was to be radically different. And with the image of the Shepherd, the Holy Spirit through Matthew was emphasizing the tenderness, the devotion, the sacrificial love that would mark the Messiah’s reign. And by this compassion, Jesus Christ would rule not over territory alone but over the human heart as well.

Later, in Jesus’ teaching ministry, He graciously offered Israel this radically different kingdom, a kingdom marked by love and holiness and peace. But Israel rejected it. The price -- a whole-hearted submission to God -- was just too high for self-righteous, self-satisfied people to pay. The sheep disdained their Shepherd, preferring even the tyranny of Rome to God’s loving deliverer.

What a cataclysmic tragedy this was. And yet, despite this, God went on to make a way for Israel (and the entire world) to yet enter the peace of His kingdom. How? The ruler would serve as the Good Shepherd, even to the willing surrender of His own life for the sheep. Right here, in the very beginning of the Christmas story, is a dramatic foreshadowing of that great present that would be offered the whole world; namely, the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for the sins of the world.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Chronicles of Culture You Shouldn't Miss

Here's the latest roundup of news and commentary that, like Vitamin C and
exercise, is very good for what ails you.

* “The Nationalist Spirit of 2016: A Conservative Spring” (David Brog & Yoram Hazony, NRO)

* “Who do you trust on the economy: Obama or your own lying eyes?” (Andrew Malcolm, Hot Air)

* “Media Say We're In A Jobs Boom — We're Not” (Editorial, Investor’s Business Daily)

* “Are You Being Played? (Answer? Yes!)” (Sharyl Attkisson video clip, Reposted on Vital Signs Blog)

* “World Vision’s Decades-Long Hate Campaign Against Israel” (Luke Moon, The Tower)

* “Study blames DDT ban — not global warming — for U.S. mosquito eruption” (Valerie Richardson, Washington Times)

* “A Complete List of Radical Islamic Terror Attacks on U.S. Soil Under Obama” (James Barrett, Daily Wire)

* “Good riddance Harry Reid” (Editorial, Washington Examiner)

* “Assessing the Obama Legacy — Against His Own Mileposts” (Victor Davis Hanson, NRO)

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Are You Being Played? (Answer? Yes!)

Claire Feldman over at American Thinker alerted me to this remarkable clip. It is a portion of a TED talk by Sharyl Attkisson which really deserves to be viewed. You’ll find it fascinating…and frightening.

Feldman writes, “In this clip Attkisson discusses astroturf groups, the fake grass roots movements funded from above in order to influence media coverage of a political issue. It is a bit over 10 minutes, not an outrageous investment of your time compared to the valuable information it provides.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Another Success for Vital Signs' Christmas Card Party

Last night was awfully cold and windy but, inside our home, those arriving for
the Vital Signs Ministries Christmas card party found a warm and welcoming atmosphere, stimulating fellowship with their pro-life colleagues, and carefully prepared resources to help make their advocacy efforts of the evening as effective as possible.

Claire had completed the transformation of our home, making it as pretty and Christmassy as ever. But the emphasis for the night was functionality and so we crammed in tables and chairs enough to take care of 17 of us. We poured the coffee and tea and started quickly to the task. I explained the resources available. They included letter targets, sample messages, and address sheets. There were also Christmas cards I had spent much of the day in preparing beforehand -- cards meant for 17 persecuted Christians in totalitarian countries. Using the remarkable website of Voice of the Martyrs, I had printed off a few Scripture verses and a couple lines of personal encouragement in the prisoners' own languages and pasted them inside each card. I ended up with 4 lovely, colorful Christmas cards with different verses and Bible verses for each prisoner and pasted them inside each one. That made for 68 different cards in all. All that was needed was the signatures and prayers of our guests.

But actually, that job came a bit later in the evening. We started out with prayers for wisdom and for God's protection of the cards while in transit and for each card to pack the power of the Holy Spirit to the recipients. Then we set aside the first first 20-25 minutes to put into Christmas cards our respect, appreciation, and Christmas goodwill to U.S. military veterans. My, how they took to that task! In fact, when we called time, 124 Christmas cards had been finished! We will be handing those out to the residents of the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home and to select veterans in our December "When Swing Was King" audiences.

Next, we entered the freestyle phase of the evening as our letter-writing crew chose their own topics and recipients. Here's how that broke down. 11 message-bearing Christmas cards were sent to government officials in countries like Communist China, Iran, and Eritrea, urging greater religious freedom for people of faith and conscience. There were also specific appeals for justice in behalf of the persecuted believers in the VOM list.

Also in the works were 23 Christmas cards with requests to companies (like Wells Fargo, Chevron, Bath & Body Works, Energizer, Clorox, the American Cancer Society, and others) who support the mega-abortion corporation that is Planned Parenthood to immediately drop their support. On the other hand, we also wrote 23 Christmas cards expressing our thanks to companies that are friendly to Christian faith and family values like Belk, Interstate Batteries, Scheels, Hobby Lobby, and Chick-fil-A.

27 of the cards had messages to our political leaders Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Ben Sasse, Deb Fischer, and Don Bacon. They offered congratulations and promises of prayer support but they also urged quick action on priorities. Chief among them? The defunding of Planned Parenthood. And finally, 6 Christmas cards expressed the sentiments of the season to Christian heroes Franklin Graham and Joni Eareckson Tada.

That made for a total of 283 Christmas cards!

Plus there were a few taking resources home to help with their prayers and a few more letters.

It was a terrific night.

And, as always, we are praying that others (like you reading this post!) will be moved to let us help you and your friends, church, Sunday School class, Bible study, put into motion your own letter-writing party and thus make way for light shining, truth telling, and prayer stimulating public witness through letters. (Indeed, one invitation has already come through! Who will be next?)

Our deepest thanks to all who made the Christmas card party such a fantastic night of fellowship and ministry -- Pat Osborne, John & Barb Malek, Perly & Sandy Schoville, Don Kohls, Mary Roberts, Allen & Cindy Nelson, Karla Struble, Keith & Carol Moran, Ruth Denzler, and Quint and Carol Coppi. You guys were super!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cuba's Thug-In-Chief Dies: A Few Pointed Responses

Over on my Facebook page, I’ve posted a few items in the last few days concerning the death of Communist Cuba's thug-in-chief Fidel Castro and the wacky eulogies that have come forth from various know-nothings of the Left. I re-post them for the blog here as well as including several other excellent articles I know you’ll find of great value.

1) As an accompaniment to several editorial cartoons I wrote, “Reading the fawning eulogies of Communist dictator Fidel Castro made by reporters and politicians of the left (including, of course, President Obama), I was once again struck by how desperately lacking these ‘progressives’ are in any of these basic things: acceptance of historical fact, genuine empathy for the poor and downtrodden, respect for human rights and religious freedom, journalistic responsibility, understanding of economic realities, and the most simple of moral principles. Alas, there are indeed none so blind as those who will not see.”

2) “Against All Hope: Denny Reviews One of His Favorite Books” (Denny Hartford, The Book Den)

3) “Journalists Hail Castro’s Achievements, ‘George Washington,’ ‘Folk Hero to Most of Us’” (Brent Baker, MRC News Busters)

4) “Fidel Castro Finally Dies” (Paul Mirengoff, Power Line)

5) “13 Facts About Fidel Castro” (Paul Mirengoff, Power Line)

6) “5 Terrible Responses to Fidel Castro's Death From World Leaders” (Anthony L. Fisher, Hit & Run)

7) “Castro’s Socialism and Death” (Daniel Greenfield, Front Page Magazine)

8) “Castro, Chavez, and bad luck” (Glenn Reynolds, USA Today)

9) “Trudeau’s turn from cool to laughing stock” (Terry Glavin, Maclean’s)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Post-Holiday Posts

You say you're sick and tired of the schlock poured out by the old guard media and that you're looking instead for some relevant, fact-based articles about the world you live in?

Glad to hear it.

One of our jobs here at Vital Signs Blog is to provide Christian activists with informative, enlightening, and helpful articles from trustworthy sources. Here is the latest batch that we heartily recommend.

* “Make religious freedom great again: Undoing the damage of the Obama administration” (Ryan T. Anderson, Mercator)

* “Do sex education programs work? No, says major new study” (Philippa Taylor, Mercator)

* “Putin Imperils Religious Freedom” (Cliff May, Town Hall)

* “France Bans Ad Featuring Kids with Down Syndrome Because it Might Make Women Who Aborted Their Disabled Kids Uncomfortable” (Frank Camp, Daily Wire)

* “Pair charged in explosive device at elementary school; planned to shoot cops, start race war” (Carol Robinson, Alabama Media)

* “HUD Gives Poor More Rent Money to Live in ‘Higher Opportunity’ Areas With ‘Lower Poverty’” (Judicial Watch)

* “Protecting life, not punishing women: Overturning Roe v. Wade does not mean women will be thrown into prison for having an abortion.” (Tim Bradley, Mercator)

* “Abortion Activists Destroy Pro-Life Pregnancy Center in Suspected Arson, Set Center’s Chapel on Fire” (

* “BREAKING: Late-term abortionist LeRoy Carhart calls it quits in Maryland” (Cheryl Sullenger, Life Site News)

* “More young people contracting ‘old-age’ conditions including varicose veins due to sedentary lifestyles” (Katie Forster, Independent)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Now That Trump Has Won

At the Vital Signs Ministries Pie Social a few days ago, we made available for signatures the open letters we were sending to Nebraska Senators Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse, 2nd District Representative-elect Don Bacon, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and President-elect Donald Trump. The 4 basic points of those appeals can be seen in the sample letter below.

We encourage you to use this letter as a model (and a stimulant) to follow with your own letters and cards and phone calls to these folks. Indeed, why not do what we did and print such letters up and make them available for your family, friends, Sunday School classes, Bible studies, co-workers, etc to sign as well?

Dear Senator Fischer, 

Back in September, Donald Trump organized a pro-life coalition that he said would help him achieve four specific and critically important goals: 1) Nominate Justices to the Supreme Court who would be pro-life and strict constitutionalists; 2) Pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act; 3) De-fund the mega-abortion corporation that is Planned Parenthood; and 4) Make the Hyde Amendment permanent.

As pro-life Nebraskans, we enthusiastically applaud these goals, believing that they represent common-sense moral progress in our efforts to create a more just, more compassionate, more nurturing culture. And we write to urge you to please dedicate your own efforts to help President Trump keep his promises. 

Thank you. You are all in our frequent and fervent prayers.


Vital Signs Ministries and all those signing below…

Christmas Lights, Christmas Letters

As you may know, one of the Vital Signs Ministries activities that has been going
on for more than 3 decades now is our quarterly letter-writing parties. At these events we use the powers of both prayer and pen to promote issues of life, justice, religious freedom, and Christian chivalry. A special Christmas-themed letter-writing party will be held at the Hartford home on Tuesday night, November 29th from 7 to 9. We will concentrate our efforts with letters and Christmas cards directed to political representatives, business leaders, retired and injured members of the military, and Christians imprisoned for their faith around the world. Everything is provided -- envelopes, stamps, addresses, bullet points for your messages, and, of course, hot drinks and dessert treats.

Interested? Then give us a call or send along a email. By the way, if the house can't hold us, we will shift the event to a local restaurant party room. So your quick RSVP would be a great help.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Post-Election Roundup #3

While the old guard media cries foul, wrings their hands, and doubles down on their distorted, smug, and unfair "reporting," the alternative media lives in the real world. Get the straight skinny with these insightful -- and fact-based -- articles on politics and culture.

* “The Stupefying Hypocrisy of the Luxury-Peddling New York Times” (Heather MacDonald, National Review)

* “President-Elect Donald Trump: ‘I’m Pro-Life, The Judges Will be Pro-Life’” (Steven Ertelt,

* “Five thoughts on the election” (Fr. Shenan Boquet, Life Site News)

* “Donald Trump Just Made These 10 Things Cool Again” (Sean Davis, Federalist)

* “‘I Won’” (Kevin D. Williamsom, National Review)

* “The GOP’s Trump Card in the States” (Steven Malanga, City Journal)

* “As National Debt Nears $20 Trillion, Senator Takes Aim at Government Waste” (Rachel del Guidice, Daily Signal)

* “California jumps the shark” (Joel Kotkin, Orange County Register)

* “Pope fails to reply to 4 cardinals’ urgent plea for clarification, so they go public” (John-Henry Westen, Life Site News)

* “Bare, Ruined Choirs: How Barack Obama wrecked the Democratic Party” (John Podhoretz & Noah C. Rothman, Commentary)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Rollicking Roundup of Post-Election "Must Reads"

Each one of these articles is terrific. I guarantee you'll find them quite helpful in both expanding your own understanding and in better expressing yourself to others.

* “The unbearable smugness of the press” (Will Rahn, CBS News)

* “Coming Media Discoveries” (Peter Kirsanow, National Review)

* “Law, Order, and Trump” (Heather MacDonald, City Journal)

* “Why Trump won” (Barry Shaw, Arutz Sheva, Israel National News)

* “The Great Liberal Freakout” (Steven Hayward, Power Line)

* “The People Are Laughing at the Liberal Media” (Cliff Kincaid, Accuracy in Media)

* “At Every Level of Government, the Democratic Party is Dead” (Rick Moran, PJ Media)

* “Donald Trump and the Rejection of Progressivism: Americans voted against the Left’s contempt for the Constitution.” (Myron Magnet, City Journal)

* “Republicans flip three governors’ seats: Victories raise party’s total to 33, largest amount since 1922” (Valerie Richardson, Washington Times)

* “The USS Zumwalt Can't Fire Its Guns Because the Ammo Is Too Expensive” (Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Reviewing the Branson Excursion

Claire and I are back from Branson and, despite the hoopla generated by the hooligans running for President, we are feeling rested, refreshed, and recommitted to the blessed honor we have of raising Christ’s standard through Vital Signs Ministries.

There’s a lot to do right away – plan for the VSM Pie Social on November 11th (details at the end of October’s LifeSharer letter which is right here), create the next November “When Swing Was King” volume,  catch up on correspondence, and finish work on a grand Christmas letter-writing party we’re having on November 29th (details right here).

There was some work in our Branson schedule, especially Claire’s work on a major project we’re calling “Sentence Sermons” and, for my part, a lot of planning and reading.  But we did well in making sure that our “working vacation” included plenty of “vacation” as well.  Among the highlights?

* We did a lot of hiking along Table Rock Lake. Claire took her longest walks ever on this beautiful trail – 5.3 miles. And she did it 4 times!  However, she quickly beat her record by joining me for a walk through Dogwood Canyon that was 7.8 miles!  I also threw in some long walks around the RecPlex and through the very hilly town of Branson.  My walks followed my usual pattern of 7.5 miles and so, with getting in 9 days, I added about 68 miles to my 2016 total. (My present total for the year, after another 4 hikes since I returned home, is now 1302.2 miles.)

* Reading.  The books I brought along for Branson were, with one exception, excellent – informative, challenging, and inspiring. The good ones were Randy Alcorn’s hand in Hand; Francis Schaeffer’s The Church Before the Watching World; Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez; and the Lew Wallace classic, Ben Hur.  The bad one was our literary club selection for the month, The Oxbow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.  This was one of the most dreadful novels I’ve ever read.  No kidding.  But the others I most heartily recommend.  Of course, Claire had to read Oxbow too but she also got some time in a re-read of Randy Alcorn's exciting novel, Deadline.

* Another really neat part of our vacation was time spent with family and friends. We had two splendid visits up in Crane, Missouri with my sweet Aunt Farris and her daughters Belinda and Debbie and Belinda’s husband, Wayne.  We also were treated to a delicious dinner by my cousin David and his wife, Heather.  We also had a lovely luncheon conversation with Paul Richard, a Facebook friend who is now a face to face friend.  And we enjoyed several shorter conversations along the way with people we met.  Most particular in this category was a friendship I formed through early morning coffees at Panera with a journeyman country musician, J.C. Bullock, and another with Jack, a good old boy who expertly (and inexpensively) reheeled my boots.

* We attended church twice at Williams Memorial Chapel on the campus of College of the Ozarks. It’s the kind of church we would definitely attend if we could.  Bible preaching.  Prayers.  Responsive reading.  A gorgeous, spacious atmosphere that naturally encourages reverence and quietude of spirit.  Exquisite and inspiring music that is provided by a student choir and congregational hymns – none of the performance-based, loud, emotional coercion, and frequently insipid syrup that has become such a dominating part of most evangelical services nowadays. Sigh.

* We also ate lunch at the College's Keeter Center a couple of times.  It’s our favorite vacation restaurant not only because of the quality of food, the pretty surroundings, but the fun we always have in talking with students.  Of course, Branson is a great place for restaurants but, with our Paleo diets, we only rarely go out.  But our meals at home were delicious…and relaxed…and cheap!

* One of our favorite Branson activities is feeding the ducks on the Taneycomo
down by Branson Landing. In fact, we did that three times!

* We did a little shopping: clothes at Belk's and White House Black Market, apple butter and a sweatshirt at the College of the Ozarks, groceries at Country Mart and Price Chopper, and homemade pork rinds at Whiskers Country Corner.

* We spent several pleasant hours at Silver Dollar City listening to the Homestead Pickers (our favorite, shown at left) and the Horse Creek Band.  We watched enthusiastic and skilled couples at a barn dance -- very cool. With three kids joining us, we rode a water raft and got all wet.  We looked over the work of many cowboy artists and pioneer craftsmen.  And then that evening we enjoyed dinner at Shindigs while listening to the music of John Walter Morrison.

* We put together two Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzles.  We wrote 70 postcards. We took drives through the country.  We relaxed and drank tea and coffee and apple cider.  We talked and prayed and enjoyed the beauty of the Ozarks.  We did a lot of reviewing and evaluating the past year, including giving grades on how our New Year Resolutions have turned out.  And we did a lot of planning for our work with Vital Signs Ministries in the coming months.

* And finally, there was a nice ride home to Omaha, blessed with more conversation and, thanks to Daniel Heiser, listening to the Focus on the Family radio adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ The Magicians’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Fantastic!

It was a really terrific couple of weeks.

(Postscript. If you're interested, there are a few more photos of our time in the Branson area over on our personal Facebook pages.)