Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Your Sins, Your Enemies, and Your Fears Will Be "Cleared Away"

“Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away his judgments against you. He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you will fear disaster no more.” (Zephaniah 3: 14,15) 

Now, there’s a passage to lift your spirits! For remember, all who have trusted in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to pay the penalty of their sins, whether they be Jew or Gentile, are “grafted in” to the covenant God has made with the spiritual Israel (Romans 11, et al). And that means that these exquisite, exciting promises are yours!

And here are a few more points to ponder:

1) The judgments of a holy God against your sins are “taken away” -- completely and forever -- because Jesus, the King of Israel has paid for them with His death on Calvary’s cross. John the Baptist rejoiced in this glorious truth when he saw Jesus coming to him at the Jordan River: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” What an exhilarating miracle -- our sins and guilt and lack of righteousness are taken away where they will condemn and shame us no more. No wonder the prophet Zephaniah calls for the people of God to shout for joy. 

2) The above promise has a twofold fulfillment. One is for now. One is for the future. One points to what theologians call the “positional truth” of our salvation. If you have received Christ as Savior (that is, trusted in His sacrifice to atone for your guilt before God), then you are saved, born-again, forgiven forever, adopted into God’s family, grafted into the covenant, etc. It is a done deal. From God’s perspective, the believer is, at the very moment of faith, cleansed from sin, redeemed, and sealed with his Spirit. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that with your complete trust in Christ, God actually imparts His righteousness into you. Wow.

But, you say, you still struggle with sin. That’s correct. Having your sins forgiven doesn’t mean that you will be free from sin in this life. But when this part of the adventure is over, you will be. And there is the double fulfillment -- the penalty of your sins are taken away right now but, in the day when you are ushered into the presence of God, the very presence of sin will be taken away…and forever. 

3) A double fulfillment is also in play with the promise of God “clearing away” our enemies. Our enemies, of course, are all too obvious: our carnal nature, the devil, the rebellious world around us. And those enemies have, in our past, enslaved us. But, in Christ, we have been made new and the shackles of our old slavery have been broken. We can now, by the power of the Holy Spirit (which was given us at the moment of our salvation), walk in newness of life and victory. We are free. In this important sense, the Lord has already “cleared away” our enemies. Even the macabre and frightful enemy of death has lost its sting for we are guaranteed the same resurrection which Jesus experienced.

But again, through unbelief, rebellion, cowardice, selfishness, and other sins, we surrender over and over to our old enemies. Our aching need is to live free, to live for the Lord, to live like the people He has created us to be. And, one great day, we will do so without any stumbling or backsliding. Ah, yes…this is why we can “rejoice and exult with all our heart” as Zephaniah bids us. For in that glorious day of Christ’s triumph, all of our enemies will be “cleared away” completely and forever! 

4) Fears of disaster regularly assail us in this life and drain us of confidence and joy. They deter us from lives of selflessness and mercy. We fear failure, sickness, loneliness, shame, disability, disappointment, the seeming victory of evildoers, and so much more. Yet here too we rejoice in the twofold nature of God’s promise. On the one hand, we look forward with great hope and happiness to that glorious day when all disasters are defeated, when all fears are swallowed up in our eternal bliss. O rejoice indeed!

And because of that splendid future, we can so much more confidently deal with the disasters of this life. This is not all there is. We have a future. We have an inheritance that is glorious and liberating and beautiful. And it is forever. And why can this be? Zephaniah tells us, it is because “the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.” Yes, the Lord is with us at this very moment as our Savior, Advocate, and Helper, But the day will soon be here when we will join our Sovereign Conqueror and Almighty Lord in the New Jerusalem with all sin, all enemies, all fears defeated and destroyed forevermore. 

“Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away his judgments against you. He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you will fear disaster no more.” (Zephaniah 3: 14,15)

Monday, April 16, 2018

“Five Annihilating Words: One Night He Heard Screams”

“The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had since become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. ‘He was immensely pro-Soviet,’ she said, ‘and then -- you’ll laugh at me, but you must not laugh at my father -- and then one night in Moscow, he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.’

A child of Reason and the 20th Century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind’s. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th Century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.

What Communist has not heard those screams? They come from husbands torn forever from their wives in midnight arrests. They come, muffled, from the execution cellars of the secret police, from the torture chambers of the Lubianka, from all the citadels of terror now stretching from Berlin to Canton. They come from those freight cars loaded with men, women and children, the enemies of the Communist State, locked in, packed in, left on remote sidings to freeze to death at night in the Russian winter. They come from minds driven mad by the horrors of mass starvation ordered and enforced as a policy for the Communist State. They come from the starved skeletons, worked to death, flogged to death (as an example to others) in the freezing filth of sub-arctic labor camps. They come from children whose parents are suddenly, inexplicably, taken away from them – parents they will never see again.

What Communist has not heard those screams?”

(Whittaker Chambers, Witness, pages 13, 14)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Profound Present of a Compliment

“A sincere compliment, as the poet Phyllis McGinley suggests, is a gift we give to others. It is an important way to encourage, to express kindness and goodwill, to be a winsome witness of Christ as we gratefully delight in the virtues, skills, and demeanor of those whose lives touch ours. Indeed, giving the gift of compliments is very much a part of our Christian discipleship. Think of Jesus’ compliments to Nathaniel, to Mary Magdalen, to the widow who gave her mite, to the Roman centurion, to the Syrophonecian woman, to Mary of Bethany, to the churches in Revelation…and to all the saints who pass into His presence who will hear, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

I write about the powerful present that is a compliment in this month’s Vital Signs Ministries letter. Check it out right here.

Friday, April 13, 2018

“Making Mention” Prayers

The apostle Paul writes to the believers at Thessalonica, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.” (First Thessalonians 1: 2,3)  But Paul and his ministry colleagues engaged in many more “making mention” prayers than these verses refer to. Indeed, he uses the exact same words (connected in every case with prayers of Thanksgiving for believers) in Romans 1:9, Ephesians 1:16, Philemon 4, and very similar wording in Colossians 1:3 and Philippians 1:4. That’s quite a lot of references — more than enough for us to be curious about what “making mention” prayers are all about.

The Greek words Paul uses here reveal no mysterious meaning. No, “making mention” means just what it seems; that is, briefly naming in his prayers the believers in the various churches who have lifted his spirits because of their faithfulness to God. Now, the apostle may well find time to intercede for them regarding other issues. And he may well, in other instances, spend more time in his prayers for them. But what we see in these passages are that Paul’s Thanksgiving-oriented prayers simply make mention of them. We see too that he did so as a frequent activity. That is what is made clear with the word “always,” a word that is used in extra-biblical Greek literature to refer to an ongoing cough. Therefore, this doesn’t point to a mystical preoccupation — an ideal that is, in practice, unattainable. It merely means that Paul remembered, thought of, and made mention of these Christians in his regular, ongoing prayers.

I find these little verses of tremendous interest and full of stimulating applications. Among them? 1) Paul, though responsible for the immense responsibilities of apostleship, preaching the gospel, defending the Faith, overseeing the churches, traveling, sometimes making tents, sometimes dealing with persecution and the trials of imprisonment, was nevertheless a Christian leader who frequently prayed for individual believers. His prayers were not solely concerned with “cosmic forces” but also for individual saints. 2) Paul’s prayers were not prompted only because of trouble, trial, or sin in peoples lives. No, he obviously spent a great deal of his prayer time interceding for Christians who were doing well. Are we remembering to do the same? Again, Paul’s example and the number of Bible verses involved here testify that we should be.

3) Another important thing to note in reading all of these verses is that Paul was not merely praying that God bless these believers, but he was thanking God for their love and loyalty to Christ. Indeed, gratitude towards God is clearly the emphasis. We are so used to supplication in our prayers (asking God for blessings) that we often overlook the need to simply give Him thanks for blessings already received. And Paul recognized that those blessings were not just daily bread, deliverances, spiritual strength, conversions, the fruits of the Spirit, and on and on…but they included God’s splendid work in other saints. We should make sure this is a part of our prayer experience too.

4) Were Paul and Silas and Timothy praying “off the top of their heads” or did they perhaps have a prayer list? Did they have set times of prayer or did they merely find whatever time in the day was available? Did they pray together as a group? Or did they pray alone? Did they talk to God out loud or silently? We will not, on this side of the Jordan, be able to conclusively answer such questions. Yet I feel fairly safe to suggest the answers are: all of the above! And so the task before you and I is to emulate their behavior, using whatever methods serve best to help us pray more frequently, more intelligently, and more confidently.

5) These verses also prove that prayers for others do not need to be long, detailed, impassioned prayers. Some times they will be. That will depend upon the need, the depth of the relationship, and so on. But don’t be fooled by false guilt. Short, “making mention” prayers also please God and draw down His blessing. Furthermore, those brief prayers also lift our spirits and stimulate us to the same love and good deeds we see in our faithful brothers and sisters.

And here’s one more item I have found inspirational in these verses, 6) Just as the faith, love, and hope of the believers in Thessalonica, Ephesus, Rome, and the rest provided great joy to the apostle Paul and his team, you and I can greatly contribute to the joy, thanksgiving, and spiritual health of other believers as we stay the course for the Master. Should our primary motivation for faithfulness be our desire to please the Lord Jesus Himself? Of course. But, in the glorious plan and provision of God, it does not end there. Our faithfulness pleases the Lord, yes; but it also enriches and guides other Christians, rebukes and convicts unbelievers, moves the Kingdom of God forward, impresses angels and disheartens demons, and lays up treasure for ourselves in heaven.

In summary — Make prayers for others a priority. It will take creativity, work, and endless restarts and fine-tuning. But keep after it. Also make sure you’re not neglecting to pray for Christians who are doing well. And pray in joyful thanksgiving to God for their doing so. Finally, let your efforts to create an effective prayer life be as purposeful and committed as all of your other spiritual responsibilities.

P.S. To learn more on this matter, you might consider joining us for our next  L’Abri Evening (Tuesday evening, April 24th) where we will be listening to and then discussing an audio recording of Anna Friedrich talking about “Everyday Artistry: Prayer, Bible-reading, and other Disciplines as Opportunities for Creativity.” Mrs. Friedrich is a wife and home school mom who worked at the Swiss L’Abri for 5 years and is now serving with her husband Dave with the Southborough L’Abri team. Details are over on Vital Signs Blog.

Spiritual Disciplines: The Focus for the Next L’Abri Evening

It’s been quite awhile since Claire and I have hosted a L’Abri Evening and, to be quite honest, the main reason was that we hadn’t found any sessions from recent Rochester L’Abri conferences that we found of sufficient interest. So we began to think about other options. For instance, we considered a discussion on a Francis (or Edith) Schaeffer book and on a showing of the film series How Shall We Then Live? And we may pursue one of those paths in the future. However, we did recently discover a very enlightening presentation from February’s Rochester conference that we decided to offer as our next L’Abri Evening program.

It was a shorter “breakout” lecture by Anna Friedrich entitled, “Everyday Artistry: Prayer, Bible-reading, and other Disciplines as Opportunities for Creativity.” Mrs. Friedrich is a wife and home school mom who worked at the Swiss L’Abri for 5 years and is now serving with her husband Dave with the Southborough L’Abri team.

The lecture (which we listened to on our way to Branson) was well planned, well delivered, and presented very helpful counsel regarding spiritual disciplines. Unlike too many of these lectures, it was practical to the max.

We have set Tuesday evening, April 24th for the listening/discussion party. We will begin at 7. As always, there will be refreshments as well as scintillating conversation so please consider joining us. And, yes, RSVP’s are greatly appreciated.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Spring May Be a No Show, But "When Swing Was King" is Still Springing Forward!

Yes, spring may have lost its way but that won’t keep us from swinging into April with the newest edition of “When Swing Was King,” the extremely popular program that Vital Signs Ministries brings to 11 senior care facilities each month. “When Swing Was King” is a delightful journey back in time with original hits from the big band era, a visual smorgasbord of the same era featuring hundreds of photographs, a fun and interesting narration, and the opportunity for sharing memories and conversation with friends.

It’s no wonder that we’re told over and over that “When Swing Was King” is the residents’ favorite program of each month. How cool!

Why don’t you come along and see what all the hoopla is about? The schedule for each month is always posted on the Vital Signs Ministries website.

And this month’s lineup? It’s a real doozy!

1) Glenn Miller Orchestra (Ray Eberle, vocals), “At Last”

2) Harry James Orchestra (Helen Ward, vocals), “Where or When”

3) Artie Shaw Orchestra, “Oh, Lady Be Good”

4) Nat King Cole Trio, “Route 66”

5) Vaughn Monroe Orchestra, “Blue Moon”

6) Larry Clinton Orchestra (Bea Wain, vocals), “Heart and Soul”

7) Benny Goodman Quartet, “After You’ve Gone: Take One”

8) Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers, vocals), “I’ll Never Smile Again”

9) McGuire Sisters, “Sugartime”

10) Bing Crosby, “Stranger in Paradise”

11) Les Brown Orchestra (Doris Day, vocals), “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time”

12) The Mills Brothers, “Paper Doll”

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Envying Sinners? You'd Better Stop It.

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 23:17,18 -- NASB)

The teacher of Proverbs has an important exhortation here, one that acknowledges the strong allure of sin, yet which also urges the man of God to deny that temptation by turning instead to a healthy, joyful, and forward-looking trust in God. This is an ever-timely warning, one that can provide great help to us in our ongoing battles with sin’s deceptive enticements.

Let’s break down a few elements of this exhortation.

1) Sin begins in the heart -- our inner attitudes and affections.  The overt acts of sin have their start inside us. (Remember 1 John 1:13-16 and Matthew 5.) Walking in holiness is much more than avoiding the deeds of robbery, adultery, cursing, murder, or exploitation. It is not enough to avoid “acting out” sin. The battleground is, in point of fact, our minds.  It is there that that we are either victorious or defeated, pure or corrupt, pleasing to God or disappointing to Him. Thus, the initial warning of Proverbs 23:17: “do not let your heart envy sinners.”  The basic danger we face is not murdering someone, it’s hating them. It is not hooking up with someone who is not your spouse, but mentally lusting for them. It is not breaking into your neighbor’s home to steal, but being unsatisfied and ungrateful with your own income and possessions. Again, sin begins in the heart and so that is where the Lord commands us to be on our closest guard against it.

2) Do we really envy sinners?  We don’t usually think of our struggles with evil in this way.  We are more likely to think of temptation as being an idea or some kind of evil force…perhaps some line of attack from the devil himself.  But this proverb is just one of the many Scriptures that show us temptation can arise from our attitudes towards other people – even unbelievers.  Their beauty and youth.  Their health and mobility.  Their affluence, eloquence, social standing, relationships, freedom, success.  When we allow our eyes to stray from the Lord, from His Word, from the many and lovely gifts He has given us, and from our heavenly future (more on that momentarily), and start comparing our lot with others, we’re in spiritual trouble. We are likely to end up dissatisfied (at times even despairing). We complain and blame God for whatever we feel lacking. We give way to envy.  But God wants to kindly teach us that there is absolutely no future in this.  No happiness.  No spiritual growth. No heavenly reward. So, let’s listen carefully to His wisdom and choose a different course.

3)  “Live in the fear of the Lord always.” Yes, there is another option.  Instead of letting our hearts be filled with dissatisfaction, ingratitude, and envy towards sinners, our hearts can be filled with the Holy Spirit as we live in the fear of God. Now, you’ve often heard that when the Bible speaks of fearing God, it actually means a solemn reverence for Him. And that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth. A comprehensive study of the Bible’s teaching on this matter reveals that while “the fear of the Lord” certainly includes that sense of solemn reverence towards God, it also involves ongoing trust, gratitude, love, awe, obedience, encouragement, comfort and…yes, an honest fear of the repercussions of sin in our lives.  Make no mistake, God is a jealous God Who disciplines His own.  So be sure to behave yourselves as heavenly children. Honor God with a life of faithful obedience to His Word. As you do so, the temptation to envy sinners will lose its appeal. So, delight yourself in the Lord.  Find in Him your joy, your satisfaction, your purpose, and your strength. And, in God’s divine irony, once your focus is on Him, you can properly see others – not as people to envy, but as people to serve, pray for, and be an example to.

4) Consider the future. There is, in 23:18, a marvelous postscript to the previous proverb.  God reminds us that there is another huge consideration in this matter; namely, the eternal consequences of our present battles with temptation and sin.  Those sinners we are sometimes prone to envy?  Their end is judgment and an eternal separation from God and all His delights.  But, in astonishing contrast, the people of God have a sure hope -- a word also translated “expectation” And that sure hope, that guaranteed expectation of believers is a full redemption of mind, body, relationships, and even the physical world in which they will live forever with Christ  And that hope will not be cut off. But the wicked?  That’s a whole different story. He has no portion at all in this.  He is cast out defeated, wanting, and alone…eternally. So why envy sinners? There’s no logic or value in doing so.  Oh no, it is much better to keep the big picture in mind and live in the fear of God: honoring Him, loving Him, and glorifying Him as we joyfully anticipate the grand future before us.

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”  (Proverbs 23:17,18 -- NASB)

Remembering the Embrace of a Loved One

How goes our “When Swing Was King” ministry to the residents of the 11 senior care facilities we visit every month?

I’ll let the residents themselves answer that question:

“We love your visits! It’s our favorite program of everything they offer.”

“How do you do it? How do you manage to make each program even better than the last one!”

“Oh, I so appreciate your shows. When I listen to those old songs, I feel my husband’s arms wrapped around me again.”

For the month of March, we were honored to entertain 285 people! Isn’t this remarkable?

What a precious ministry the Lord has given Claire and I in this special part of Vital Signs Ministries.  And, of course, Claire and I think you would enjoy the “When Swing Was King” shows too — as well as the opportunity to visit some very special folk. So check the schedule on the VSM website and find a date to come join in the fun.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Have Your Sins Been Nailed to the Cross?

During our Thursday morning Panera conversation last week, Patrick and John and I were talking about a friend’s journal entry which recounted dramatic pro-life activities we were involved in 35 years ago! Those diary stories led to 1) an interesting review of our ministries over the long decades, 2) the tragic and wicked devolution of culture over those same decades, 3) God’s providential grace and power, and 4) the glorious inheritance that awaits us in Christ’s heaven when this part of our adventure is done.

And, at one point in our coffee conversation, this journal entry from so long ago caused us to speculate on the possibility that a full record of our lives exist. Every action.  Every thought.  Every deed performed in the Spirit.  And yet every sin too.  As you might guess, that was a somewhat unsettling thing to consider.

But then we gratefully, joyfully remembered that though such a record of our sins, shame and failure does exist (I Corinthians 3:12 ff), it will not be held against us. Why? Because, for those who receive Christ's atoning work on the cross, Jesus paid for their sins – every single one of them.

The specific Scripture passage that we went to for comfort was Colossians 2:13,14. “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,  having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Isn’t that terrific news? There is, in fact, an “Eye in the sky” that notes everything we do, say, and think.  But the wrath that should rightfully fall on the sinner for those sins has, by God’s amazing grace, fallen instead upon Jesus when He died on the cross to pay our debts.  Wow. What love, what mercy.

If you haven’t yet received that windfall gift of salvation, you can do so (right at this very moment) by simply letting go of your own efforts to pay your way into heaven and instead rely completely on the gracious sacrifice Jesus made for you.  That heavenly record – all those “decrees against us” – have been “taken out the way.”  So, believe it, trust in His atoning sacrifice, and walk in newness of life today.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

An Old Idea is New Again (But It's Still a Bad Idea)

Inez Feltscher Stepman, Director of the Education and Workforce Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council and a senior contributor to The Federalist, comments on the new popularity of an old (and very bad) idea; namely, socialism.

"Earlier this week, The Washington Post ran an article by Elizabeth Bruenig titled ‘It’s Time to Give Socialism a Try,’ in which she argues that the current flailings of liberal democracy should be replaced with socialism. Although the author stridently and probably sincerely denies being a “totalitarian nostalgist,” the reality is that socialism requires totalitarianism. A system so incompatible with human nature cannot exist without an increasingly-ruthless enforcement mechanism. And as we see with the rising illiberal left in America, nice-sounding ideas quickly turn into demands, and demands into law, backed by the full force of government.

Not to get too personal here, but this kind of ‘let’s try it again’ rhetoric really chaps my behind. Both of my parents grew up under the communist regime in Poland, and my grandfather logged time in a Siberian gulag. They came to the United States seeking a freer life, not to hear more of the same old siren song.

There’s nothing romantic about life under socialism or communism. We know where rhapsodizing about socialism leads. It’s not new, and the Post and the New York Times shouldn’t treat it like the trendy flavor of the month.”  (Inez Feltscher Stepman at Bright, an email update provided by The Federalist)

Friday, March 02, 2018

Say It with Flowers...and Swing

The last “When Swing was King” show for February was a real doozy including not only the usual elements, those being 12 classic hits from the big band era, about 200 lovely and interesting photographs, stimulating conversation with the residents of the senior care facility, and the enjoyment of shared memories. But this time around, we were also able to share the beautiful blessing of flowers. That’s right; thanks to Alan Nelson, a wholesale florist with the Bill Doran Company, we brought along an entire box (and a very big box, at that!) of gorgeous flowers arranged in individual bouquets to hand out to the residents.

I wish you could’ve been there to see their response to this beautiful blessing. But then, of course, you could have been! Indeed, we are always delighted to have other friends come along to our “When Swing Was King” shows to join in the happening. The March schedule is available on the Vital Signs Ministries website.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

VIP: The Second Round

Another round of must-read articles from genuine journalists dealing with genuine issues.

* “Florida shooting yet another government failure to keep us safe” (Glenn Reynolds, USA Today)

* “No, You Don’t Have to Support Gun Control to Be Pro-Life” (Alexandra DeSanctis, National Review)

* “YouTube Censors Video Exposing Planned Parenthood’s Abortion Agenda Hours After Its Release” (Micaiah Bilger, LifeNews.com)

* “6 Common Media Myths About Gun Control” (Jarrett Stepman, Daily Signal)

* “The Real Russian Disaster” (Victor Davis Hanson, National Review)

* “5 Things They Get Wrong About Christianity” (John Hawkins, Town Hall)

* “New York Attorney General’s Office Runs Fake Facebook Profile to Spy on Pro-Life Advocates” (Michelle Piccolo, LifeNews.com)

* “The hidden costs of IVF: heartbreak, health risks, and helplessness: Treating the underlying causes of infertility is a better way” (Naomi Whittaker, Mercator)

Winston Churchill: A 5-Minute Review

What a wonderful combination —Prager U, the superb historian Andrew Roberts, and Winston Churchill. This is a 5-minute video that should most definitely be shared with your kids and grandkids.

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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Contrasting Sunday Morning Music to Soul-Stirring Stuff

Yes, I’ve shared this video clip before and it is certainly well worth listening to again for its own inspirational value. However, I was prompted to post it today after my reading this morning of “The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace,” a chapter in Francis Schaeffer’s fine 1974 book, No Little People.

And a second reason for posting it is to encourage you to compare this stirring, confrontational, Bible-centered song with the stuff we regularly listen to on Sunday mornings in our churches. Which do you think would most appeal and more effectively move to action the men and boys in our congregations?



The Democrats Demand Abortion...With No Limits Whatsoever

The United States is one of just 7 countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks.

Just think about that for a moment.

The nation that boasts of its compassion, of its justice, of its dedication to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all is a nation that defends (even pays millions of dollars for) the brutal killing of preborn boys and girls.

By the way, that list of 7 countries I mentioned, includes such intolerant (indeed, repressive) governments as North Korea, Communist China, Vietnam, and Canada. Great company to be in, huh?

Shameful?

Most certainly.

And yet, to the modern Democrat Party, this kind of barbarism is exactly what they want....what they demand. And the most recent evidence of this travesty is that on Monday all of the U.S. Democrat Senators except for Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted against the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, an extremely limited bill which would only have prohibited abortions after the preborn baby had reached 20 weeks gestational age.

My, my. The Democrats, who have gone wildly wrong on so many moral issues in recent years, have completely lost their soul in their extremist promotion of abortion.

Time for you to quit riding the donkey?

The First Feminists Were Adamantly Pro-Life

Hmm. Even the BBC admits, “The early leaders of the feminist movement were against abortion. The radical feminist Susan B. Anthony referred to abortion as ‘child murder’ and viewed it as a means of exploiting both women and children. Alice Paul, who drafted the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment, referred to abortion as ‘the ultimate exploitation of women.’”

Indeed, this is only the beginning. Check out this excellent National Review article for more.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Pro-Lifers in the Public Square (And a Lot of Them Too!)

Here’s a few observations from Saturday’s Walk for Life in Lincoln…

* It was, once again, a large crowd…something over 5000 people. Some might say this is an indication that the pro-life movement is riding the wave of a new enthusiasm. And while I would certainly agree, I would also point out that these public demonstrations against abortion have always brought out huge numbers, even in the darkest days of the aggressively pro-abortion administrations of Presidents Clinton and Obama. Of course, pro-life advocates are thrilled with the signs of moral progress in this critical battle -- the declining rate of abortion, the increased public awareness of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric crimes, the dramatic evidence of the preciousness of pre-born children as illuminated by medical technology and imaging, the political advances of the pro-life cause from the Donald Trump administration, and so on. However, it’s important to remember that pro-life Americans have been faithful to raise the banners of the sanctity of life even when these evidences were not so apparent.

* It was impressive to hear from so many of Nebraska’s political leaders and to hear them speak of very specific actions and legislative goals instead of giving the crowd the kind of tepid and too-often meaningless clich├ęs we have hard before. The most important of the things spoken of on Saturday morning was the resolve of the pro-life politicians to work for the de-funding of Planned Parenthood. This is something that is long overdue from Nebraska leaders. So, many thanks to Gov. Ricketts, Lieutenant Governor Foley, Senators Sasse and Fischer, and Congressman Bacon and Fortenberry for joining us at the Walk...and making that pledge.

* There are always at these events several striking examples of media bias against the pro-life cause. That’s no surprise but it still should be noted as a great travesty. From grossly under-reporting the numbers involved…to ignoring the salient points made by pro-life speakers…to giving “equal time” (at least) to the minuscule scattering of pro-abortion protesters on hand…to often failing to even cover the pro-life event at all, and so on...the press shows itself again and again to be anything but fair, objective, and professional. However, another example of indefensible bias that I’ve noticed over the years is how carefully and devotedly the press avoids covering the screaming stridency of "pro-choice" agitators, the threats of violence they make (let alone the actual violence they have perpetrated), and the over-the-top profanity and blasphemy they use in their chants and signs. This gross indecency and mean-spirited fanaticism which is regularly displayed by the pro-abortion bullies is never shown, never reported, and never commented on by journalists. 

* In Gov. Ricketts remarks, he mentioned three examples of citizen activity which demonstrate his contention that “Nebraska is a pro-life state.” Those three things were: visiting senior citizens in nursing homes, being involved in crisis pregnancy centers, and participating in prayer vigils. Claire and I couldn’t help but look at each other and smile because, of course, Vital Signs Ministries has been in the forefront of those ministries and heavily engaged in all three for decades now. And added to that is our involvement in sidewalk counseling at the abortion businesses, writing letters of advocacy and encouragement, speaking out in the public square, training and equipping other pro-life activists, and much more. So...way to go, Vital Signs Ministries!

* Finally, I want to express my thanks to all of those connected with Nebraska Right to Life who have worked so hard over the years to make the Walk for Life such a profoundly winsome and effective pro-life event. That would include Julie Schmit-Albin, Sandy Danek, Barb McPhillips, Chuck Conrad, Julie Lostroh, Shirley Lang, Brenda Eller, Brian Kimminau, Denise Ashby, and many others. Thank you all!

(The photo at the top, by the way, was taken by Jessica Moore for The Daily Nebraskan.)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Can Someone Be Sure They Are Going to Heaven?

Jesus told His disciples, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20, NASB)

My confidence that I am going to heaven when I die has sometimes been criticized by certain friends and acquaintances as being an unwarranted presumption. How can you know? How can you be so sure? Isn’t it a pretty egocentric, self-righteous attitude to consider your admission through the pearly gates a done deal?

Well, actually the presumption and the egocentricity would be to dare stand in judgment of Christ, to dismiss as irrelevant foolishness His promise, to treat Jesus as someone who either cannot deliver on His word or, even worse, to act as if He is a cruel liar dangling before His followers something they will never receive.

The presupposition behind such questions, of course, is that a person needs to attain a certain level of holiness to qualify for heaven. Such people believe that they must make the grade with God by racking up enough religious points and, conversely, by avoiding sins altogether or at least being profoundly sorry for them afterwards.

But alas, on those grounds, no one will make the grade! In Romans 3, the apostle Paul explains that all people are “under sin.” Indeed, he says that we are slaves to sin. And our “slave wages,” the Bible goes on to say, is eternal separation from God…and everything else. Brother, that’s as bad news as you’re ever gonna’ hear.

But then onto this dark, tragic stage entered the gospel (literally, the good news) announcing that a way of escape, of deliverance, of salvation has come our way. And it’s not in us. It’s not something we can do to bribe God or to fool Him or to placate His righteous standards. No, the salvation offered is through Jesus Christ Whose death and resurrection is an offer to pay our debt – freely, in full, and forever.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8-11, NASB)

“But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23, NASB)

Salvation  -- complete and forever salvation -- is available to everyone but not through earning enough “religion credits” to impress God. That will never happen. Rather salvation is received by the simple act of believing in Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection in your behalf. And that is not presumption. That is not pride. Having your name written in the book of life that Jesus refers to in Luke 10 is not a matter of religious works or ascetic denial. It is only the humble acceptance of the gift offered by a gracious and trustworthy God.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Contemporary Church Music: Enjoy It? Endure It? Or Escape It?

To note Throwback Thursday, here is a Vital Signs Blog post (only slightly edited) from back in July of 2013.

* “I have always kept one end in view, namely, with all good will to conduct well-regulated church music to the honor of God.” (Johann Sebastian Bach)

*  “Oh my, no. The church must never sing its songs to the melodies of the world.” (Fanny Crosby)

* “‘What a way to learn great theology!’ That’s what comes to mind whenever I sing one of those old hymns. ‘And Can It Be’ is like putting the doctrine of salvation to music. ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ is a melodic lesson in grace. No wonder good hymns make for strong faith!” (Joni Eareckson Tada)

Okay, I have a confession, though it's a confession which my friends will confirm has never been a secret. And I make it again today without apology.  I have for decades been frustrated (no, that's not quite strong enough, make it thoroughly turned off) by the music featured in modern evangelical churches.

Indeed, when the hymnals were tossed out and replaced by overhead projectors...when the thoughtful, intellectually stimulating songs of Christianity's heritage were exchanged for repetitive and inane choruses...when the volunteer choirs and song leaders were replaced by entertainment-oriented worship teams who were allowed to dictate to the congregation when to stand, sit, clap, hold up hands, etc...when the music's volume increased to the levels at which I used to play Steppenwolf when stoned...and when unbridled emotionalism not only trumped but even eclipsed the traditional religious virtues of rationality, orderliness and corporate fellowship, I checked out.

And I wasn't alone. Many others, especially men, headed towards the nearest exit too.  George Barna, in describing how profound a part church music now plays in contemporary religious life, said “This is the feel; this is the sound that constitutes who you are and what you’re about.”

But my redemption, my ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, my responsibilities to be salt and light in a dying world -- these are much more important and much more involved than just church music.  I'm afraid that contemporary worship music does provides “the feel” for so many Christians in the West. But I resent (and steadfastly oppose) the naive notion that “the sound constitutes who I am and what I'm about.”

But where were those evangelicals to go, the ones who didn't care for the loud music, the maudlin (often mindless) choruses, the coercive worship leaders, the dramatic emphasis on emotional experience?

Well, many of them turned to liturgical churches, places where they hoped to find order, contemplation, beauty, tradition, and a principled and relevant agenda for social action, especially about such biblical priorities as the sanctity of life. Others looked around until they discovered those few evangelical churches that hadn't given in (at least, not completely) to the new wave.  But way too many evangelicals just dropped out of church altogether.

Of course, the larger percentage of evangelicals (men and women) who were initially uncomfortable with the new music and the new attitudes learned to adapt. "Everyone else seems to be enjoying it. I guess I'd better get with the program too." In so doing, their church experience (and usually their religious lifestyle) changed. More emotional, more introspective. And less oriented to theology and mission.

Many of you will want to write and tell me that your church is an exception. Good. I'll be glad to hear it. Others will say, “Right on, brother. So come on over and join us in Rome...or Constantinople...or Geneva.” Still others will simply dismiss my criticism out of hand, seeing it as just another peccadillo from an aging curmudgeon who won't accept the social realities of the 21st Century. Fair enough, there's certainly some truth in that. After all, I was defiantly counter-culture in 1969 only to find out the next year (the year of my conversion to Christianity) that my counter-culture life was only beginning. And, of course, over 30 years in the trenches of pro-life activism have not made me any fonder of modernity, be it in art, film, literature, politics, fashion...or church music.

So curmudgeon though I may be, you may still find these observations (and opinions) of some value to consider. I hope so.

By the way, here’s another couple of articles about this matter that you might find of interest. “Contemporary Music: The Cultural Medium and the Christian Message: What kind of Christians do contemporary services produce?” by D. H. Williams in Christianity Today and “Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church” by Bill Blankschaen at Faith Walkers and “The heresy of worshiptainment” by Mike Livingstone.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Oh, the Times! (Part 2)

Checking in with Important News & Commentary: New Year’s Edition (Part Two)

* “Bill Clinton once lost the nuclear codes for months, and a 'comedy of errors' kept anyone from finding out” (Christopher Woody, Business Insider)

* “New Report: Planned Parenthood Abortion Business Makes More Money Than Ever Before” (Steven Ertelt, LifeNews.com)

* “Planned Parenthood aborted 321,384 babies last year, got $543 million from taxpayers” (Claire Chretien, LifeSiteNews)

* “2017: Chicago Homicides Outnumber U.S. Military Casualties 18 to 1” (Michael W. Chapman, CNS News)

* “The Dumbing Down of Scholastic Achievement” (Former sheriff David Clarke, Town Hall)

* “How Have Trump’s Pro-Life Promises Held Up?” (Alexandra DeSanctis, National Review)

* “Why the Supreme Court Shouldn’t Bow to Government Agencies” (Elizabeth Slattery, Daily Signal)

* “Suppression of Good News Is the Media's Dirtiest Tactic. Here's What They Missed Last Year” (Steve Sheldon, Town Hall)

* “Franklin Graham Says Americans Need to ‘Wake Up to the Evil of Abortion’” (Micaiah Bilger, LifeNews.com)

What's Really Up with the Phrase, "Separation of Church & State?"

From the Nebraska Family Alliance comes this brief but profound video clip.

We're talking about “Separation of Church and State.”

Most people believe that this five word phrase is in the U.S. Constitution. And even those who understand it isn’t, still refer to it as a type of “constitutional commitment,” as Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor did recently in the Trinity Lutheran v. Comer case.

Because of this phrase's incredible impact on our country, it's important to know where it came from, how it's been distorted, and its proper understanding.