Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Let My People Go: Advocacy Letters to Persecuting Nations

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the Vital Signs Ministries’ Christmas card party produced (among the 140 letters and cards we wrote) colorful cards to 14 Christians being unjustly persecuted and imprisoned in places like China and Eritrea merely because of their faith in Jesus.  We sent each prisoner 3 different Christmas cards with different greetings and Scripture verses in their own language. Thank you to Voice of the Martyrs website for that service.

Well, related directly to the cause of these brothers and sisters in Christ, we also wrote letters to the ambassadors and other diplomats representing the offending nations: China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Iran.

I print an example below as an encouragement for your prayers and perhaps, your letters also.

Dear Ambassador,

We, the undersigned, urge you to please demonstrate fresh justice and compassion in regards to the sad plight of prisoners in your country who are experiencing unfair and harsh imprisonment because of their Christian faith. We specifically intercede today for ————————————.

Please recognize that sincere Christians represent a blessing to your nation as they are morally upright, diligent workers, respectful, kindhearted, and generous. They do not seek to undermine the State but rather to enhance its strength and culture through prayers, devotion to family life, and peaceful service.

To mistreat persons merely because of religious differences (or other acts of conscience) is a tragic mistake, one that frustrates, angers, and saddens people of tolerance and goodwill throughout the world. Please act quickly to open the jail cells of those enduring undeserved punishment for their religious faith. 

“Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights, and for this reason, an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole of society as well as of the personal fulfillment of each individual.” (John Paul II)

Thank you for your consideration of this crucial human rights matter.

Respectfully,

Okay, Now Christmas Is Underway!

Well, let's see now. We have had our first Christmas party and we have had a very successful Christmas card party with 11 of us writing nearly 140 Christmas cards to political leaders, businesses, Christian heroes, and persecuted Christians in other nations. And Claire and I have attended “Christmas at the Cathedral” at St. Cecilia’s and Mendelssohn’s Elijah at the Holland. We have watched Miracle on 34th Street, read a few Christmas-themed books, and started listening to Christmas music. We have even started to pass out CDs of Patrick Osborne’s latest music creation, Winter Night.

But it isn’t really Christmas until we’ve started in to the presentations of the Christmas “When Swing Was King” shows at area senior care centers! And that began (the first of 12) yesterday afternoon.

We are cordially inviting you to come along and enjoy the marvelous sights, sounds, memories, and holiday visits of these beautiful and festive events. The schedule is on the Vital Signs Ministries website and here is the songlist to help get you in the mood.

1) Benny Goodman Orchestra — “Jingle Bells”
2) Jerry Vale — “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
3) Frank Sinatra — “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
4) Mills Brothers — “O Come All Ye Faithful”
5) Gene Autry — “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
6) The Lennon Sisters — “Hark the Herald”
7) Perry Como — “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”
8) Nat King Cole — “O Holy Night”
9) Woody Herman Orchestra — “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”
10) Judy Garland — “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
11) Glenn Miller Orchestra — “Silent Night”
12) Bing Crosby — “White Christmas”

Monday, December 10, 2018

Among That Christmas Card Pile

Among the 140 cards written at Saturday morning’s Christmas card party were those sent to President Trump and many other national political leaders; Governor Ricketts and many other state political leaders; businesses including a few who have stopped supporting the violence and injustice perpetrated by Planned Parenthood (and some who still do); Christian heroes involved in gospel, relief, and pro-life ministries; and Christians languishing in prisons in persecuting countries like Eritrea and Communist China.

Here are a few of the messages contained in our cards. Perhaps they’ll encourage you to write a few of your own.

Dear Google,

In this Christmas season, why not make a New Year’s Resolution to start actually practicing what you claim to champion; namely, tolerance and open-mindness.  You can move forward in this by stopping the unfair censorship of conservative and Christian speech.  Thank you. Merry Christmas.

Dear Secretary Pompeo,

Why the delay in offering asylum to Asia Bibi?  Please, as a Christmas present to her and her family (as well as to the global cause of religious freedom), offer protected asylum to this dear woman immediately. Thank you.

Dear Justice Brett Kavanaugh,

We are gathered together with eleven pro-life friends writing Christmas cards.  We are proud to tell you that we consider you a genuine hero as you stood strongly against purveyors of hate and darkness.  Be advised, I can say that we lifted you up in prayer often, as you stood strongly against wickedness. We continue to pray for you in your Supreme Court position.  The Lord bless you and keep you (Numbers 6:24).  Blessings in this Christmas season.

Dear President Araujo,

Congratulations on your election to the presidency of Brazil.  We are going to be praying for you, your family, and your efforts to move Brazil forward.  We especially pray for your effort to defend the sanctity of human life even in its earliest stages and to extend religious freedom in your nation.

Dear Congressman Bacon,

May the Lord bless you and your family in this holy season and may He move in your efforts to protect and improve the United States as you serve in the Congress.  Thank you for your work, especially for your support of the pro-life cause and the defense of religious freedoms.  Oh yes; one more thing. In your next election campaign, please give us a bit more specifics about your record and positions…and a bit more gravitas instead of the overuse of “Bacon.”  Thanks.

Dear Netflix,

As we send along our genuine Christmas greetings, we also send a request that your company stop the over-sexed, violent, and profane programming like “Baby” and “13 Reasons Why.” Thank you for your consideration of this urgent request.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Making the Most of Christmas

Ah, Christmas!  Bing Crosby crooning carols; the Christmas tree lighting up the cold winter nights; the eggnog and cookies at holly wreaths…There is a myriad of special delights rolled into one splendid season. However, the secular traditions themselves cannot adequately create an authentic Christmas spirit. Not that those traditions are wicked as some might argue. No, not at all. They are simply inadequate. For, of course, the foundation of the holiday and its most profound purpose is to celebrate the Advent of Jesus Christ, He Who was expressly given to the world for the salvation of sinners.

Nevertheless, Christians can not only enjoy the colors, sounds, tastes, and other cultural adornments of the holiday but they should be creative and diligent to utilize every opportunity which even secular Christmas traditions provide to share the higher meaning of the holiday with others. One need not criticize the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, gift giving, and other seasonal traditions; instead use them to winsomely enlighten ones friends and neighbors to the most important truths (truths that are both historical and supernatural) of the holiday.

For more on how to accomplish this task, why not contact Vital Signs Ministries today and ask for our “Making the Most of Christmas” packet. We will be thrilled to send it out to you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Quick Answers About Vital Signs Ministries

Dear C...

Here are brief answers to the questions you sent over.  Let us know if you need anything else.  And happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

1a) Vital Signs Ministries is a Christ-centered, activist-oriented ministry that seeks to proclaim God’s truths about the sanctity of life in the public square.  We do this through public pro-life witness, speaking engagements, blogs and social media, personal discipleship, and writing projects like the novel The Christmas Room.  In addition, we created the unique “When Swing Was King” outreach which is presented in 12 senior care facilities every month.

1b) The science of embryology makes it indisputably clear that human beings are created at the moment of fertilization.  Indeed, in that very moment, the DNA construction of the boy and girl is miraculously present in full.  All that is required for growth is nutrition and a safe environment.

1c) But added to these scientific certainties is the value of that human life and that is established by Holy Scripture.  From the many individual texts (like those listed on our website) to such stunning examples of the sanctity of preborn and newborn life in Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah, and Jesus Himself, the proofs are clear and profound as to the grave evil that is abortion.  With this overwhelming case for the sanctity of life, the testimony of the Church Fathers and the reformers also stands solidly against abortion — whether it is committed by surgical means or poisonous chemicals.

2) As is well established, many women who have experienced abortion mournfully regret their decision and must deal with issues of not only guilt and sorrow but oftentimes with physical difficulties too.  Christian pregnancy centers (including Assure Women’s Center which we helped start in the mid-8os) regularly feature post-abortion counseling, medical referrals, and support groups along with a whole host of services for women who decide against abortion and who opt instead to parent their child or to relinquish the baby to a whole and loving home.  A paramount point in this discussion, however, is the liberating truth that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty of all sin for those who trust in His loving sacrifice.  That means that persons who have chosen abortion (or are guilty of any other sin) can receive full forgiveness, healing, and peace when they repent and trust to Christ’s atonement.

I hope this helps, Chris.

Blessings,

Denny Hartford

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Read It Again -- Lincoln's Thanksgiving Address of 1863

By the President of the United States of America. (1863)

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Friday, November 16, 2018

November Swings!

We are already well underway with the November "When Swing Was King" shows -- 5 so far and 7 more to go. And, because we try and create a little margin around Thanksgiving Day, that means all 7 are in the first 3 days of next week!

Busy? Sure, but we love bringing these seniors a grand entertainment program -- with the abundance of memories. emotions, and sparkling conversations it stimulates. Care to join us? The schedule is always available on the Vital Signs Ministries website.

And the song list for this month's show is superb!

1) Glenn Miller Orchestra (Vocals by the Modernaires) — “Perfidia”
2) Harry James Orchestra (Vocals by Kitty Kallen) — “I’ll Buy That Dream”
3) Andy Williams — “Autumn Leaves”
4) Benny Goodman Orchestra — “Somebody Loves Me”
5) Dean Martin — “I’ll Always Love You”
6) Artie Shaw Orchestra — “Begin the Beguine”
7) Chick Webb Orchestra (Vocals by Ella Fitzgerald) — “Love and Kisses”
8) Les Brown — “Shine On Harvest Moon”
9) Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra (Vocals by Helen O'Connell) — “All of Me”
10) Ted Weems Orchestra (Vocals by Perry Como) — “Fools Rush In”
11) Lawrence Welk Orchestra — “Champagne Time”
12) Nat King Cole — “Smile”

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Religion Dies. Halloween Lives.

Way back on October 21, 2011 I posted on Vital Signs Blog this excerpt from Amity Shlaes’ article Halloween’s Pagan Themes Fill West’s Faith Vacuum published by Bloomberg. It remains relevant and enlightening and so I post it again.

(And yes, the whole article is still online right here.)

...But as much as we’d like it to be, Halloween isn’t secular. It is pagan. There’s nothing else to call a set of ceremonies in which people utter magical phrases, flirt with the night and evoke the dead. One of my family’s favorite Halloween props was a hand that moved, as though from the netherworld, when you reached to collect a few pieces of candy corn. Necromancy is a regular part of Halloween games. Zombie masks are one of this year’s top- sellers. As grouchy theologians used to point out, the origin of Halloween was most likely Samhain, an ancient Celtic holiday on which the dead, in some accounts, supposedly returned to visit.

There’s a reason for the pull of the pagan. In the U.S., we’ve been vigorously scrubbing our schools and other public spaces of traces of monotheistic religion for many decades now. Such scrubbing leaves a vacuum. The great self-deception of modern life is that nothing will be pulled into that vacuum. Half a century ago, the psychologist Carl Jung noted the heightened interest in UFOs, and concluded that the paranormal was “modern myth,” a replacement for religion.

Children or adults who today relish every detail of zombie culture or know every bit of wizarding minutiae are seeking something to believe in. That church, mosque and synagogue are so controversial that everyone prefers the paranormal as neutral ground is disconcerting. There’s something unsettling about the education of a child who comfortably enumerates the rules for surviving zombie apocalypse but finds it uncomfortable to enumerate the rules of his grandparents’ faith, if he knows them...

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Wishful Thinking vs Biblical Hope

Hope. What a glorious, liberating, and comforting gift of God for the storms of life are certainly ominous and frightening. Sickness, grief, loneliness, injustice, disability, marginalization, disappointment, the rage of the evil one and his accomplices who persecute believers, and so on.  But those whose trust is in the atoning work of Christ have hope as a sure anchor as they rely on the saving and sustaining power of the sovereign Savior.

Let’s take a more careful look at the matter, though, by comparing the normal use of the word “hope” with its use in the Scriptures. The basic dictionary definitions are these. 1) Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. And/or 2) To feel that something desired may happen. In other words, hope is mere desire.  It is a wish, a want, a bet on possibilities.

It is in this sense that we hear a lot of fluffy quotations about hope. It is always nice-sounding stuff but it’s mostly ethereal, often even irrational. It is the kind of hope we see in greeting cards and motivational posters (often accompanied by flowers or balloons or sunrises). But more honest minds dismiss this kind of hope as wishful thinking, something to mock. For instance, Benjamin Franklin said, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.” Mark Twain agreed. Twain wrote, “A hope tree is a tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.” And then there’s the old English proverb, “You can hope for the best, but you had better prepare for the worst.”

These cynics warn us that hope is actually a pretty bad risk, a gamble that’s based more on whims than facts, more on wishes than realistic expectations, patience, and hard work. What kind of power is in hope of this type?  No more than when you cross your fingers or rub a rabbit’s foot.

That is why many people have problems understanding hope when they get to the Bible and see the word all over the place. If hope refers to the same kind of pie-in-the sky thinking, it’s nothing but “fake news” or sappy sentimentality. However, I’m very glad to announce that hope, as it is taught in the Bible, is something radically different – different from the happy hold-a-kind-thought concepts and different too from the cynical conclusions of Franklin, Twain, and company. So, let’s check it out.

One could argue that the central theme of the whole Old Testament is tied to the word “hope.”  But hope in the Old Testament is not just wishing and wanting. Hope is centered upon God Himself.  Throughout the Law and Prophets, the servant of Jehovah is taught that God’s wise and triumphant goal is to provide Israel (and through Israel, the whole world) deliverance from sin and empowerment for righteousness. These blessings culminate, of course, in the advent of the Messiah. And to those ends, the faithful looked with humble but honest expectation. Hope, therefore, is shown to be a confident reliance in the promises of God…confident because of the divine character and power which would see those promises completely realized.

This kind of hope didn’t focus on a person’s desires or feelings. Rather, it focused on the promises of the all-powerful, all-wise, and all-holy Sovereign. After all, God doesn’t lie. What He says He will perform, He will perform. Hope, in the Old Testament then, wasn’t about lucky possibilities. Hope was a reasonable, joyful trust in the sure promises of almighty God.

That same concept is then taught in the New Testament as well. Hope is not a mere yearning for a thing. It is a studied, careful trust in promises that are very sure for they are centered on God Himself in Whom there is no shadow of turning.  Note that the primary Greek word for “hope” in the New Testament is often translated “trust.” So you see, New Testament hope also centers upon objective truth, upon the guarantees given by God Himself.  Hope can be considered “a done deal already.”

To illustrate (and emphasize) this, let me give you a few New Testament scriptures that point not merely to an objective fact…but to a Person. I Timothy 1:1 explains that the believer’s hope is Jesus Himself. Colossians 1:27 describes how the ancient mystery had been revealed. And that mystery, the apostle Paul says to the Colossian believers, “is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Who needs a shamrock when you have the Rock of Ages?

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul reminds the Christians of how sad was their state before they knew Jesus as Savior. They had, Paul explained, a) no hope, b) they were without God, and c) they were stuck in the world. But now, because they had been born again, they had a hope which was guaranteed by God Himself.  They had a personal, loving relationship with Him through His Son.  And though, for a time, they still lived in the physical world, they had been saved from the slavery of the world’s carnal systems.

How does this change things for you and me right now? I Peter 1:3 tells us that we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection.  That means your daily life should be impacted by that glorious truth.  Hope doesn’t point only to history nor does it point only to future fulfillments. It is also wonderfully existential. It is a living hope  – immediately relevant, eminently practical. Among its present tense blessings are confidence, power, joy, and as the apostle John emphasizes this in I John 3:3, purity. “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Want another couple of terrific effects of hope for your present life?  I Thessalonians 5:8 describes the Christian’s hope of salvation as a helmet. A helmet, of course, protects us from our enemies. It is part of our battle gear for the spiritual warfare we wage every day. We won’t need a helmet in heaven but we sure do now. Don’t leave home without it!

But hope doesn’t just protect our heads; it also stills our soul.  Hebrews 6:18 and 19 instructs Christians to lay hold of the hope set before us, a hope that is the anchor of our souls. Wishing and worrying and wanting won’t calm the storms of life we face.  But genuine hope will for it centers upon the  holy presence and matchless grace of God.

So, go ahead and smile at those greeting card verses. But understand that Hallmark’s idea of hope isn’t usually the biblical reality. We can, therefore, throw away the rabbit’s foot and cancel the appointment at the wishing well and instead, get a confident grip on true hope, a humble but anticipatory faith in the God Who delivers.

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Soft Answer, Yes. But, Heavens Above, Give an Answer.

We had barely finished our last prayers of the morning’s pro-life witness outside one of the nefarious Planned Parenthood abortion businesses when a young man pulled up to the intersection and coarsely yelled at us, “Don’t you *#%6@ people have anything better to do!”

I started walking towards his car and said with a slight smile, “You gotta’ be kidding me, right? I mean, what can you come up with that’s better than saving a baby’s life? Firemen, doctors and nurses, lifeguards – are you tellin’ me that they’re wasting their time too?” I kept walking towards the vehicle where I then scrunched down a bit so I could be on the same eye level with the guy. He hadn’t answered my question but then he hadn’t driven away either. In fact, my question (and perhaps my advance) seemed to calm him down some.

Still miffed, though, he motioned over towards the abortion building. “Okay, maybe so but this is America, right? We have something called free choice, you know.”

I smiled more broadly.“Of course we do. All we’re doing here this morning is telling people the facts about abortion, facts they’re not going to be told inside this place. That’s not just recognizing the value of a free choice but going even further and trying to insure that people can make fully informed choices. That’s cool with you, isn’t it? I mean, I bet you’re a pro-truth kind of guy.” I was right next to his car now and kneeling down so I could speak to him through the open window. “You’re not against newspapers or TV commercials, are you? Or the FDA giving you the facts about what’s in your hamburger or your milk. Man, I’m just doing the same thing here today except the information I’m offering is completely free and it’s related to the highest stakes possible – life and death. At any rate, do you really think I’m taking away anybody’s freedom of choice?”  I inclined my head towards the building. “See that 8-foot iron rail fence surrounding the place? You know, I haven’t scaled that thing and tackled a girl all morning. Not a single, solitary tackle.”

That comment actually drew a little laugh from him. “Well, okay; I see what you mean.” Then, more calmly and seriously than I was expecting, he said, “But these girls already have their minds made up.”

I replied, “You’d think that, wouldn’t you?  But, you know, I’ve been doing this for years now and there have been hundreds decide not to have the abortion even though they get to this stage of the proceedings. And a lot of them we’ve been able to help through the pregnancy and after. That’s something else, huh?”

By now a couple of cars had pulled up behind the guy and so I figured I’d better motion him on. “Hey, you’re starting to hold up traffic now so you’d better book. But thanks for stopping, man. I enjoyed talking to you.”

The young man smiled and acted, for a brief moment, like he was going to try another tack. Then, putting his car in gear, he said, “Well, okay; you people try and stay warm” and drove off.

I turned back to my colleagues. There were a few grins and an arched eyebrow or two, “Well,” somebody chuckled, “that sure had a different ending than what I would have guessed.” Another pro-lifer nodded agreement and said, “ Yes, but a soft answer turns away wrath.”

Ah, the Proverbs. How valuable is the wise counsel they give us. Now, the Proverbs are not guarantees. They are general principles of life observed by Solomon and others which reflect a godly perspective. Take Proverbs 15:1 for example. A soft answer doesn’t always turn away wrath. We will see in a moment that the Book of Proverbs admits this. Nevertheless, Proverbs do show us 1) what is generally true, and 2) how life should be lived by those who desire to please God.

And even when sin breaks the consistency of these rules for life, the Proverbs are ever faithful to point us to the ideal standards.  And I can assuredly testify from years of experience, even amid the intense pressures of being at abortion clinics, protests, sit-ins, debates, answering questions (and charges) from opponents, and so on that a soft answer is a wise, winsome, and reliable tool for turning aside wrath.

Now, as I mentioned, it doesn’t always do so. Indeed, to those committed to their wicked ways and foolish presuppositions, speaking the truth, no matter how softly and courteously given doesn’t always dampen someone’s stubborn anger. Sometimes, the truth will inflame all the more the wicked who refuse to listen.  This means that he truth teller will often be rejected instead of being welcomed, ridiculed instead of praised, hated and persecuted instead of having his message embraced.

But that doesn’t at all negate or even minimize our obligation to keep on telling the truth, even those truths that the unbelieving world most hates nowadays – truths about abortion, sexual perversions, the biblical teachings on marriage and family, the authority of Scripture, and the exclusivity of Jesus’ truth claims. And this obligation remains even though the pagan left has become increasingly intolerant, bullying, and even violent.

Note how other  passages from the Book of Proverbs underscore both the regularity of truth’s rejection and yet it’s ability to provide liberation and power for the few who will indeed listen and receive it.

“Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, they would not accept my counsel. They spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.” (Proverbs 1:29-33)

And…“He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser. Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.” (Proverbs 9:7-9)

Clearly, these passage are not intended to dissuade Christians from speaking truth into the culture, including reproof, correction, and warning to individual sinners. No, they merely underscore what responses the truth teller can expect. In other words, be prepared.  But we are also encouraged to appreciate the worthwhile nature of truth-telling for miracles do happen. Scoffers sometimes do repent with all of heaven rejoicing when they do.

You and I have no way of knowing just which foolish, stiff-necked sinner will one day listen to the truth and be converted. For instance, back in the spring of 1970, Chuck Cooke and Dick Hall, two men working with Young Life in Colorado, took a chance to confront a young thug with stinging truths from the Word of God. Had they tried on their own to discern whether or not this smart-alecky drunk was a confirmed scoffer or not, yours truly would still be dead in his sins.

So, by all means, let your answers be soft and selfless. That is your biblical duty.  But God forbid that in your desires to be safe, comfortable, and well liked that you fail to give free expression of the answers you know to be true.  That is your biblical duty too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"By Faith (Insert Your Name Here)"

In last Sunday morning’s sermon at Williams Memorial Chapel on the campus of College of the Ozarks, Dr. Justin Carswell challenged the congregation with applying the text of Hebrews 11 in a specific, liberating exercise.  He drew attention to the large number of times the words “by faith” were used in that chapter – 18 times, by the way! – and he encouraged us to be inspired to follow the example thee people of the chapter set for us.  After all, it’s not as if a person needs to be a superstar of character to please God by acts of faith in His promises (that’s the context of the chapter).  You can see that easily when you remember some of the stumbling, fumbling, bumbling plays the figures in this chapter represent.  Remember Abraham’s cowardice, Sarah’s unbelief, the sexual sins of Samson, the murder committed by David, the brashness of Jepthah, the anger of Moses which kept him out of the Promised Land, the idol raised by Gideon after his great victory for God, and so on?  You get the idea.  

The Holy Spirit’s words, coming through the writer of Hebrews, is underscoring the fact that even the imperfect, even the failures, even those who have deliberately rebelled against God can have moments of victorious faith in God’s promises.  And those moments can have world-shaking significance.  And, of crucial encouragement to the believers in Jesus in this age who have the power of the Holy Spirit resident in them, those moments can be hallmarks of a consistently spiritual life.

To this end, Dr. Carswell outlined a simple exercise using Hebrews 11 as both a model and source of inspiration.  “Grab a pen and right now write down somewhere just three words: BY FAITH and then, for that third word, write in YOUR OWN NAME.”  He explained that this could be a way to think seriously about the needs in our lives, the easily besetting sins, the ministry or relationship challenges we face and to then find victory "by faith."  He called us to think and pray carefully and come up with 3 specific actions that “by faith” we would consecrate as avenues of worship and obedience to the Lord.

It was a really neat exercise and it has already been of important value to Claire and me.  It led me to a new study and meditation of Hebrews 11, to a fruitful discussion with Claire of both the chapter and Dr. Carswell’s challenge, and my making it a significant addendum to the quarterly evaluation of my Christmas Resolutions I had conducted early in the week.

And so, with gratitude for Dr. Carswell, I pass along this excellent action step from his sermon last Sunday.  I hope you find it of value too.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

What Most Astonishes You About Jesus?

In recent years, I have more frequently shared the fruits of my personal Bible study in LifeSharer letters, in posts on Vital Signs Blog and Facebook, even in my correspondence with individual friends. However, after reflecting on comments made by colleagues in the last few weeks, I’ve decided to do that even more often. The following is an example...

What Most Astonishes You About Jesus?

The people’s response to Jesus healing a man from Sidon (a man who was deaf and unable to speak easily or plainly) is recorded in Mark 7:37.  The verse reads, “They were utterly astonished saying, ‘He has done all things well.  He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’”

The word translated “astonished” in that verse is the Greek word ekplessomai which literally means “to be greatly struck” — plessomai being the struck part and the preposition ek adding extra emphasis to the word.  We suggest the same idea when we speak of something being “striking” or something “hitting” us hard.  And, of course, it makes obvious sense that witnessing such a miracle as the one Jesus performed here would “strike” anyone with awe and wonder, maybe even a bit of fear.

But what I found of immense interest in a recent study I was conducting was where else that particular word shows up in the New Testament.  For being astonished at a miraculous healing conducted before your very eyes is natural enough. It is what anyone would experience. And yet all of the other uses of the word ekplessomai — and there are 9 of them — describe the reaction of bystanders not to physical miracles but to the exposition of theological doctrine!  That’s right; the Scriptural record indicates that it is the teaching of Jesus that astounded His hearers more than anything.

(Note: In 8 of the other places where ekplessomai is used, it refers specifically to the teaching of Jesus. The 9th occasion is found in Acts 13:12 of a sermon preached by the apostle Paul. Yet even there, the Bible underscores that it is the teaching of the Lord Jesus through the apostle Paul that resulted in the astonishment of Serguis Paulus, the Roman proconsul that Luke makes a point of describing as “intelligent.”)

So, consider this very “striking” description. It was the teaching of Jesus – its wisdom, authority, freshness, liberating grace, and authenticity – that most astonished the crowds.  More even than the physical miracles Jesus performed: various healings, exorcising demons, calming the storm, feeding thousands from a few loaves and fish, and even raising people from the dead. Oh yes; through these many and various miracles, Jesus provided more than enough to dazzle people and let them know that He was much more than a new prophet on the scene.  Nevertheless, the Bible texts indicate that it was Jesus’ teaching that most astounded the crowds, including the disciples themselves. Wow.

This response, by the way, is shown elsewhere by the use of other Greek words as well.  For instance, existemi literally means “to be put out of one’s self.” It is usually translated as “amazed” as in Mark 5:42 of the people’s reaction to Jesus raising a young girl from the grave and in Luke 24:22 regarding the disciples’ reaction to the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  But that Greek word is also used in Luke 2:47 of the reaction of “the teachers of Israel” to the understanding and wisdom shown by Jesus – when he was only 12 years old!

Also, there’s the Greek words thambo and ekthambo which are also translated as “amazed” or “astonished.” That’s the case in Luke 5:9 of the response of Peter and company to the miracle catch of fish they landed thanks to the Lord’s instruction and the profound surprise registered by the disciples beholding an angel in the empty tomb where Jesus’ body had earlier been lain. But that word thambo is also used in Mark 10:24 of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching about the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God.

Once again, the Bible’s use of these words underscores how truly impressive and important was the teaching of Christ. And it is the teaching of Jesus that should most amaze us today too. Indeed, it is the revelation of Christ Himself and His purposes, His illustrations and applications of divine truth, His profound exposition of the Old Testament, His depth of wisdom regarding not only God’s ways but man’s ways too,  and His explanation of the gospel of salvation He so graciously offered that should win our greatest respect, appreciation, and wondrous awe.

Lord Jesus, more than physical miracles, more than subjective experience, may I always be most astounded by Your authoritative, wise beyond description, and soul liberating teaching. May it inspire in me ever increasing gratitude and obedience.  Thank You.

From the Latest Letter-Writing Party

During last night’s letter-writing party, 8 of us managed to knock out 50 letters and cards. They included (depending, of course, on the person, agency, or business thus addressed) letters of advocacy, gratitude, encouragement, and principled protest. For instance, notes were sent out to pro-life colleagues like the terrific team who minister to moms and babies through Assure Women’s Center; Lincoln sidewalk counselor heroine, Pam McCabe; and others. Several letters went to political leaders dealing with pro-life and pro-family issues. Others were sent to the President, Cabinet members, the State Department, military officials, and foreign ambassadors regarding recent examples of egregious religious persecution.

Here’s a quick sampling of the notes that I sent out.

Dear Ambassador Haley,

My, my, my!  What a breath of fresh air you are at the United Nations!  And what an example of rationality, character, and class you have brought to the job. Thank you for your wisdom and courage and grace.  You are in our frequent and fervent prayers.

Dear Senator Sasse,

Jonathan Edwards once wrote, “Resolution One: I will live for God.  Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” We are praying that these resolutions will be hallmarks of your tenure in the U. S. Senate.  And thank you for the evidence to date that this is the case.

You are in our frequent prayers — especially for your leadership in promoting the sanctity of life, religious freedom, and free speech.

Dear Netflix,

Our recent consideration of signing on with Netflix was abruptly ended when we learned of the latest teen suicide related to your horrendously violent (and vile) series “13 Reasons Why.”

Please cancel this wildly irresponsible television series immediately.

Dear Judge Kavanaugh,

Just a quick note from a few of the Nebraskans who are praying for you and your brave family during these difficult days – days in which you have had to endure such injustice, vile character assassination, and undeserved anxiety and pain.  God help our nation when the primary principles of justice and civility and truth are so deplorably trashed.  Thank you – and your family – for handling this intense trial with such grace and calm.  Your example is a beacon in a dark culture!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Bemoaning the End of Human Sacrifice?

A documentary offered by Amazon Prime and entitled “The Celts,” was given this rather alarming program description: “The Celts were masters of Iron Age Europe. Leaders included King Arthur and Queen Boudicca. Priests called druids practiced human sacrifice. Tragically, their vibrant culture was subjugated by Rome.”

Huh?

Now I know that progressives hate just about everything produced by Western Civilization but really…bemoaning Rome’s ending the Druid’s “vibrant culture” practice of human sacrifice?

Sigh. The progressive yearning for paganism is becoming dumber (and meaner) by the day.

Monday, September 24, 2018

An Abundance of Adoption Stars

Hey, take a quick look at just a few of the people that have profoundly affected
the world who started out as adopted kids. It may just give you a much different, much more appreciative view of adoption.

George Washington Carver; Eleanor Roosevelt; Crazy Horse; Edward Albee; Ingrid Bergman; Jean Jacques Rousseau; Leo Tolstoy; John J. Audubon; Malcolm X; Edgar Allen Poe; Nat King Cole; Marilyn Monroe; Eric Dickerson; Gerald Ford; Aristotle; Daunte Culpepper; Buffy Sainte-Marie; Newt Gingrich; Steven Paul Jobs (co-founder of Apple Computers); Alexander the Great; Art Linkletter; Sen. Robert Byrd; Debbi Harry; James Michener; Tom Monaghan (founder of Domino's Pizza, owner of Detroit Tigers); Langston Hughes; Michael Reagan; Bo Diddley; Lee Majors; Nancy Reagan; Faith Hill; Bill Clinton; Mark Twain; Halle Berry; Dave Thomas; John Lennon; Shari Belafonte-Harper; Faith Daniels; Jesse Jackson; John Hancock; Richard Burton; and Nelson Mandela.

And that's just the beginning! There are thousands and thousands more who have made (and are still making) immensely significant marks on society because of the loving actions of birth parents who kindly relinquished them to adoptive families. Congratulations to everybody involved!

And you say you're interested in just who some of those better known adoptive parents might be? I thought you might. Try out this list for starters:

President Ronald Reagan & Jane Wyman; Babe Ruth; Jerry Lewis; Sen. John McCain; Willie Mays; Charles Bronson & Jill Ireland; Bob Hope; Michael Landon; Walt Disney; Ben Stein; Ed McMahon; Roy Rogers & Dale Evans; Michelle Pfeiffer; George Burns & Gracie Allen; Dan Marino; Harpo Marx; Julie Andrews; Lloyd Bentsen; Hedy Lamarr; Erma Bombeck; Karl Wallenda; Kate Jackson; Kirby Puckett; Eve Arden; Oscar de la Renta; Peter Falk; Bette Davis; Estelle Parsons; Henry Fonda; Magic Johnson; Judy Woodruff; Ted Danson (he is adopted himself); Burt Reynolds & Loni Anderson; Diane Keaton; Angelina Jolie; Pearl Bailey; Jo Beth Williams; George Lucas; Teri Garr; Calista Flockhart; and Patti LaBelle.

Want more adopted parents? How about Stephen Spielberg; John DeLorean; Lou Gosset, Jr.; Art Buchwald; Linda Ronstadt; Kurt Vonnegut; Valerie Harper; Nicole Kidman; Woody Allen; Jamie Lee Curtis; Sen. Jesse Helms; Al Roker; John Denver; Donna Mills; Patty Duke; Paul Newman; Cecil B. De Mille; Kris Kristofferson; Helen Hayes; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Sharon Stone; Sen. Gordon Humphrey; Mia Farrow; Marie Osmond; Connie Chung; Joan Fontaine; Sally Jessy Raphael; Carroll O'Connor; Parker Stevenson; Gloria Swanson; Robert Urich; Alexander the Great; Josephine Baker; Meg Ryan; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson; Kirk Cameron; Steven Curtis Chapman; and, again, an awful lot more.

Adoption? It's frequently the very best option, the most loving choice that a young mom can make. For it is a wonderful, hopeful investment for a child's life, for a family's warmth and security, and for the flowering of an entire culture.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Banners of Deceit: Part Two

Last week I uploaded here a brief piece about the “lying signs” that adorn the Planned Parenthood abortion business here in Omaha. That post concerned the hypocrisy of Planned Parenthood’s claims to want the input of parents in their children’s decisions about sexual involvement. You can read it right here.

Here’s the sign for today, one that pictures a middle-aged woman with the caption, “Someone you know thinks she might feel a lump in her breast.” The passersby are, of course, led to believe that Planned Parenthood is a source of help for mammograms and other breast cancer screening.

But, contrary to that sign and contrary to the repeated claims from the press, the Democrats, and the mega-abortion corporation itself, it simply doesn’t provide this kind of help!

But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to Planned Parenthood staff themselves. That's the first clip. And then, use the link at the end of this post to hear the truth about Planned Parenthood and mammograms from, of all sources, the Barack Obama administration.





https://townhall.com/columnists/caseymattox/2012/09/07/obama-administration-planned-parenthood-does-not-perform-mammograms-n748379

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Banners of Deceit

The huge signs which adorn Planned Parenthood's “Abortion and Sexual Promiscuity Enablement Center” [that’s my title for the place and, truth be told, it’s a title that's a lot more honest than theirs] all feature photos of pretty people emblazoned with captions which seek to sell passersby on what goes on inside the building.

But not only do those captions fail utterly to describe the main business of Planned Parenthood, most of them are outright lies. Over the next few days (beginning again on Monday), I'll share more comments on those banners. But let's begin with this one...

The caption printed across the photograph of a thirty-something man reads, “Someone you know has a hard time talking to his daughter about um, stuff.”  The implication, of course, is that Planned Parenthood is there to help parents effectively communicate with their children about sex.

But the fact is that Planned Parenthood wants parental involvement only if it creates a green light for premarital sexual activity.  Both out of ideological conviction (Margaret Sanger’s and Alfred Kinsey’s abhorrent sexual philosophies still dominate here) and because of Planned Parenthood’s insatiable lust for profits (they want yet more customers for their abortion pills, their poor quality condoms, and eventually for the surgical abortions they commit), the business is delighted with parents who encourage and enable their teenagers’ promiscuity.

However, if those parents want to send anything but the Planned Parenthood message to their kids, the mega-abortion corporation seeks to shut them up completely.  Indeed, no group in the country has fought as hard and as dirty to keep legislatures from passing parental consent, even parental notification laws, than Planned Parenthood.  And no group in the country has done more to severely marginalize parental involvement in sex education.  Whether it’s doing an end run around parents in school sex ed programs, or training kids to keep sexual activity secret from their parents, or even covering up statutory rape as several recent undercover investigations have revealed among Planned Parenthood offices around the country, the corporation doesn’t really want parents to talk about, um, stuff at all. Unless, that is, they get “stuff” from Planned Parenthood.

Again, commentary on other Planned Parenthood banners next week.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Reality Check: The Latest 6-Pack

Here's the latest in our ongoing lists of important reads from exceptional (and critically-needed) alternative media:

* “The Cost of Our Digital Addictions” (Matthew Hennessey, National Review)

* “Watch GOP Sen. Ben Sasse turn the Kavanaugh hearing into Schoolhouse Rock!” (Kathryn Krawczyk, The Week)

* “United Way Defends Funding Planned Parenthood Abortion Biz, It’s ‘Only a Small Number’” (Steven Ertelt, LifeNews.com)

* “Why it matters that teens are reading less” (Jean Twenge, Mercator)

* “How Not to Survive as a Faithful Christian Community” (Rick Plasterer, Juicy Ecumenism)

* “Democrats Are Leaving Their Party in Droves. Conservatives Should Pay Attention” (Jeff Walyus, Daily Signal)

What's All the Buzz About?

As we began to set up our equipment and the computer connections for one of last month’s “When Swing Was King” shows, the activities director of the senior care facility came in to greet us.  Beside her was another young woman we had never seen.  “Denny and Claire, this is K——.  She’s my new assistant and she’s been very anxious to meet you two.”

Anxious to meet us?  Why’s that, we asked.  The young girl answered with a smile, “Well, it’s because I’ve heard so much about this program already.  There's been quite a buzz about it all day long. Everyone has been passing the word around and it seems that nobody wants to miss it. I haven’t seen the residents so enthusiastic about anything else we do. So, I just wanted to meet you guys and see what the buzz was all about!”

As you can imagine, hearing that testimony was a great joy and encouragement to us. It always is when we hear such complements about “When Swing Was King." And, thank the Lord, we hear them a lot! For instance, at the end of this particular presentation, I bent over to talk to L——, a nearly blind, oxygen tube-dependent resident who never misses our monthly shows. She had been singing merrily along to the songs while gently swaying to the tunes in her wheelchair. I gave her a little hug and told her how happy she had made me with her obvious enjoyment of the show. In response, she kissed my hand and, through twinkling tears, told me, “Oh, I so love these programs you bring us. The music is wonderful and, even though it’s been so long since I’ve heard them, I seem to remember each one! Thank you so much for doing this for us!”

This summer began (I can hardly believe it) the 9th year of our “When Swing Was King” outreach, a music/pictures/information/friendship ministry that is reaching 240-300 people every month in 11 different senior care facilities. And we are delighted to say that both the programs and the response to them are better than ever. In addition, there have been “spinoff” ministries: the quarterly “When Swing Was King” newsletter that, like the shows themselves, are always presented free of charge; occasional talks like “A Religious History of Omaha;” the occasional donation of large amounts of fresh flowers to the care facilities; and the conversations, prayers, and other fruits of our developing friendships. We are so honored and grateful for the Lord leading us into this unique service.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

On the American Attraction to Novelty

There is a strong and ongoing temptation towards novelty in the American Christian. Indeed, he has for so long and in so many clever ways been taught that “new is better” that he now believes it as a foundational premise. For his entire life he has been surrounded by a persuasive media that has defined him as a consumer and so it is, more than anything, the advertising agency that has determined the way he looks at the world. He has his learned lessons well and is now convinced that everything that is “new” must truly be “improved.”

Running a not too distant second in formulating the believer's attraction to novelty is the school system in which he was taught. There he was instructed carefully and incessantly in evolutionary thought. Whether the classes involved science, humanities, ethics, or Marxist-laced economics, the government school system has instructed him that everything is moving towards that inventible force called (note the capital P) Progress. A key part of his worldview is the maxim, “Every day in every way, things are getting better and better.”

It should be no surprise then that American Christians find themselves ever attracted to novelty…even in theological matters. The latest trend. The fashionable formula. The pragmatism promised by the most recent book. The American Christian, taking his lead from the advertising jingles in his head, believes that even in the search for religious significance, success will be found in the “new and improved” theological tricks – the latest, the hippest, the faith flavor of the month.

But G.K. Chesterton had it right when he declared, “It is the old things that startle and intoxicate.” And indeed, the believer’s strength is always found in the ancient truths, the essentials, the fundamentals of the faith. Ours is a Faith grounded in history and beautifully enacted by real heroes who have given us an extremely rich heritage. And we worship and serve a Messiah Who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” and Who has revealed himself in the timeless writings of the Holy Bible.

So please, my friends, beware of the siren calls from novelty for they represent an alluring but ultimately misleading force. No, it is much better to stay the course with He Who was, is, and is to come…He Who holds the future in His Hands…He Who is, quite rightfully titled, the Rock of Ages.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Thoughts on Proverbs 19:13 (A Guest Column from Bill Weber)

During a coffee conversation I enjoyed last week with Bill Weber (a former pastor who is currently writing hymns, studying Proverbs, and other intriguing things), I encouraged him to occasionally send over some of the stuff he’s been writing and I might upload them onto the blog. This is the first article he sent over. You'll see it presents a very different kind of perspective on a well-known proverb and with provocative applications too. Check it out.

Thoughts on Proverbs 19:13 

“A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.” (Proverbs 19:13, ESV)

Graeme Goldsworthy says of this proverb, “Those relationships that are closest and most rewarding have the potential for greater destructiveness.”[1]  Goldsworthy gets at the heart of the literal meaning of today's proverb.  But while it is helpful to look at the horizontal relationships that a literal reading focuses on in our verse, my goal is to read the proverbs Christologically, in the light of the New Testament.  Thus, I agree with Andrew Steinmann when he says we need to “read these sayings in the light of the gospel.”[2]  The individual proverbs “find their ultimate meaning only when read with the gospel in view, as indeed is true of all the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:44-47).”[3]

So we will certainly touch on the literal meaning of Proverbs 19:13, but the question I am more interested in is this: How do we see Christ in this proverb?  For until we can answer that question, we have fallen short of the intended and ultimate meaning for us as our heavenly Father's children and our Lord's bride.

Leland Ryken writes: “The Bible is more than a book of ideas: it is also a book of images and motifs…We will miss a lot of what the Bible contains if we do not see and understand the literal and symbolic meanings of the Bible's images…The Bible is a book that images the truth as well as stating it in abstract propositions.”[4]  This means that in order to be good Bible readers, we must become competent at interpreting symbols.  Ryken goes on to define a symbol this way:  “A symbol is an image that stands for something in addition to its literal meaning.”[5]

But here is where the human race in its sinful state has become quite obtuse!  In our fallen state, we often miss the symbolism, and the spiritual meaning latent in those symbols.  How often in the Gospels we see this inability to see symbolism.  Just in the opening chapters of John's Gospel, Jesus speaks of the temple being raised in three days, but His disciples are thinking of the literal temple.  Jesus says you must be born from above, but Nicodemus wonders how a man can be born from his mother's womb again.  Jesus speaks of living water, but the Samaritan woman is fixated on drawing water from the well in front of her.  Jesus says that He has bread his disciples don't know about, and they wonder if someone gave Him some bread.  And on and on it goes.  We are not the best at seeing spiritual meaning, and seeing Him in symbols.  We are masters at the literal, but bumblers at the spiritual.

Today's proverb presents us with three persons that function as symbols: a son, a father, and a wife.  Earthly fathers are meant to point to the heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Earthly sons are meant to point to the eternally begotten and beloved Son of the Father, Jesus Christ.  A wise wife points to Woman Wisdom, who points to Jesus Christ who is wisdom incarnate (Proverbs 9:1-12).  But foolish wives point to Woman Folly (Proverbs 9:13-18).  The wise wife in Proverbs 31:10-31 is a type (a symbol designed to foreshadow Christ or spiritual things) of Woman Wisdom, who is a type of Christ.  Akin writes, “Proverbs begins with a dad telling his son to make Woman Wisdom his wife, and it ends with a husband praising a wise wife.  Woman Wisdom points to Jesus, who is the embodiment of God's Wisdom.  The wise wife is, therefore, a type of Woman Wisdom, and one can only be that kind of wife if she is in a relationship with the Wisdom of God who is Jesus Christ…She is a saved woman, a godly woman, a Bible woman, a Jesus woman.”[6]

One further point about, not just wives as symbols, but women as symbols.  Women, because of the God-given design of their bodies, are often used as symbols of discipleship throughout the Bible.  The receptivity of their bodies makes them wonderful pictures of what it means to live as disciples, for the key to discipleship is receptivity (Matthew 5:3).  Christopher West writes, “Receptivity is the fundamental posture of every creature before the Creator.  We have nothing that we have not first received, beginning with our very existence.  Love does not originate in us.  It originates in God, who is love.  Hence, if we are to give love, we must first open up to receive it.  We cannot give what we do not have.”[7]

Putting this together, our verse is getting at the heart of our purpose in life.  The goal of our lives as God's born from above sons (I'm using “sons” to include both sexes) is to honor our heavenly Father.  The goal of our lives as our Lord's bride (including both sexes) is to love Him and to be receptive to Him.

But sin has greatly disordered our lives.  Instead of wise sons, our fallen nature sires foolish sons, who do not love the heavenly Father and are filled with an inward enmity toward Him, which only the new birth can change.  Instead of disciples that love Jesus Christ their Husband and seek to do all they can to help and advance His cause on the earth, the earth is filled with unbelievers who have no love for Jesus, though He loved the world and gave Himself for it.

In our couplet we see enmity against earthly fathers and earthly husbands that symbolizes the enmity the human race has toward the heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ, our true husband who has betrothed His bride at the cross.  The aim in life is to honor our heavenly Father, and love His Son, our Husband and Lord.  May it be, Lord.

NOTES:
[1] Goldsworthy, Proverbs, 136.
[2] Steinmann, Proverbs, 407.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, xiii.
[5] Ibid., xiv.
[6] Akin, Proverbs, 180.
[7] Christopher West, The Love That Satisfies: reflections on eros and agape, 79.

Reflections on Radical Discipleship

[The following is an edited version of a Vital Signs Blog post written a couple of years ago. The exhortations, however, are more relevant than ever.]

Last Saturday Claire and I were blessed to participate in a reunion party involving people who were part of the Christian Brotherhood in the early 1970s. It was a lively reunion party hosted by Bob & Linda Potter with a couple dozen celebrating life, our ongoing friendships, and the grace of God that was poured out upon America during the days of the Jesus Movement of which the Brotherhood was a storied part.  We celebrated too the Lord’s ongoing grace as He has continued to lead, protect, correct, and use the lives of many, many believers who came through that unique ministry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

William Tyndale & the English Bible

Erasmus, the great humanist scholar of the late Middle Ages performed one of the most important projects of his time when he published an entire Greek New Testament in a lucid translation which was true to the original manuscripts. Though himself a quiet and moderate man, a Catholic who had desires for only modest changes in the Church, his new translation would become a key spark for the Reformation throughout Europe.

In particular, a young priest and language scholar in England took Erasmus’ New Testament to his very heart. He was William Tyndale, a man who would later testify that he found Jesus Christ in that Greek New Testament and, depending upon Christ's mercy, Tyndale dedicated his life to producing the Holy Scriptures in the English language.

However, Tyndale’s great vision was opposed by strictly and ruthlessly applied laws prohibiting the translation of the Bible into the language of the people. Indeed, parents had been burned at the stake simply for teaching their children the English version of the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.

But God honored William Tyndale’s noble desires and the brave, diligent, prayerful work it required to bring them to pass. The Bible was translated into English and disseminated throughout the country. And though Tyndale paid the ultimate price, being martyred by strangulation and burning in October 1536, he considered his life's work a wonderful investment for his eternity.

The Bible in our own language, my oh, my.  We have heroes to thank for this awesome blessing and a heroic heritage to treasure. And, of course, a Bible in our own language that we should be reading (and obeying) much more than we do.

Extra note: The bronze statue shown here was created by J.E. Boehm in 1883. This bronze statue was placed in Whitehall Gardens on May 7th 1884 as part of the 80th anniversary of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

The Inscription on the front of the plinth reads...

William Tyndale 
First translator of the New Testament into English from the Greek. Born A.D. 1484, died a martyr at Vilvorde in Belgium, A.D. 1536. 

“Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” - “the entrance of thy words giveth light.” Psalm CXIX. 105.130. 
“And this is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, 
and this life is in his son.” I. John V.II. 

The last words of William Tyndale were “Lord! Open the King of England's eyes”. Within a year afterwards, a bible was placed in every parish church by the King's command.