Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving Scriptures and Other Quotations

Feel free to print out and use this compilation of enlightening, provocative quotations for your Thanksgiving Day celebration and, for that matter, in your conversations, letters, and prayers throughout the year.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” (Psalm 100:4)

“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” (Ambrose of Milan)

"By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is,
the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name." (Hebrews 13:15)

“The lack of gratitude is the foundation of all sin.” (G.K. Chesterton)

"True thanksgiving means that we need to thank God for what He has done for us,
and not to tell Him what we have done for Him." (George R. Hendrick)

"Ingratitude is the worst of vices." (Thomas Fuller)

"Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns." (Anonymous)

“I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.” (Psalm 7:17)

"How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors.  It changes a child’s personality. Thankful children want to give; they radiate happiness; they draw people."
(Sir John Templeton)

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” (John Milton)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’
Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever.’…
Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.
I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.”
(Psalm 118: 1-4, 19-21)

"Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count past mercies." (Charles E. Jefferson)

“In that day you will say: "Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.” (Isaiah 12:4)

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues." (Cicero)

"Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road." (John Henry Jowett)

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

"We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction."  (Harry A. Ironside)

"You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.' You make a mistake.
If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled." (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

"But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." (Ephesians 5: 3-4)

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” (G.K. Chesterton)

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

“Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.”
(George Herbert)

"From David learn to give thanks for everything. Every furrow in the Book of Psalms is sown with the seeds of thanksgiving." (Jeremy Taylor)

"Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don't unravel."  (Unknown)

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. 
For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all.”
(Psalm 95:2-3)

"Giving thanks to God for both His temporal and spiritual blessings in our lives is not just a nice thing to do; it is the moral will of God. Failure to give Him the thanks due Him is sin." (Jerry Bridges)

"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving." (H. U. Westermayer)

"The Christian who walks with the Lord and keeps constant communion with Him will see many reasons for rejoicing and thanksgiving all day long." (Warren Wiersbe)

Speaking of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul writes, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

“How slow we are to thank and swift to grumble." (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” (G.K. Chesterton)

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.” (Psalm 28:7)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Vital Signs' Christmas Card Party Breaks a Record

It was quite a night. In fact, it was one of the most successful letter-writing parties Vital Signs Ministries has ever hosted.  It was also an unusual event, not only because it was the Christmas card edition of the year’s quarterly letter-writing parties, but also because we had some special projects, special guests, and special materials for use.

Of course, there were the same hallmarks of every such event; namely, the prayerful effort to use the time-proven method of personal letters to make an impact for the cause of Christ and to do so amid the encouraging, helpful fellowship of other believers.  But, in our Christmas card edition of the last few years, we have started a tradition of including in our “letter targets” U.S. military veterans and Christians who are imprisoned for their faith. Let me tell you a bit about how things went.

By the time our doorbell rang announcing the first of what would eventually be 14 guests, we were ready.  The house was cleaned.  Extra tables and chairs were in place.  The coffee and tea and cookies were on the kitchen counter.  Furthermore, we had prepared the letter targets for the evening with all the necessary addresses, set out all the writing materials (including 2 dozen boxes of Christian-themed Christmas cards), and, because we knew Matt was bringing his young daughters, we even had some Christmas-themed coloring books on hand. And I know those recipients will feel themselves doubly blessed who will find inside their Christmas cards a wonderfully hand-colored piece of art from a conscientious, caring kid. It turned out that the girls went one better by also decorating other cards with colored drawings of stars, American flags, and candy canes to adorn their Christmas greetings. Way to go, girls!

By the end of the party, the group had written 149 Christmas cards to American servicemen and women who are currently deployed in freedom’s cause. And, thanks to “Operation Christmas Cards For Our Troops” (an outreach created by United Soldiers and Sailors of America), and because we have already sent to the USASOA the whole package of cards by Priority Mail (December 1 being their deadline), the organization promises they will reach their destinations before Christmas. That’s terrific.

But that’s not all. The second special group for our Christmas cards Tuesday
night were the 15 Christians listed on the Voice of the Martyrs website – devoted saints who are imprisoned for their faith in Jesus Christ in places like China, Eritrea, and Iran. As I have done for several other Vital Signs letter-writing parties, I had used the VOM website to compose 45 personal letters to go inside Christmas cards – letters that, remarkably enough, are written both in English and the prisoner’s own language! So it is that each Christian from the VOM list receives from our group 3 Christmas cards each. They are beautiful cards with Christian illustrations that are themselves a dramatic contrast to the bleak, dispiriting atmosphere of a third-world prison. More important, in each of those 3 cards, there are different Bible verses and personal greetings to thank them for their steadfast courage and to encourage them to persevere. So Lord, please let every Christmas card, every Scripture, every word of solidarity and hope that we mailed out bring abounding blessings to those who receive them.

And, finally, in addition to the Christmas cards described above, we wrote out another 84 cards directed to political officials, business leaders, media personalities, and Christian heroes. The messages therein concerned the issues Vital Signs Ministries and our friends most care about: the sanctity of human life, religious freedom, promotion of biblical marriage, etc.

Now, the messages in all of those cards included Christmas greetings and promises of our prayers in their behalf, but there were additional messages that, as you can easily guess, depend on the particular recipient. For instance, the sentiments expressed in the Christmas cards that went out to Joni Eareckson Tada, Franklin Graham, the Assure Women’s Resource Center, or President Trump are going to be quite different than the ones sent to such leftist and pro-abortion groups as the Girl Scouts of America, Planned Parenthood, or the Democrat Party. Yet even in the notes to our enemies, we remain precise and polite…even winsome.

Of these 84 Christmas cards, the majority were sent to the President and members of his cabinet – President Trump 9, Vice-President Pence 8, Attorney General Barr 6, and so on. But there were a lot of others who will have at least one Christmas card coming their way from our Tuesday night efforts. They include: Nebraska’s Senators and the 2nd District’s Congressman; Governor Ricketts and Lt. Governor Foley; Omaha Mayor Stothert; pro-life and pro-family businesses like Scheels and Hobby Lobby; outspoken advocates for biblical values like NFL standout Demario Davis; and then several others who we believe deserve our thanks and encouragement. In that group (besides those mentioned above) were Tony & Lois Evans, Randy and Nanci Alcorn and their team with Eternal Perspective Ministries, Rush Limbaugh, Nebraska Family Alliance, Kanye West, Tim Tebow, the team at Joni & Friends, and Back to the Bible’s Harold Berry.

It was a really superb evening of truth-telling, light-bearing ministry alongside other dedicated Christian activists. And we were all very pleased, of course, to learn that we had set a new record for a Vital Signs Ministries letter-writing night. Indeed, using just our regular time of 90 minutes or so, the 16 of us turned out those 45 Christmas cards to our imprisoned brethren, the 149 to men and women serving our nation in the military, and the 84 to people in the categories I’ve mentioned.  That’s a total of 278 Christmas cards…plus the bonus of a few pages from coloring books! 

Don’t you think it’s time for you that start doing some letter writing of your own?  Or, better still, perhaps you should consider organizing a party like ours for your friends, family, fellow church members, and so on.  Just give us a ring and we’ll be delighted to help you get started.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Reflecting on Handel’s Messiah

Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) I was blessed to attend the Voices of Omaha 51st annual presentation of Messiah, George Handel’s epic oratorio written in 1741. The performance was at the Holland Performing Arts Center downtown, a perfect showcase for a musical event.  Claire wasn’t feeling well but she urged me to fulfill the promise we had made to our dear friend Sharon Struve who sings in the choir. Indeed, Sharon was, I believe, the only charter member of that company singing yesterday.  And there she was thoroughly enjoying her participation with the choir, orchestra, four professional soloists, and a large audience as Handel’s grand review of Christ’s predicted coming, His birth, His earthly ministry, His crucifixion as He dies to pay the penalty for man’s sin, His resurrection, and His promised return to earth as King of Kings transpired over 2 and ½ hours. It is a truly glorious, inspirational work and yesterday’s performance was superb.

(By the way, I was pleased to learn that Claire had found an online performance of Messiah and, while we were at the Holland enjoying it, she was at our living room fireside doing the same.)

The “we” in the above sentence mostly includes “good friends and true” Patrick Osborne and Quint and Carol Coppi who I sat with.  But I greeted several friends in the audience: the Coker family, Lynn & Frieda Schmit, a group from the men’s Bible study that used to meet at the West Maple Panera, and a few others including a few new friends we made that afternoon.

The music of Messiah is sweeping, dramatic, and provocative.  Yet it is, of course, the text of the oratorio (taken almost exclusively from the King James Bible) that provides the most powerful spiritual illumination. I jotted down quite a few notes on my program as the concert progressed, most of them made with a view to do a more intensive study of several of the phrases (even specific words) that are included in the text selected for Handel by Charles Jennens. I’m confident that it will make for an excellent series of studies and meditations for my Christmas season.

But while I’m writing up my thoughts the day after hearing Messiah, let me make a few observations of a more philosophical kind. Number one, it wasn’t just a concert I attended; it was genuinely a worship service.  Sure, I know that many in the audience and even in the company of singers and musicians probably did not consider it as such. Nevertheless, it was for me. The bold exposition of Holy Scripture; the exquisite music; the glory of God reverberating through the creativity and talents He so liberally gives to human beings; the fellowship involved in sharing the experience with good friends; the beautiful interpretations given by the two young women doing sign language; and the stirring example of Sharon’s faithfulness and courage to sing praises to God despite the pain and frustration she’s dealing with. All this and more made yesterday afternoon a very special ministry to my soul.

Secondly, I was struck anew by the significance a simple smile can express. There were several moments yesterday afternoon. The smiles of the chorus members as they performed but also when they were listening to the soloists and the orchestra. The particularly striking grin of the tenor soloist when the Scriptural text changed from a description of Christ’s crucifixion to His magnificent resurrection. And, of course, the smiles I saw all across the auditorium as the audience members were moved to joy and hope when the text illustrated the fantastic splendors of the gospel.

A third item. I find it thrilling that the tradition of audience members rising to their feet and standing throughout the famous “Hallelujah Chorus” has continued through the centuries to today.  Yes, moderns often seek to downplay this dramatic response by attributing it to mere tradition started by King George whose standing at this moment of the oratorio required every mere citizen to also stand. This alone could be but an old wives tale. But, even more wildly speculative is the reason so often given that the King stood (the woman introducing the program yesterday trotted out this old tale) not out of reverence of any kind but merely to stretch his legs. But then secularists are uncomfortable with any religious motivations and they diligently try to find other reasons for spiritual acts…especially God’s. Anyhow, this skepticism was roundly refuted yesterday – and at every performance of Messiah -- when so many in the audience enthusiastically (indeed joyfully) rise from their seats in celebration of the divine truths of Christ’s ultimate victory over sin, Satan, and death. Count on it; this happy, response has nothing to do with King George’s arthritis.

And finally, as I’m speaking of tradition, I praise God for the patient, longsuffering mercy He has bestowed upon the world. But I was praising Him quite specifically yesterday for the tradition of this 18th Century oratorio as just one example of that grace. Think of it. The Messiah, resplendent with gorgeous, inspirational music but its foundation being several texts of the holy, ever-relevant Word of God is still so frequently performed throughout the world.  And this even though Western culture has turned its back on Jesus. As the Messiah text reminds us, we have despised and rejected Him. We have turned to our own ways. Nevertheless, the Lord continues to provide beauty, enlightenment, conviction, the miracle of the new birth through faith in the Savior, second chances, the empowerment of the Spirit, the availability of the Word.  Even in our darkened culture, God provides light enough to find our way to Him. Through Handel’s Messiah. And, if we are willing, through you and me.

And so I’m moved by yesterday’s oratorio to make sure I’m also doing my part to be a “light of the world,” presenting the gospel to my culture in as winsome, wise, and uncompromising way as possible.

What About That "Christmas Card "Edition of VSM's Letter-Writing Nights?

At tomorrow night's special "Christmas edition" of Vital Signs Ministries' letter-writing series, we will be sending letters and Christmas cards to:

* Christian heroes expressing our appreciation for their good work;

* Public officials and business leaders who have done good service in pro-life, pro-family causes also to express our thanks...

* Public officials, business leaders, and others of influence who have yet to act justly in relevant social issues or, even worse, who are championing wickedness. These we send letters and Christmas cards expressing advocacy, reasoning, and principled protest...

* Veterans of America's military branches expressing our appreciation for the efforts to keep our nation safe...

* First responders expressing our gratitude for the good work they perform in taking care of life, safety, and property...

* The U.S. State Department, other U.S. political officials, ambassadors and diplomats from countries engaging in persecution of Christian believers, and letters to newspapers and magazines to highlight the needs of the persecuted Church.

* Christians who are suffering unjust imprisonment and other persecutions expressing our gratitude for their loyalty to Jesus, promises of prayer, and promises to advocate justice in their behalf to the powers that be...

Regarding this last category, we utilize the resources at Voice of the Martyrs and
Open Doors to get specific names, stories, and addresses. These sites even help you send your messages in the prisoner's own language! We urge you to check them out and add this ministry to your family's "brotherly love" activities. For that matter, try and involve your church, your youth group, your seniors group, your Sunday School Class, your fellowship groups... you name it.

And, of course, we would be delighted if you'd like to come join our party too!

What will our Christmas cards say tomorrow night which will then be sent to believers languishing in prisons in China, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, and
Tajikistan? (And remember, along with the English phrases, VOM allows us to also send the translations in their own language.) Note also that we will send beautiful, colorful cards with Christian Christmas scenes -- that will be a blessing in itself -- and we send 3 cards to each prisoner on our lists.

Message 1) Psalm 37:7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Revelation 21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Message 2) When one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers. Many Christians around the world are standing with you. You are fighting a good fight. May you keep the faith and finish the race.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,

Message 3) My prayers are with you as you endure the fellowship of suffering. My heart rejoices that you are strong in the Lord. May your light reveal the truth to those around you.

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

1 Peter 4:13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Friday, November 15, 2019

We Need a Few More Lie Detectors

A little known poem written in the 1920’s by the author of Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, describes the power of Bolshevik revolutionary and ruthless dictator Vladimir Lenin in a striking stanza. In this poem, “Lofty Melody,” Pasternak emphasizes the connection between Lenin’s comprehensive political power and his propaganda prowess. Writes Pasternak, “He ruled the flow of thought, and that is why he ruled the land.”

Pasternak understood that the prelude to controlling people’s lives was controlling their minds. And as the decline of Western civilization continues its dramatic course, it is critical that you and I take the challenge that Pasternak’s observation implies. After all, ours is an age when the erroneous inventions of Darwin, Freud, and Marx still dominate the academic world – an age when the terms and demographics used in the public debate over abortion are provided by the abortionists themselves – an age when lies of the devil have become the dominant messages in our culture’s music, movies, television programming, fashion, education systems, and the leftist reporting which masquerades as journalism. These godless sources clearly have ruled the flow of thought in our era, thus creating the most horrendous flow of action, including waves of unimaginable violence, sexual perversion, and open defiance of Almighty God.

Jesus warned us that Satan is the father of lies and also that he is a creature committed to fierce action, especially against Christians. Indeed, the devil is never content with the lie itself; he is also a blasphemer, a deceiver, an accuser, a tempter, a murderer. And, in pursuit of these wicked things, he creates alliances with foolish, rebellious human beings. For instance, he uses such voices as a newspaper or magazine article, a film or a television program, a humanistic school curricula or museum exhibit, the allure of cocaine highs or illicit sexual thrills, get-rich-quick pitchmen or false preachers, and so on. Through such voices, the devil seeks to rule the land -- by ruling “the flow of thought.”

The psalmist tells us that those who speak lies go astray. The deception of the mind leads to “actualized” sin...and then more sin. Stressing the same truth, the Lord tells us that as a man thinks, so will he act. As apologist Francis Schaeffer repeatedly emphasized, “Ideas have consequences.” And no more crucial does Dr. Schaeffer’s remark relate to you and I than in this matter of believing lies.

Now this isn’t normally a topic we talk about. The word “liar” is considered too stern, too moralistic, too judgmental for social use…even in church. And certainly being a “lie detector” will not make you very popular nowadays. Nonetheless, those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have an unmistakable, undeniable calling which requires them to perform that very function. Detecting the lies that confront us throughout the day, refusing their power in our own lives, and then daring even in the public square to expose and refute those – these are critical elements of being a true disciple, a “light of the world.”

I fear for the state of the Church in the West because of the frequency with which everyday Christians succumb to worldliness, forfeiting their rich intellectual heritage for the propaganda doled out by the devil’s minions. Is it any wonder then that believers, “unsalty” and begrimed with the spirit of the age, have lost their power to influence the events around them? Rather than acting as sojourners in this foreign country of the world, we’ve settled in and become quite comfortable. Rather being transformed into the image of Christ Jesus, we have chosen to be poured into the molds made by advertisers, politicians, secular educators, entertainment moguls, and preachers who deny the necessity of both holy living and sacrificial service in behalf of others. It has been a tragic sell-out.

Is there a way back? Certainly. And it begins with the simple refrain, “Out with the bad and in with the good.” Or, put another way, we need much less of the world in us and much more of the Word. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the mature Christian is one who has by practice had his senses trained to discern good and evil. That is a comforting thought as well as a challenge. For despite the enveloping cloud of lies in our era, the Holy Spirit reminds us that the obedient Christian can overcome evil with good. Not only can we escape the tyranny of lies ourselves, we can even beat them back as they try to claim new victims.

It doesn’t come easy, of course. The most difficult reclining chairs to get out of are the ones that feel so good to be in. You have to be a diligent student of the Bible. You must strive for holiness, deny self, be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only. And you have to engage the power of the Holy Spirit as you bring His light to bear upon everything you encounter. If you let down your guard in any area, you become easy prey for the father of lies. He will fool you. He will exploit you. And he will then toss you aside. How infinitely better is it to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd?

By wisdom a house is built
And by understanding it is established.
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.

A wise man is strong
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.
(Proverbs 24:3-6)

The above passage from Proverbs presents a dramatic contrast to Vladimir Lenin’s ambition to rule over men by dominating the world of ideas. For the wise man, as these verse illustrate, is one who builds his life on the sure foundations of God’s Word. That man can then influence the world of action as he teaches truth, exposes and overcomes the devil’s lies, and guides others towards spiritual freedom, justice, moral purity, and serenity of soul.

Unlike Lenin (and unlike Satan and his henchmen themselves), the wise man has trusted Jesus Christ’s death as payment for his sin. He has been adopted into God’s forever family and given the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to walk in the newness of life. In obedience to God’s commands for him to be a light-bearing disciple, the wise man will thus celebrate his freedom to know truth, but he will also bravely take on the duty of “lie detection” to help liberate others.