Wednesday, November 30, 2022

"Hinder Not the Little Children" -- What Kind of Faith Must Adults Have Towards Jesus?

Denny Hartford briefly "unpacks" the well known passage of Luke 18 about Jesus' desire that the little children be allowed full access to Him. But far from being a passage simply about Jesus' attitude towards kids, we will see some very grown-up applications. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A Record-Setting Christmas Card Party!

My, oh my; last night's Christmas party was not only a wonderful time of encouragement and stimulation for us, but the messages that were put inside our cards and letters will, I'm quite sure, prove to bless many others. And when I say "many," I really mean it for we set new records last night -- both for letter-writers and for productivity. Indeed, we managed to squeeze in 22 people around tables upstairs and down (with 2 others writing from their homes). And the total? 277 cards and letters! Wow.

Included in that wonderful number were 39 colorful Christmas cards (3 apiece) sent to 13 Christian brothers imprisoned for their faith in China, Eritrea, and Iran -- cards that bore a brief message and Scriptures in their respective languages! And 84 Christmas cards and kid-created art works were directed to residents of senior care facilities which Claire and I will distribute to key people in our Aksarben Village church service and our December "When Swing Was King" shows. How lovely is that!

And the rest of that gorgeous pile of Christmas cards? Let me cite just a few examples. 9 are going to our incoming Governor Jim Pillen. 13 were sent to Franklin Graham and his teams at Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 5 went to local police and fire stations. 12 Christmas cards will be heading to Supreme Court Justices. Assure Women's Services will receive 7 Christmas cards from last night's effort. And 6 activity directors from senior care facilities where we do "When Swing Was King."

And others? President Biden; former President Donald Trump; College of the Ozarks; Project Veritas; Congressman Don Bacon; Joni & Friends; EPS; Julie Arant with Global Friends; Senator Deb Fischer; Tim Tebow; Tucker Carlson; Mayor Jean Stothert; Amir Tsarfati; Good News Jail and Prison Ministries; outgoing Governor Pete Ricketts; and several others.

What a terrific evening. Our profound thanks to Larry & Deb; Jim & Jean; John; Keith & Carol; Perly & Sandy; Don; Pastor Hauge; Allen & Cindy; Rob & Hope; Deb; Lori; Patrick; Chester; and 4 members of the Troutman family, Matt, Isaiah, Anna, and Lydia. You guys did a super job! Now may our Lord protect each Christmas card en route and may He grant each recipient gratitude, grace, and inspiration.

Friday, November 25, 2022

"Stir Up" Sunday

Here is the first in a new series of Bible studies we will be uploading on our YouTube channel and cross-posting on Vital Signs Blog and elsewhere. Each presentation will be a recap (or, in some cases, a preview) of one of the brief sermons I give at our Sunday afternoon church service at Aksarben Village Senior Living. But, yes, we're posting them because we think they will prove of value to others. Check 'em out. 

This first recording/summary is all about "Stir Up" Sunday which we celebrated last week. You say you never heard of it? Good; you're just the person to give this lesson a listen!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Want a few Thanksgiving reflections to ponder? Or maybe to share in a social media post or around the Thanksgiving table? Well, you're sure to find inspiring options in this long list of quotations about thanksgiving.

“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)

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

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

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

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

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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)

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

“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)

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

A British Isles Christmas?

Christmas time is, as I fondly remember Andy Williams singing, “the most wonderful time of the year.”  And, among the many ways that Claire and I celebrate the season, one of the most delightful is having friends over to our home for lunches, brunches, desserts, teas, and dinner parties.  

Well, this year we have decided to take a decidedly British direction in our at-home events which means that traditional Christmas items from England, Scotland, and Wales will be "the staples of our table." No, we're not abandoning our Paleo lifestyle (even for Christmas) but our guests will be enjoying such tasty (and decidedly non-Paleo) fare as roast beef, Yorkshire Puddings, turkey, Bubble and Squeak, Cawl Cennin, cranberry dressing, various vegetables, and so on.  For the mid-day meals, we will be serving such flavorful offerings as Ploughman’s Lunch, roast chicken, Cullen Skink, the cheeseboard, Kilted Soldiers, Tattie Drottle, morning rolls, and more.  

And for the brunches, teas, and desserts it will be Figgy Pudding, cyflaith, Yule Log, scones & clotted cream, nut roast, mince pies, Clootie Dumpling, trifle, Eton Mess, cranberry muffins, etc.  An interesting and fun approach to Christmas entertaining?  Certainly.  But of still greater interest and fun will be the fellowship we will enjoy with good friends, trusted and true.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Our Kind of Church!

Our church service yesterday afternoon was an especially moving time and we are once again moved to thank God for the immense honor and blessing it is for us to bring this ministry to our friends at Aksarben Village Senior Living.  

Our “congregation” numbered 12 residents yesterday and they enjoyed 3 wonderful music videos: 1) the choirs and orchestra of First Baptist Church of Dallas singing “There Is Power in the Blood,” 2) the Town Hall Gospel Choir out of London singing “And Can It Be?” and 3) an exquisite presentation of “Your Grace Still Amazes Me” by a trio of young Christians in Romania.  The brief sermon I gave was “Receiving the Kingdom as a Little Child” covering Acts 18:15-17, an even shorter version of which will be on the Vital Signs Ministries YouTube page later this week.  

And after the music, sermon, and prayers, it was a time of very interactive fellowship as Claire and I, Dick Loneman, Patrick Osborne, and Don Kohls distributed the cookies, coffee, lemonade, and engaged the residents in conversation for about 45 minutes.  

Wonderful music selections.  A brief but serious exegesis of the Bible.  And the opportunity to personally encourage and enlighten and otherwise serve one another.  It’s our kind of church!  If you are interested in investing an occasional Sunday afternoon in this important and inspirational ministry, please let us know.  

Friday, November 11, 2022

4 Post-Election Observations

After the latest in what is always a sober, encouraging, and stimulating Thursday morning conversation with John, Patrick, and me (sober because we face realistically the darkened culture in which we live, encouraging because we are born-again Christians who know God is at work in us and that we will one day enjoy the fruits of His forever victory, and stimulating because a priority purpose of our fellowship is to make us more effective ambassadors for Christ in the midst of that darkened culture), I have four brief responses to this week’s American elections.

1) The Democrats’ devotion to decadence is deliberate and deep.  Cases to prove the point are hardly necessary but, if you require them, simply note how the Democrat position on abortion has changed. In one generation (and despite the advances in our knowledge of the humanity of the preborn), the Dems’ line of “safe, legal, and rare” has now become a demand that the savage, lethal act of abortion is actually “a sacred right” that should have no limits whatsoever. In fact, it must be supported and paid for by the corporate citizenry. And, while they’re at it, today’s Democrat leaders are also committed to eliminating whatever freedoms of conscience and speech might oppose the nefarious deed. My, my.  I won’t belabor the many other points of the godlessness which marks the Democrat Party: the denial of biological realities, censoring truths which contradict the party lines, severe limitations on parental rights, severe limitations of religious freedom, and so on.

2) There is certainly a spirit of delusion abroad and the father of lies has been very busy through the establishment media, the millions spent by folks like George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg, “broken” voting machines, radical obscurantism practiced by media and the Deep State, and more.  But the trouble isn’t all from misinformation but also from willful blindness; that is, people knowing the truth but choosing to ignore it or even silence it.  Romans 1:18 describes it as “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” while I John 2:11 speaks of how sin’s darkness blinds one’s eyes to the truth even when it is shining all around him.

3) Today’s church leadership (with a few exceptions) is irresponsible to the max when it comes to enlightening their congregations about the crucial spiritual issues of the day, let alone failing to equip and mobilize them to effectively confront, by the light of Christ’s justice and holiness, the pressing immorality. Look around, preacher. The abortion businesses are thriving with hardly a whimper from the pulpits. The monopolistic government schools are featuring drag queens, inter-sex bathrooms, and lesson plans that are rabidly anti-Christian, anti-family, and anti-American. The establishment media and the social networks are ever more oppressive in denying the promotion of biblical truths.  And what do our church leaders do in response to these increasing attacks? Well, they’re not doing much. And one wonders when things would ever get bad enough that they would start. Sigh.

4) But here’s the 4th observation. There are a few who haven’t yet bowed to the darkness.  There are still heroes and heralds.  There are still men and women of conservative character, convictions, and courage.  And even though such warriors battle, as it were, from the last ramparts of the Alamo, we want very much to make our principled, happy stand alongside them.

“And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.’” (Nehemiah 4:14)

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” (Hebrews 10:35-6)

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Corporate Disciplines: A Review of Session 7 of the Spiritual Disciplines Class

A simple definition of the corporate spiritual disciplines are “those shared by or including the members of the body.” In fact, one could use “body life disciplines” as an appropriate alternative or perhaps “koinonia disciplines” in reference to the Greek word (used 19 times in the New Testament) which means “having in common,” “joint participation,” or simply “sharing.” They are all useful, pointing to the important fact that the effectiveness of the Church is in the working out of each member’s personal spiritual disciplines. 

Every Christian has an intensely unique relationship with God. He is saved by God’s grace through his personal belief in the finished work of Jesus with the subsequent fruits of that believer’s life being judged on his personal responses to God. However, this same Christian has also been baptized into a body and has become part of God’s forever family. He is both an individual and a part of the whole Body of Christ. So naturally, his personal spiritual disciplines will be connected to his interaction and cooperation with others. And, like all the personal disciplines we have discussed in this course, the body life disciplines find their foundation and methodology in the Scriptures, their empowerment in the Holy Spirit, and their purpose being our godliness to God’s glory.

Here is a more specific breakdown of how it works. The koinonia disciplines are personal spiritual disciplines that 1) serve other believers and/or 2) are shared by other believers and/or 3) that are seen by others, including nonbelievers.  That third category creates the Church’s common witness to the world regarding the truths of God, the wonder and beauty of transformed lives, and the Lord’s graciousness expressed most importantly in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Remember also that these koinonia disciplines are not exclusive to the programs of the church building in your neighborhood. Yes, they will be exercised in the church, but also in small groups, in combined church fellowship (i.e., a denomination, a community outreach like the Life Chain or an evangelistic campaign), a missionary organization supported by individual Christians all over the country, the aggregate testimony of the universal Church to a watching world, and so on.

One of the most common springboards for conversations about corporate spiritual disciplines is Acts 2:42. For in that verse, four activities are mentioned as being common to the church assembly.  Those four things are listening to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers (plural).  These make a good start to the subject. However, many Bible students (myself among them) believe that Acts 2 should be understood as a “narrative” section rather than a “normative” section.  In other words, this is a description of what happened at that time and not a mandate of what Christians must always, everywhere, and forever require in their church assemblies.

Two important reasons for this conclusion are that the word “fellowship” does not, in itself, tell us exactly what activity the immediately post-Pentecost church in Jerusalem engaged in.  Since the Greek word is used in many different “sharing” actions, we cannot assume to know what “sharing” action we should do to follow their lead.  And second, there are several other details the passage describes that very few Christian congregations have deemed obligatory: miraculous signs and wonders, an unusually intense reverence for God occurring in every soul,  holding all wealth and possessions in common, going from house to house, worshipping daily in the Temple, and liberally giving to the needy. So, again, looking at Acts 2 (including verse 42) can give us ideas and inspiration for how corporate disciplines can work, but it shouldn’t be interpreted as mandatory or comprehensive.

But let’s look at another, more directly relevant Scripture for the practicing of body life disciplines -- Hebrews 10:25.  Now this verse is frequently used by preachers to remind their congregations to make it a priority to do just that; namely, congregate.  But here too, the context is critical to answering the question of purpose. Why assemble together? The text makes it clear. The assembling together must be marked by personal (and corporate) purity, by steadfast faith even in trial and temptation, by a heart moved to encourage the body, and a powerful, ongoing consideration of how to stimulate the brethren thus assembled to love and good deeds.

This text certainly presents church life as being a great deal more intentional and interactive than it normally is.  Furthermore, the passage emphasizes that the real value of the assembling together is what happens afterward; that is, in the lives and ministries of Christians as they go from the meeting place back into the world. So, how do we decide what should make up the koinonia disciplines for our day and respective cultures?  The starting point is to remember the threefold definition given earlier. The corporate disciplines are personal disciplines that serve other believers, that are shared by other believers, and/or that are seen by others as a witness of the body’s shared commitment to God.

The teaching of the Word is a given. It’s emphasized in Acts 2:42, of course, but that’s just one of numerous examples from the New Testament showing the priority of teaching God’s Word as a corporate discipline. Indeed, it is foundational to all of the other body life disciplines, a priority that fits with the whole Bible’s insistence on growth, encouragement, correction, and training in righteousness coming from the Word.  God’s giving the Church the gifts of preachers and teachers also underscores that priority. And yet teaching isn’t supposed to be relegated to the Sunday morning pulpit. For God also blesses local assemblies through the teaching of elders, the mature saints who instruct the younger ones, and all of the mutual admonition and encouragement that believers owe each other. 

No; the Sunday morning sermon is just a beginning – not an end. And even in the Sunday assembly the ministries of teaching and “stimulating one another to love and good deeds” can include testimonies, drama, missionary reports, and (as I have observed in churches in Belarus, Russia, and Poland) poetry and additional, shorter sermons presented by the elders and other laity, etc. Furthermore, other koinonia disciplines exercised in the assembly can be the reading of the Scriptures and creeds, corporate confession, news of ministry opportunities, and many more. Sunday church need not (and should not) be a one-man show. The principled, guided involvement of church members enhances the educational impact of the Sunday service.  

Of course, in most churches of the West the Sunday service are not usually a one-man show anymore. No, if there is a star in the spectator-oriented show that is the modern church service, it is the lead musician, the person we wrongfully label as the “worship leader.”  Why is that term incorrect? Because genuinely biblical worship is a whole way of life and not merely a brief involvement in singing and/or the singing of a small group.  Worship is abiding in Christ and devoting one’s time, treasure, and talents to the service of the Savior.  And though corporate spiritual disciplines can certainly include the assembly engaging in music of various sorts, the amount of time, attention, and passionate devotion that is regularly invested in “worship music” is way out of whack with New Testament models.  

Remember, those four items from Acts 2:42? Well, music wasn’t one of them. Nor was music mentioned in any of the Acts 2 description of the Jerusalem church. Other narratives from the New Testament (and the centuries of church history following) do mention singing but when they do, it is to usually say that the assembly sang a hymn.  One hymn without instruments and without hoopla. It’s quite a contrast to the elaborate, expensive, performance-driven “worship music” that now takes center stage (and a lot of time) of so many of our church services today.  And our preoccupation with music has exacted a lot of damage, not only in the divisions caused by the “worship wars” within our assemblies, but because it has helped convince modern believers that worshipping God is merely (or, at least, primarily) the brief, emotional experience that comes from listening to a performance of the church “worship team.”  But again, the Bible presents worship as the well-invested pilgrimage of obedience, service, and stewardship over all of the Christian’s life. 

Let me emphasize once more that for worship to be authentic, it must go beyond the music, beyond the Sunday service, and on to a life fully spent pursuing the Lord’s purposes. And when applying the corporate disciplines, worship must pursue the goal of stimulating “love and good deeds” among the brethren. They would thus include prayers together, small groups, public witness and outreach, mission activity, elders praying for the sick, older women teaching younger women, inter-church cooperative actions, visitation, ministry to widows, teaching the young, public baptisms, and anything else involving “two or more believers gathered in Jesus’ Name.” So love one another.  Honor and serve one another.  Pray for one another.  Bear one another’s burdens.  Lead exemplary lives before the brethren.  Present a unified witness of holiness and grace before the watching world.

Yes, your personal disciplines need to be real and consistent before your involvement in corporate disciplines will be of any value to God.  But if you’re growing and worshipping (in spirit, in truth, and with the whole of your life), you will be a powerful help to your forever family of fellow Christians.