Thursday, December 28, 2023

"The Best Church Music in Town"

"The best music of any church in town." 

That was a recent description of the music we provide for the Sunday afternoon church service that Vital Signs Ministries conducts for the residents of Aksarben Village Senior Living. And I think it might be an accurate description indeed. For those of you interested in the fairness of this opinion -- or those simply interested in listening to great music -- I'm going to list the video clips we have shown during the Christmas season and, if you look them up on YouTube, you can make your own assessment.  (And merry Christmas Day 4!)

* Music: Away in a Manger (Gracias Choir & Orchestra. Solist, Jihyuk Shin)

* Music: Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Celtic Women, Dublin, Ireland)

* Music: O Come, All Ye Faithful (Larry Ford at the Christmas Gaither Gathering in South Africa)

* Music: O Holy Night (Tennessee Ernie Ford and Gordon MacRae, 1958)

* Music: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (Anderson University Men’s Choir)

* Music: Angels We Have Heard on High (Soundiva Classical Choir, Italy)

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (The Drudge Family)

The First Noel (Mat and Savanna Shaw)

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (Gracias Choir. Soloists Sooyeon Lee and Hyemi Choi)

Go Tell It On the Mountain (Lynda Randle)

Once In Royal Davids City (Kanyakla. Uthiru, Central Province, Kenya)

Silent Night (Cedarmont Kids)

Joy to the World (The Petersens)

O Little Town of Bethlehem (Hillsdale College Choir)

Angels We Have Heard On High (Gracias Orchestra & Choir. Solists Sooyeon Lee & Jihyuk Shin)

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

A Shepherd on Christmas Night

One of the highlights of our Christmas season thus far (remember, today is only the 3rd Day of Christmas) was Tom Kotchka coming by our house for a cup of tea and a brief chat. And in that conversation, we discovered that a few years back Tom had written some scripts designed for dramatic reading, one of which was a Christmas-themed narrative that he was going to present at a party that night. Well, could we get a preview? Yes, indeed. And it was really neat -- a provocative piece, well-delivered, memorable, and using only Old Testament references to the Christmas event.  

I asked Tom if I could share that Christmas narrative with others and, because he most graciously said yes, here it is. 

A Shepherd on Christmas Night

“It is nights like this that I don’t mind being a shepherd. No rain, just a hint of a breeze, perfect temperature. Yes, it is a good night to be a shepherd. But the night seems different. No, the rabbinical leadership in Jerusalem has not changed, the walls of the city of Jerusalem, 4 or 5 miles to the north behind me, are still standing. And…and the holy city is still filled …with… Roman soldiers. They are everywhere, even here, below, in my beloved village of Bethlehem.

I’m so disgusted with those Roman soldiers that I could spit. I would like to tell you how I really feel about those soldiers, but when I look up to the sky above me, I am struck as to how clear it is. I can see hundreds, maybe even thousands of stars. It’s like I’m looking deep into heaven. It almost feels like I could talk directly to El Shaddai, God Almighty.

Maybe it feels more like He is wanting to speak to me, a shepherd. Now, don’t laugh, King David was a shepherd. Maybe it is just the lack of activity out here tonight, what with the Roman census being taken in town. Listen -- even the sheep seem quiet tonight. Maybe, maybe this is a good night to ask God what to do about those Roman soldiers. Or how we are to live with a foreign army occupying OUR Promised Land. Or about the Promised Messiah.

No, no, no, I don’t want to seem presumptive. Besides, I asked the priest the last time  that I sold lambs to the Temple. Zacharias, one of the priests, told me ‘My son, in the fullness of time, God will send His Chosen One (Gen 49:10, Isa 11:1) But you, a shepherd, remember the words of the Prophet Isaiah, and listen for ‘the voice of Him crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”’ (Isa 40:3) “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”. How does one prepare for the Lord? Especially if you are a shepherd, we are not exactly thought of as royalty, and the Roman soldiers limit our activities when we are in town.

‘Hey, you, shepherd, what are you doing here?’ ‘Me, I am just preparing for the next King of Israel, a King in the line of David.’ ‘Treason!’ would probably be the first word to cross his lips…and the last word to fall on my ears.

Yet the Prophet Isaiah says ‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’ (Isa 9:6). ‘For unto us a Child is born.’ A child-Messiah? I don’t understand, even though the Prophet Isaiah seems clear: ‘Hear ye now O House of David, the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and shall call His name Immanuel (Isa. 7:14).’ I am sure that hundreds of years from now people will be asking, ‘How is that even possible for a virgin to give birth?’ Even though I don’t understand, I can still believe in God’s Word. Especially the words of the Prophet Micah: ‘But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.’ Somehow, I don’t think the Prophet had shepherds in mind. Shepherds would not be able to welcome a child-Messiah out here in the open field or even in a sheep-fold. Actually, even the most prosperous in Bethlehem would not be able to prepare a place for the royal baby tonight with all the census people in town.

And that would be ironic since our people have waited over…well, 700 years since the prophet Isaiah and the prophet Micah spoke those words. Maybe our wait is over? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be around when the King was born? Oh, what joy that would be! Yes, what excitement! Yes, what Promises fulfilled! Yet…if it were tonight, what have I done to prepare the way of the Lord? What have I done to prepare me? Oh, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…and yes even my own heart lies still. The stars drift by, yet this night God may send the Savior, One Who will change the world…and, maybe…even me.

(Thomas Kotchka)

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Exercising an Unstained Mind: A Yuletide Consideration

A couple of weeks back, an entry in Mission Possible: One-Year Devotional by Tim Tebow emphasized the need to exercise one’s mind…and to do so in a purposeful, careful way that keeps one from being influenced by the ungodly doctrines, temptations, and vanities of the world. What a critically-needed challenge this is for Christians. After all, such biblical admonitions as we read in James 1:27 (“keep oneself unstained by the world”) and Philippians 4:8 (dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute”) are to be closely, consistently obeyed.

Tebow’s entry recently brought to mind two illustrations of just how rare the “exercising of the mind” is nowadays.

1) A December tradition of longstanding is my re-reading old Christmas novels and story collections. Some of them are in actual books from my library but an awful lot of the stories are in a massive Kindle collection I purchased years ago for a single dollar -- The Ultimate Christmas Collection. Charles Dickens. Louisa May Alcott. Booth Tarkington. O Henry. Henry van Dyke. Washington Irving. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Bess Streeter Aldrich. Selma Lagerlof. Frank Stockton. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anthony Trollope. Kate Douglas Wiggin. And many, many more. Plus the collection includes a lot of old (and magnificent) Christmas poetry too. William Blake. Thomas Hardy. Christina Rossetti. Charles Wesley. Alfred Lord Tennyson. Robert Herrick. Ben Johnson. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. George MacDonald. And on and on. 

Here’s the point. The superior quality of that literature in artistic excellence, wholesomeness, and spiritual intentions compared to the schlock of a television movie from the Hallmark Channel or one of the modern “Christmas mysteries” set in a bookstore or a bakery is absolutely stunning. So why then do Christians (remember, Christians whose minds are supposed to be set on things pure, lovely, and of good repute) so easily, so lazily, so indiscriminately settle for poorer choices? Why do we ignore the immense amount of art and literature that is genuinely good, uplifting, and spiritually valuable while allowing the world to spoon-feed us its paltry (when not actually perverse) alternatives?

2) The beauty and comfort of our Christmas edition of “When Swing Was King” is tremendously appreciated by our audiences in all 12 of the senior citizen facilities where we present it. The residents tell us how wonderful the songs are, how encouraging are the opportunities to remember the lyrics and then sing along, how heartwarming are the Christmas photographs and artwork that is in the program. We, of course, are delighted that they so deeply appreciate the quality, wholesomeness, and personalized touch that marks the show. 

And yet what happens immediately after they’ve enjoyed this charming and meaningful 45-minutes of an old-time Christmas? Sad to say, as we pack up our gear and prepare to leave, we see the residents wheeled away and parked in front of a loud, big-screen television broadcasting an inane, slapstick, suggestive game show or maybe one of the lurid soap operas. And that’s not all. With our program over, the music programming is turned back on and over the intercom we hear “Santa Baby” by Madonna, “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney & Wings, or “Last Christmas” by WHAM! And, if we are disheartened and offended by such lousy sounds, you can imagine how these dear folks are reacting as the screeching of Cyndy Lauper and Boyz in the Hood replace the calm joy they had just enjoyed with Crosby, Sinatra, and the Lennon Sisters.

Exercising our mind? It’s a crucial responsibility. And leaning upon what the world serves up isn’t going to do the trick. So, take the effort to go find yourself some more wholesome Christmas literature and music…and art and movies…and conversations and hobbies…and service projects in which you share the beauty and bounty of this happy, holy season to others.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Christmas of the Talking Animals

If a quiet 1/2 hour ever comes along in your hectic holiday schedule, you might enjoy this heartwarming Christmas story I wrote several years ago. In fact, this link takes you to the audio version that KGBI used to play on Christmas morning back in the days when I was broadcasting Vital Signs on the radio there.

It’s a story (not strict autobiography, by the way) about a 9-year old boy with a lively imagination whose 1952 Christmas spent on his grandpa’s Missouri farm becomes a particularly exciting and meaningful one. I think you’ll find “The Christmas of the Talking Animals” a winsome, wholesome story with a very old-fashioned ingredient; namely, a spiritual moral.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Yes, the World Is Watching

One's Christian witness, when truly enlightened and empowered by the Holy Spirit, always has effects. For God isn't wasteful and not only does He speak continually to the consciences of men and women through His Word and His creation; he also speaks through the testimony and exemplary lives of the saints.

Isaac emphasized that wondrous truth in one of his prayers this morning as he thanked God for the clear evidence that our pro-life witness outside the Planned Parenthood abortion business was being duly noted by the people driving by. In some cases, that evidence was pleasant and encouraging as people complimented our presence by a friendly wave or a honking horn. In other cases, people who (for whatever sad and wicked reasons) were angry with our peaceful, prayerful presence indicated it with raucous yells and obscene gestures. Even those who are obviously trying hard "not to see us" standing there on the quiet street with large, colorful, winsome signs are a demonstration that our presence (and thus, our message) is being effectively received.

However, this morning there was one particularly memorable and marvelous moment. A large dark truck slowed down, pulled over to the sidewalk where we were gathered, lowered the passenger side window, and I walked over to the truck. Of course, one never knows what might be coming next but, in this case, God provided us an encouragement that was of profound power. For the 43-year old driver explained how happy he was that we were there and told us he has prayed for us every time he's seen us. He went on to tell us that he himself was conceived when his birth mother was raped. Yet his mother continued the pregnancy, loving and protecting him until she graciously relinquished him to a terrific couple. "They were the best parents anyone could have asked for," he said proudly. "And so I have really strong reasons to be pro-life and to bless you all for your efforts!"

That dramatic encouragement -- added to the sweet Christmas carols we had sung in between our prayers and conversations this morning -- certainly underscores the relevant truth of Isaac's prayer. The world is watching Christians. And God is compassionately, miraculously ministering His truth through His children. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

94 Christmas Letters...and Counting!

Yesterday our home was the setting for Vital Signs Ministries' 2 Christmas card parties (the December "edition" of our quarterly letter-writing parties) with 6 of us involved in the morning brunch event and 7 of us getting busy in the evening. The total of cards and letters from those events?  94. Wow. Nice job, guys!

The recipients of our writing efforts included government officials, businesses, champions of Christian service, pro-life colleagues, Supreme Court Justices, and two colorful Christas cards to each of 12 men imprisoned by the brutal regimes of Communist China and Eritrea solely because the men dared to openly proclaim Christ Jesus. The messages in those cards, by the way, were in the prisoner's own language!  

As is our practice, we print below a few sample letters as an encouragement for you to follow suit and let the light of Christ shine through YOUR letters and Christmas cards.

Sandy wrote Riley Gaines -- Thank you so much for standing up for women and girls rights to be protected against men and boys invading female locker rooms, dorm rooms, sports competitions. I have six daughters, most of whom swam competitively (as I once did myself) so I was particularly drawn to your story and I am so proud of you and your courageous stand. I pray for your protection and that God will give you strength and courage to continue this good fight. Merry Christmas!

Denny wrote to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito -- Just a quick Christmas message 1) to express our prayers that God continue to protect, empower, and use you mightily; 2) to encourage you with the reminder that we are only two of the millions who pray for you regularly; 3) to thank you for the wise and courageous service you have provided not only to America but for the cause of justice and constitutional law that influences the whole world; and 4) to send along our hopes that God grant you and your family an especially bright, beautiful, and spiritually enriching Christmas season. 

Claire wrote the gaming company Activision -- As you well know, most people would want to be hired on their merits, not squeezed out of obligatory categories based merely on race, gender, or political ideology. Why not take this Christmas season to change your business discrimination practices before the federal government comes after you?

And another thing. Deliberately destroying kids’ natural innocence by polluting their minds with violence, debased characters, and sordid, unnatural themes with your game content is shameful in the extreme. Please consider what you can do to improve the culture, not tear it apart. Christmastime can change hearts, please let it change yours.

Becky wrote to State Senator Kathleen Kauth -- Merry Christmas! Thank you for all the hard work and time you put into getting LB 574 and 753 passed. I’m praying for continued wisdom for you as you seek to honor God in this important position. 

Sam wrote to Tim Tebow and the team at the Tim Tebow Foundation -- I hope you are all doing well this Christmas season. I am very impressed with the wonderful work you have all been doing. I pray that you continue to receive God’s blessing. Tim, I particularly love that you have turned your status and fame towards a God-honoring ministry. Your Foundation is certainly honoring James 1:27 where we are told that “pure and undefiled religion is to visit orphans and widows in their distress.” Bless you and your work this holiday season. 

Don wrote Samaritans’ Purse Director, Franklin Graham -- I so praise and thank God for all He is doing through the ministry God has given you. You’re simple preaching of the gospel has brought so many to saving faith. Because God leads you to share His love for the lost, He is bringing many to saving faith and we are all grateful for your efforts. We know the enemy is always going to try to stop what God has called you to, so that is where our prayers really come into play. I know the efforts of God’s people will thwart the devil’s evil schemes.

Again, I thank you for all you do for his Kingdom. He is using you and your family (and, of course, your colleagues at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and at Samaritan’s Purse) to bring Jesus’s love and light to a dark and needy world. Have a very Merry Christmas with you and your family.

Denny wrote the team at Assure Women’s Center -- Just a quick word of thanks for the absolutely super job you were all doing in ministering to women and families and the culture at large... and saving lives too! May the joys of this special season be yours in abundance and may our precious Lord continue to protect and empower all of your ministries for His Name's sake.

Claire wrote Home Depot -- We have not shopped at Home Depot for many years because of your decisions to support radical leftist causes that are tearing families apart and sending our young children in an evil direction. How about this Christmas season you take a hard look at the path you’ve chosen and turn around? Face the facts; wokeness isn’t working for your company…or for America.

Becky wrote Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- Merry Christmas! Thank you so much for the firm stance you have taken on the sanctity of human life and for religious liberty according to biblical principles (and yes, the U.S. Constitution too!) I am praying for you and praising God for you. 

Claire wrote Essential Pregnancy Services -- Thank you for all you do for the moms and babies in our area! Continue to stand firm against the darkness. After all, you’re fighting on the side of the angels! Thanks too for your smiles and waves when we’re praying outside Planned Parenthood.! Blessings…

Sandy wrote pro-abortion State Senator Kavanaugh -- Please, as you celebrate Jesus’s holy and miraculous birth, reconsider your opposition of compassionate and just pro-life efforts. Remember, the first person to recognize Jesus was John the Baptist, and he did so from his mother’s womb! (Luke 1: 43,45) In the Bible, children are called “gifts from God,” and they are. Every one of them! Senator, in this Christmas season, I pray that every time you see a manger with the baby Jesus represented there, you will appreciate that He came as an infant to save us all! Sincerely.

Becky wrote the Nebraska Family Alliance -- Merry Christmas! Thank you for all the work you do to honor God and his Word. I’m praying for you to stand firm in the truth and to continue to be bold and fighting for what’s right. 

Claire wrote Target -- The Christmas season time gives all of us an opportunity to take a look at our lives and honestly consider ways to change ourselves for the better. Remember Ebeneezer Scrooge? Well, then, what hat a great time for the executives at Target to drop their callous and counter-productive polices and once again become a genuinely “family store.” Face the facts; wokeness isn’t working for your company…or for America.

Denny wrote to the team at Bott Radio in Lincoln -- Just a quick word to thank you for all the inspiration, challenge, encouragement, and excellent Bible teaching that you air on your station. Every single day lives are greatly assisted in ltheir desire to walk in the pilgrim way towards Christian maturity…and non-believers are informed about the matchless grace of the Savior Whose birth we celebrate in this holy season. Thank you so much and merry Christmas!

Denny wrote President Biden -- In this wonderful and holy Christmas season, we are praying that the Lord Jesus will bring the divine truths regarding the sanctity of human life to your heart and that you will take a hard turn from the evil ways you have mindlessly pursued most of your life. Move instead towards the grace, righteousness, and power of Almighty God through faith in the Christmas gift which is Jesus. And then you will champion holy causes: justice, the immeasurably precious lives of babies in their mother’s wombs, the divine sanctions of marriage between a man and a woman, and so on.

As the President of the United States, you have remarkable powers, so use them for holy goals, not foolish and wicked ones. May our loving God grant you wisdom, courage, and a long overdue faith in Him in this holy season of Christmas.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Top 5 (November 25)

* "Abortion, Miscarriage, and the Reality of an Unborn Child" (Mary Szoch and Katherine Beck Johnson, Washington Stand)

* "What Makes Hamas Worse Than the Nazis" (Andrew Roberts, Washington Free Beacon)

* "The infernal choice behind the hostage deal" (Melanie Phillips, Jewish News Service)

* "The Biden Administration Finances Iran’s Terrorism" (Hugh Iwanicki, American Thinker)

* "Government Deceit" (John Stossel, Daily Signal)

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Work and Rest...At the Same Time?

All over town -- all over America -- people are busy because Thanksgiving looms before us. Some are in the ever increasing hassles of travel; some are beginning the preparations for Thursday’s feast; others are doing the last of the lawn chores, putting up the outside Christmas lights, draining the lawn hoses, and trying to otherwise “clear the decks” for both the holiday season and the rigors of winter. Claire and I are not traveling any serious distance this time round but, we have all the other things mentioned above on our to-do list for today. Whew.

So, amid all of this activity, it was especially nice that the devotional I have been going through in recent weeks (Tim Tebow’s Mission Impossible One Year Devotional) took up the matter of working while you rest. Yes, you read that right -- working while you rest.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NASB)

Jesus calls to those who are overburdened and tuckered out and He promises them rest. Yet it turns out that His rest includes work! A contradiction? No, for Jesus reminds us that He is not a mean-spirited, slave-driving, self-seeking kind of employer; He is gentle and humble in spirit. Furthermore, Jesus partners with us even in the work to be done. That’s where the yoke metaphor comes in.

Writes Tebow, “A yoke is a device that connects two animals together at their shoulders and is attached to a plow. In a field, two oxen are paired together to work -- usually a stronger one to do the heavy lifting and a weaker one to learn the trade. Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us, and He makes the burden light. He calls us to do His work, but He does the heavy lifting. He remains next to us, continually guiding us and enabling us to go forward and further in our mission.”

He continues,“There is work because we are called to do whatever God asks of us. But there is also rest because Jesus takes the heaviness of the burden away from us as we follow His lead. When we allow Him to lead, He does so with compassion and sensitivity to our humanity.”

It is a terrific sermonette for a day like today, isn’t it? I’m very grateful I was enlightened and uplifted by reading it this morning and, thinking that perhaps this lesson is one that others could use today, I’m pleased to pass it along.

Monday, November 20, 2023

A Weekend for Giving Thanks

It was another engaging weekend and we are so grateful to God for his marvelous gifts of purpose, empowerment, His Word, and good friends with which to travel the pilgrim way. Our weekend started with a delicious dinner of smoked salmon at Tom and Lila Sharman’s. Afterward, we were treated to a photo retrospective of their recent Alaska cruise as well as enjoying fond reminiscences of Tom and I in Burkina Faso as well as all those years of my recording the Vital Signs and Vital Signs Weekend radio programs at his studio. It was a lovely evening.

And then among Saturday’s highlights were our prayers and pro-life witness outside the wicked business that is Planned Parenthood -- a public witness against abortion that is more relevant and critically-important than ever before. And to be a part of that noble company (this particular Saturday morning Claire and I stood alongside Bev, Mark, Ruth, Patrick, Isaac, John and Barb) is definitely an honor. Saturday also saw me deep in sermon preparation and Claire finishing up this year’s 6 shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child and taking them over to the pickup point at Grace Central Church.

Our Sunday was also very busy and very blessed. We first drove up to Herman, Nebraska where I presented the final class in a 7-part series on spiritual disciplines. The subject of the class was Corporate Disciplines and we enjoyed lively discussions of the topic after my talk. Next up was the worship service which included me preaching on one of Jesus’ most famous (and most audacious) parables -- the story of the Good Samaritan. We got home in time for a quick lunch and we were then on to our Sunday afternoon church service at Aksarben Village Senior Living. We had a terrific time. 15 Aksarben church members and 5 of the Vital Signs members (yesterday’s crew was Don, Ruth, Dick, and us). The songs were wonderful, all dealing with the theme of thanksgiving. And my brief sermon connected giving thanks to God for an “unshakable kingdom” (Hebrews 12:8) with the story of the Pilgrims coming to America, forming the Mayflower Compact, and celebrating the first thanksgiving. 

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for this weekend’s blessings and opportunities. And thank You for all the other reasons we have to live every day of our lives with an “attitude of gratitude.”

Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Top 5 (November 18)

Here's a really remarkable set of "Wow" articles for you this Saturday. 

* "Why I am now a Christian: Atheism can't equip us for civilizational war." (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, UnHerd)

* "A Christian Perspective on The State of Israel" (Stephen Davey, Shepherds Theological Seminary)

* "Putting the Killing of Innocents Out of Mind" (Denny Hartford, Vital Signs Blog)

* "Mexico’s Abortion Cartel" (Carlos Beltramo & Carlos Polo, PRI)

* "RNC Chair: If Republicans Want to Win, 'We Can’t Be Silent on Life'" (Suzanne Bowdey, Washington Stand)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Top Ten Lessons from Noah and the Ark

After reading and then thinking a bit about Chapters 6-9 of Genesis this morning, I was prompted to once again post a pretty popular article from times gone by. The first list appeared on Vital Signs Blog way back in 2005.

The accompanying painting, by the way, “The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark,” was done by Jan Brueghel the Elder in 1613.

There are a lot of important life lessons to be learned from Noah’s experience with the ark. Simple but profound lessons. Here’s my list of the top ten.

1) Don’t miss the boat! Listen to what God says and do!

2) Plan ahead.  Once Noah got the design specs from God, he acted ahead of the crisis.

3) Don’t be deterred by criticism or unpopularity. Once the Lord has set the agenda, you stay on task.

4) Appreciate nature in the way God has designed it.  Stewardship of His creation is a very serious responsibility.

5) Stay alert for action, whatever your age. Noah was 600 years old when he became a ship maker. (He was even older when he became a sailor!)

6) We’re all in the same boat, baby. Let’s help each other out.

7) Avoid loneliness. Travel in pairs.

8) Learn to be patient and accept God’s will. Sometimes that means you’re a builder; sometimes a zookeeper. Other times, you’ve just gotta’ float awhile.

9) As long as you put your trust in the Lord, even the very worst of life’s storms can be weathered.

10) Do your duty to God no matter how tedious or difficult or lonely. For, in His time, there will come rest from your efforts. Plus, for the present, there’s the beauty and security of the rainbow that’s yours as well.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

A Quick Update from the Ozarks

 Our annual 2-week working vacation actually began with a quick trip to Wichita to visit my little sister Sherry who still deals with early (and quite severe) dementia. But we were blessed to have the presence in this visit of my youngest brother Ric and his wife Ellen who had taken some time off work to travel from Denver to see Sherry too. It was an emotional, memorable reunion as our visits with Sherry produced many blessings…but no small amount of heartbreak as well. Lord, please grant my little sister Your peace.

Leaving Wichita on Saturday afternoon, Claire and I enjoyed a really lovely, pastoral drive along Highway 400 across Kansas towards Joplin. And, as we drove, we finished listening to the extraordinary recording of C.S. Lewis’ “Prince Caspian: Called Back to Narnia” from the Focus on the Family radio series. Like all of the shows in their “Chronicles of Narnia” series, it was outstanding. (By the way, we had listened to the recording of “The Horse and His Boy" on our way down to Wichita.)

The Branson part of the working vacation began on Sunday morning when I recorded the sermon for that afternoon’s Aksarben Village church service and sent it back for Keith to present. Later that day, we fed ducks on Lake Taneycomo (a tradition we will enjoy a few more times in our stay), had a late lunch out at a restaurant we had never tried before (and will never need to try a second time), bought Claire a couple of sweaters at Bass Pro Shop, and relaxed with books that evening. Claire is  reading “Ben-Hur” while I’m spending a splendid time in Charles Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby.”

Monday and Tuesday found us walking the 5.4 mile Table Rock Lake Trail which we will try to do on most of the days we’re here. And though it’s a regular feature of our time in Branson, each prayer-walk along the Lake is still very much a highlight. We have written quite a few letters and texts, taken a few drives through the Ozarks, made some decisions about the Spiritual Disciplines booklet we will soon be offering, worked together on a literature-oriented project, and enjoyed a London Fog at the Vintage Paris coffee shop in Hollister.

And one more really cool highlight from these first few days – We were honored and delighted to enjoy stimulating fellowship with dear friends and colleagues of some 50 years, Gary & Cherry Warrick, over a meal at the College of the Ozarks’ Keeter Center. What an unexpected surprise. But that’s not all. Joining us for this party were Jack & Linda Arant, Christian champions who, before yesterday, we knew only by reputation but who now we are pleased to count as friends as well. Lord, thank You so much for that meeting, for the other gifts and ministry opportunities You’ve brought our way thus far, and for those things You will bring our way.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Top 5 (October 14)

* "Hamas Attack Is A Warning To America About The Risks Of Our Open Border" (Chuck DeVore, Federalist)

* "Iran’s Role in Hamas’ Attack on Israel" (Jason Bedrick, Daily Signal)

* "Hamas and Amoral Clarity" (Victor Davis Hanson, Blade of Perseus)

* "How Painful is Medication Abortion? Plenty!" (Dave Andrusko, NRL News)

* "Obama’s Coming Fourth Term" (Katya Sedgwick, American Mind)

And a bonus selection this week which adds to the information in #5 above is "The Specter Of Barack Obama’s Deeply Held Anti-Israel Ideology Hovers Over Israeli Attacks" (Mark Hemingway, Federalist)

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

The Darkness Getting To You?

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the forces of evil gathered around you? 

Remember Psalm 68:17: “The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them as at Sinai, in holiness.” 

Spiritual realities cannot always be seen or felt. But they can certainly be believed. So take courage, look forward to your eternal inheritance, and stay the course. 

“Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked for there will be no future for the evil man. The lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Proverbs 24:19-20)

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Top 5 (September 23)

* "Post-Postmodern America, Meet Mao’s Cultural Revolution" (Victor Davis Hanson, Daily Signal)

* "'Disturbing' and 'Inarticulate': Pro-Life Leaders React to Trump’s Abortion Comments" (Ben Johnson, Washington Stand)

* "The Golden Years: The Sanctity of Senior Life" (This is a remarkable video clip made by Dr. Del Tackett at the James Dobson Family Institute, a clip that illustrates the profound importance to the Kingdom of what Vital Signs Ministries does through our "When Swing Was King" shows, our Aksarben Village church services, and our visitation and friendship outreaches.)

* "Canadian school library removes all books published prior to 2008" (Eric Utter, American Thinker)

* "It’s No Accident The Southern Border Is Collapsing, It’s Intentional" (John Daniel Davidson, Federalist) 

Monday, September 18, 2023

Heaven in the Old Hymns

One of the most frequent (and important) themes expressed in the traditional hymns of the Christian faith is the confident expectation that heaven is the glorious and forever home of every believer. Even in those hymns that also tell stories of Jesus or explain the gospel message or speak to the Lord’s enduring presence in our daily struggles, these beloved old songs almost always include comforting the hearts of the worshipper by reminding him of the surety of heaven.

Let me illustrate from just these three songs, the three that we used in yesterday afternoon’s church service at Aksarben Village Senior Living. In “The Solid Rock” written by the 19th Century English Baptist preacher Edward Mote, there is profound teaching about salvation being entirely dependent on the faith of the believer in Christ’s satisfactory sacrifice as well as wonderful assurance of God’s loving, powerful presence in the storms of our lives. Yet the hymn finds its heavenly climax in this last verse:

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
oh, may I then in Him be found. 
In Him, my righteousness alone, 
faultless to stand before the throne.

Our second song yesterday was the classic hymn “Rock of Ages,” published in 1775 by Augustus Toplady, another English minister. Its well-known message also emphasizes the total satisfaction of Christ’s sacrifice for all those who can testify, “Simply to the cross I cling.” But the hymn ends not in the sanctification adventure of the Christian disciple, but in his glorification as he shares in Christ’s eternal victory over death. 

While I draw this fleeting breath, 
when mine eyes shall close in death;
when I soar to worlds unknown, see Thee on Thy judgment throne, 
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.

Finally, our third song in the Aksarben Village service yesterday afternoon was one in which heaven is its special focus. The song (fairly contemporary, being written in 1981) was written by American singer/songwriter Squire Parsons Jr. The title is “Beulah Land” and it gives a lovely, inspiring word-picture of the place Jesus is preparing for His children.  
I’m kind of homesick for a country
to which I've never been before.
No sad good-byes will there be spoken
for time won't matter anymore.

Chorus: Beulah land, I am longing for you
and someday on Thee I’ll stand
where my home shall be eternal.
Beulah land, sweet Beulah land.

I’m looking now across the river
where my faith will end in sight.
There’s just a few more days to labor, 
then I will take my heavenly flight.


I see the lights; I hear the singing.
a brand new song of joy divine.
My soul rejoices just in knowing
that soon these pleasures will be mine.


Oh yes; the unique stimulation of heaven’s reality is a wonderfully persuasive argument for the Church to add a few more of the old, beloved hymns to their Sunday songlist.

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Top 5 (September 16)

* "Report details billions of dollars Warren Buffett has funneled to abortion groups around the world" (Calvin FreiburgerFreiburger, LifeSite)

* "American Library Association Says 'Public Education Needs to be a Site of Socialist Organizing'" (Ben Johnson, Washington Stand)

* "California’s Pro-Trans Child Custody Bill Is Pure Emotional Blackmail" (Kylee Griswold, Federalist)

* "Is the Pope Catholic?" (Bob Tyrrell, Jewish World Review)

* "If You’re A Democrat, Having Sex For Money Is No Barrier To Getting Elected" (Mark Hemingway, Federalist)

And for this Saturday, here's 2 bonus links directly from Vital Signs Ministries -- both of them offering opportunities for principled response to the wacky and wicked ways of our world -- "Practical Prayers" and "When Thanks Are Due."

Practical Prayers

"The spiritual discipline of prayer should be a given to anyone with even a cursory understanding of the Bible. After all, the heroes of the Bible constantly demonstrate lives of prayer.  From the patriarchs to the prophets, from the kings to the military champions, from Jesus Himself and His apostles, prayer is presented as an absolutely indispensable practice for the faithful.  

We are also specifically (and frequently) commanded to pray.  We are even given specific prayer targets: the Lord’s will, one another, our daily needs, thanksgiving, our enemies (even those who persecute us), the peace of Israel, laborers for the kingdom’s harvest fields, and so many more.  Prayer, we are carefully taught, is the antidote to anxiety, to losing heart, to selfishness, to worldliness. It is a key path by which the believer finds God’s guidance, protection, and intimacy. 

Yet even with this matter established in our minds, Christians regularly confess that prayer is too often a matter of weakness, frustration, and guilt. Why?"

Read the rest of this brief article in the September letter of Vital Signs Ministries right here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

When Thanks Are Due: VSM's Latest Letter-Writing Targets

Our home yesterday was the scene of Vital Signs’ latest letter-writing parties with a morning brunch meeting drawing only four of us and the evening version drawing nine. Small numbers, to be sure. But together that committed group (Sandy, Don, Mary, Christopher, Keith, Carol, Jeannie, Katina, Karla, and us) wrote 117 light-shining letters and cards! That’s terrific work, guys!  Furthermore, there are four others who have received the letter targets and address sheets we prepared and they are already in the middle of adding substantially to that number.

Plus…there are the letters, cards, and even email messages that YOU may choose to write with the help of the material you can find right here at our website. You see, we don’t merely urge you to “strengthen the things that remain” (Revelation 3:2) by writing pro-life, pro-family letters, we even come to your aid in that cause.

At yesterday’s letter-writing parties, we concentrated most of our efforts in writing thank-you notes to the 33 Nebraska State Senators whose votes (by the most narrow of margins) secured the legislature’s passage of critical bills LB574 (with its bans on “gender-altering” surgeries for minors and its elimination of surgical abortions past the uterine age of 12-weeks) and LB 753 (the “school choice” bill that will help low-income and working-class families send their children to the school of their choice). Both of these modest, common sense, and long overdue measures were vociferously, even violently opposed by the teachers unions, the Democrat Party, and the pro-abortion lobby and so the perseverance shown by those 33 richly deserve our thanks.

Once again, the letter targets and address sheets we used at yesterday’s letter-writing parties can be found at the Vital Signs Ministries website by following this link. And we will even give you a couple of sample letters to further stimulate your own. They are right below.

Sample letter 1) “Dear Senator -------,

Just a quick word of deep appreciation for your principled and courageous support of LB 574 and LB753, two of the most important measures to come before the legislature in some time. In so doing, you withstood the profane taunts, threats, and lies of the extreme left, thereby earning not only the thanks of thousands of Nebraskans but our admiration as well. Way to go! You will remain in our prayers.”

Denny & Claire Hartford

Sample letter 2) “Dear Senator --------,

Many thanks for your Yes votes on LB574 and LB753 in this last tumultuous legislative session. I so appreciate the strong stand you and the other 32 senators took in the midst of some very ugly scenes. Please know we are praying for you. And please remember, being on the side of the angels is always the right place to be!”

Sample letter 3) 

Almost all of the messages I wrote yesterday and last night were contained in the cards we had printed for us which feature mountain photos I’ve taken in my Colorado 14er hikes. However, Sandy had brought with her some wonderful cards featuring Union Pacific trains in majestic scenes with appropriate inscriptions inside. One of those cards showed a long U.P. train skirting a snow-capped mountain range with this message -- “Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Thanks for autographing your work with quality.”

Well, I chose that particular card as the vehicle for this message for Governor Jim Pillen:

“Dear Governor, 

I recently came across this card and I thought its message aptly describes the principled visionary, kind-hearted, and courageous leadership you have demonstrated in your first year as Nebraska’s governor. Thank you. However, tonight I send particular thanks for your excellent and oh-so-important work to get LB574 and LB 753 passed through the legislature AND for your Executive Order establishing the Women’s Bill of Rights. What a terrific job you’re doing!

We deeply appreciate your efforts to make “The Good Life” a truly authentic description of the Nebraska culture. You remain in our frequent prayers.”

Denny Hartford

Monday, September 04, 2023

A Very Good Start to the Week

Labor Day greetings!

Our Sunday started with a little watering of the lawn before the heat of the day...and before getting ready for church. We appreciated the pastor’s sermon on Daniel which emphasized the need for a devotion to prayer and we were pleased to see a few friends before the service started. Now it’s true that our time at Grace Bible Church is limited nowadays, not only because of our travel and speaking schedule but, even when we are able to attend, we have to duck out right after the sermon in order to get ready for our Sunday afternoon church service at Aksarben Village Senior Living. So, we extend our apologies to our GBC friends for our “quick in and out habits” there.

The Aksarben service yesterday went terrific. Our visitation team included Don Kohls, Keith Moran, and a marvelous surprise edition of Matt Troutman and three of his kids, Luke, Anna, and Lydia. They were all lively, gracious, and of excellent help, especially as the day included our communion service. They were all needed too because yesterday, in addition to our cookies and coffee after the sermon, we passed out a lot of salt water taffy from our Estes Park visit and two Colorado postcards apiece to each resident.  The sermon (just about 10 minutes as is our custom) was an appropriate one for a communion Sunday. It was entitled “The Memorial of the New Covenant,” dealing with Jesus’ introduction of the Lord’s Supper in Mark 14: 22-26.

And yesterday’s songs were also splendid: “Crown Him with Many Crowns” by the Oasis Chorale at Cornerstone Mennonite Fellowship, “Ever Faithful” by The Collingsworth Family, and “As the Deer Panteth for the Water” by Gracias Choir. We had (as usual) a really swell time.

Finally arriving back home around 4:30, we closed the day with some more watering of the lawn, discussing the week’s upcoming activities, and our night’s prayers together. By the way, those upcoming activities include Claire and I speaking at the Business and Professional People for Life luncheon on Thursday, September 7th at noon at the German-American Society. We will be talking about the unique and critically-important ministries to seniors that Vital Signs Ministries has developed over the years. We think it will be an enlightening, even inspiring program. The cost for the program and excellent lunch at this impressive venue is $25. However, a designated gift has been given to cover $10 of each meal for guests of Vital Signs Ministries. If you would like to attend the luncheon, please respond to this invitation as soon as possible. 

Postscript -- Also, I began a re-reading of A.E.W. Mason’s Fire Over England. Mason’s thrilling novel is set in the late 16th century when England must counter the extremely grave dangers posed by the Spanish Armada. But the book is also significant for Mason’s use of that historical framework to warn readers of the similar dangers posed to Great Britain in 1936 by the rise of Nazi power in Germany.  

Saturday, August 26, 2023

A Word from Colorado

 Estes Park, Colorado, 11 PM, Saturday August 26 -- It's hard to believe (with all that we've packed in) that We have only been here since Wednesday. Indeed, it has been an unusually valuable and inspiring trip. We are here with Larry and Deb Harrold, dear friends and ministry colleagues with whom we share a love for the Rocky Mountains. Larry had major surgery 3 months ago or so and had a very tough time afterward, but he has now begun chemotherapy and the doctors cleared him (just barely) to make this trip to one of their all-time favorite haunts. Larry is doing really well, by the way; he and Deb have both been full of courage, faith, heavenly perspective, a spirit of thanksgiving, great generosity to us, and fun. None of these virtues are surprising to the people that know them well, but they are all the more impressive because of their being a matter of course. A remarkable couple.

In our time here, we have relished times in the mountains, drunk in the beauty and splendor of the scenery from drives and long talks on the condo balcony, meals and coffee at several of the Harrold's favorite spots, a little shopping, reading, correspondence, and two trips down to the Front Range for wonderful visits with family: dinner with Dan & T.C. Aylward in Loveland on Friday night and coffee, a museum visit, a farmer's market, and lunch with Ric & Ellen Hartford in Golden today. And tomorrow...recording a brief sermon so the Morans and Allen can use it in the Aksarben Village church service tomorrow afternoon, another trip higher up into the hills, and packing for the trip back home.  

Actually, Claire and I will be stopping at Grand Island on Monday evening because we are volunteering for a couple of shifts at the Nebraska Right to Life booth at the Nebraska State Fair on Tuesday. What a week, huh? We are so grateful for the many blessings God has poured out on us in this brief time.

The Top 5 (August 26 )

 * "Top 3 Abortion Lies in and around the GOP Primary Debate" (S.A. McCarthy, Washington Stand)

* "Church Attendees Believe...What?!" (Owen Strachan, Washington Stand)

* "How scientists mold public opinion on controversial bioethical issues" (Michael Cook, NRL News)

* "What Is Freedom of Conscience, and Why Does It Matter?" (Bryan Neihart, Alliance Defending Freedom)

* "Report: Library Association’s President Wants To Stock Kids’ Shelves With LGBT Propaganda And Porn" Rebeka Zeljko, Federalist)