Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Letters for Life...and More

As Claire and I drove to Wichita yesterday (We are spending a couple of days with my ailing sister.), we talked about the long history of Vital Signs Ministries hosting letter-writing parties.  Indeed, even at the very beginning when we had just got started as the Omaha Christian Action Council (that’s 1983 for you who are counting), we started the practice of letter-writing parties as yet another key ministry of pro-life advocacy. 

We did so because we were convinced (and we are more than ever) that letters are of tremendous value as we 1) use them to be true “voices for the voiceless” before others; 2) to engage in purposeful, effective engagement instead of submitting to indifference or despair; 3) to utilize the assistance, encouragement, and accountability of fellow Christians to make our pro-life witness to others as strong and persuasive as it can be; 4) to consistently demonstrate to the Lord Jesus our willingness to “shine” rather than merely “whine” about what’s happening in our culture; and 5) to balance our letters of protest and advocacy with letters expressing gratitude and complements to the “good guys” who are fighting the good fight for Christ. (By the way, that last task has led us to always include a portion of our letter-writing parties in behalf of persecuted Christians.

So, what about you?  Have you let us know about your joining us for our upcoming letter-writing parties.  For your convenience, we do, in fact, have two of them this time around – a daytime gathering from 10 to 12 on March 6th and then the regular evening party at 7 also on March 6th.  We would sure love to have you for this important, historic, and ongoing ministry.  Please RSVP soon.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Our Church Celebrates 2 Years

Today was a very special day for the church service that Vital Signs Ministries conducts every Sunday afternoon at Aksarben Village Senior Living. Indeed, 21 of us were gathered there today for a wonderful celebration of our two-year anniversary. 

We enjoyed music videos from Southern Raised, Glen Campbell, and the collected choirs from the Royal Albert Hall in London along with a brief sermon on Psalm 107:1-3. 

Like usual, the service portion of the afternoon was 30-35 minutes followed by another 30-45 minutes of lively conversation afterward. And today, instead of cookies to go with our coffee and lemonade, it was a special cake from Petit's Bakery. Thank You, Lord, for a marvelous two years of this inspirational ministry.

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Christian Education Mandate: Reviewing the Latest L’Abri Conference

The snow was fast accumulating when we left Omaha for our trip to the L’Abri Conference in Rochester, Minnesota last Thursday morning.  And it was going to make for perilous driving were we to take our regular route to Des Moines and up I-35.  But a careful look at the storm’s path convinced us to head directly north towards Sioux City, Worthington, and then on east to Rochester. And, sure enough, after only an hour or so of driving, we hit clear and dry roads all the way.  Thank You, Lord.

Because I was one of the presenters in the conference, we were invited to a Thursday night kickoff gathering with a warm welcome, introductions to other speakers, lively conversations, and a good time of prayer together.  It was a nice start to the proceedings and made us appreciate all the more the hard work the small L’Abri team had put in to bring the conference off.  

There were a few hundred people in attendance to participate in 6 plenary sessions; an evening “concert” featuring readings of the Dorothy Sayers radio play, The Man Born to be King; and then 28 (count ’em, 28!) elective workshop sessions scheduled in four time slots on Friday and Saturday. Oh yes, the conference theme?  “The Christian Education Mandate and its Challenges.”’

Vital Signs Ministries’ part in the conference, beside Claire and I being deeply interested members of the audience, consisted of my presenting two workshop sessions and providing one of the 7 or 8 literature tables that were displayed outside the main lecture hall of the historic Kahler Grand Hotel.  

On our table were our free pamphlets “Abortion and Church History” and “Scripture References on Abortion” as well as our bookmarks for the “3 for 5” Prayer Campaign Against Planned Parenthood.  We also had single page Bible exegesis articles I had written on “The Real Emmanuel Event '' (Luke 1:26-45) and "An Old Testament Defense of Preborn Children: A Brief Exposition of Exodus 21:22-25. These are, if we say so ourselves, very good resources and we’ve now added them to the VSM website.  

We also offered my novel The Christmas Room which proved a popular item.

My lecture sessions were Friday morning’s “Beware the Mad Scientist: Divine Warnings Against Playing God from Classical Literature” and Saturday morning’s “A Winsome Witness: Communicating the Bible’s Pro-life Ethics through Word and Deed.”  We were very pleased with how those presentations went and the enthusiastic responses we received.  For instance, one young fellow later wrote, “It was great to meet you and your wife this past weekend. Your workshop, "Beware the Mad Scientist," was my favorite of the whole weekend. I came out of that one edified and newly inspired for my own writings. Thank you for presenting!"

The other sessions we attended were also very enlightening and helpful with such speakers as Vishal Mangalwadi (author of The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, and several others), Greg Jesson, Peter Merz, Mike Sugimoto, Sarah Chestnut, Doug Groothius who we became friends with over Saturday’s lunch (author of Confronting the New Age, The Soul in Cyberspace, Truth Decay, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Walking Through Twilight: A Wife's Illness -- A Philosopher's Lament, and many others), and more.

We have ordered recordings of all the sessions and, as we have done before, we will probably plan at least a couple  “L’Abri Evenings” in which we will play a lecture and discuss it over coffee.  We know most definitely that we want you to hear Greg Jesson’s “Responding to the Inevitable Unraveling of Higher Education."  It was really terrific.  We’ll keep you informed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

A Word of Encouragement…From Middle Earth

To help encourage you today in your Christian mission, I have a little story for you -- one taken from JRR Tolkien’s masterful Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now, as a Baptist preacher, I’m usually using a different text for public exhortations, but I don’t think you’ll mind if I use this one today. The scene I’m drawing to your attention comes from the last book in the trilogy. The brave hobbits Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee are struggling through Mordor on their way to Mt. Doom and, in this terrible moment when Frodo is nearly overcome with despair, fatigue, and dread, he turns to his dear friend and moans, “I can’t do this, Sam.”

At which Sam Gamgee, one of the most wonderfully heroic characters in all literature, responds, “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness, and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? 

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

Frodo then asks, “What are we holding on to, Sam?”

The answer? “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”

My friends, we have things good and worth fighting for too – the biblical ideals of truth, justice, and the sanctity of human life. So the decision of these two characters must be, in real life, our decisions too. Oh yes; we have a God-given opportunity to be heroes just like Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin, Aragorn and Gandalf, and all the rest of that noble fellowship of the ring. We too must carry on with our part in the adventure story God has written us into. True enough, it’s a story that has real danger, real enemies, and real sacrifices. And yet it has spiritual rewards that are unimaginably rich and fully deserving of our boldest efforts.

So, what do you say? Let’s get after it!

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

“Thank You So Much for Doing This for Us!”

“Thank You So Much for Doing This for Us!”

That’s what Norma said to me as she squeezed my hand after our church service. “You do such a good job and you’ve really become our friends. And after we all had to stop going to our old churches, you and Claire and all these friends of yours have given us a church fellowship again. And we all so appreciate you doing this week after week.”

As we come up on the 2nd anniversary of the church service that Vital Signs Ministries conducts every Sunday afternoon for residents of Aksarben Village Senior Living, we can say with confidence and enthusiasm that it has been a very successful experiment.  The structure of the service has proven an excellent fit for the needs of our small congregation: three superb music videos (heavy on the great hymns of the Faith), an 8–12-minute expositional sermon, participation in communion the first Sunday of the month, and a lengthy time after each service of purposeful fellowship over coffee and cookies.  And substantial thanks for this ministry are due to the efforts of our visitation team members -- Don, Allen, Patrick, Keith and Carol, Dick, and Ruth.

The ministry has been an important extension of Vital Signs’ longstanding concern for seniors. Indeed, it’s a tradition spanning 40 years which has included the years of visiting and entertaining residents of Mercy Care Center and other facilities, advocacy articles on the website and blogs, the creation over 50 Anti-Boredom packets during the worst of the pandemic scare, the writing of The Christmas Room, and the remarkably popular “When Swing Was King” program which has now started into its 13th year with a schedule involving 10 senior facilities every month. And each month’s show is a new one, featuring 12 classic songs from the 30s, 40s, and 50s with fascinating commentary and a Power Point visual accompaniment of over 200 photographs from the same era.

Our only disappointment arising out of these “mercy ministries” is that we haven’t yet been able to inspire other Christians to pursue like-minded service to the marginalized, lonely, and hurting seniors who are all around us. After all, think of how many nursing homes and senior living centers there are in any given city and then consider how extremely few of those facilities have any evangelical outreach at all. No church services. No Bible studies. No visitation program, let alone any efforts at creating intergenerational friendships. No efforts whatsoever from local churches to help inspire, equip, and mobilize their members to engage in acts of compassion and encouragement to seniors in profound need of such mercies.

It’s not that difficult for churches (and small groups or even individuals) to create ministries to the seniors in these facilities or, for that matter, to others in our churches and neighborhoods who are otherwise “shut-in.” But it is of great importance.

If you’re interested in changing this sad condition, I encourage you to pray about any or all of the following possibilities. 1) Join us for one of our Aksarben Village church services to see how it works and to get some experience in visiting with seniors who will be delighted to make your acquaintance! Also, you might consider dropping into one of our “When Swing Was King” shows for a similar opportunity. (The schedule is on the Vital Signs Ministries website.)

2) Talk about this subject with your family, friends, and church colleagues. Such discussions might lead you to the activity director at one of the senior facilities near your home or church. You’ll find that a terrific ministry is right there for the taking.

3) For a bit more information and some inspirational ideas, you could always read The Christmas Room, a novel in which the most unlikely of heroes emerge. Or for something much shorter, you can start with these articles from Vital Signs Blog.

How Can My Friends and I Serve Seniors?

Dogs, Kids, and a Superstar Ministry

The Nursing Home Business: It Shouldn’t Be Mere Business for Christians