Tuesday, April 30, 2024

A Quick Get-Away to Art, History, and the Company of Good Friends

How unusual and stimulating our last two days have been! We are in Kansas City on a 2 -day holiday with Larry and Deb Harrold Herald, staying in a massive and magnificent old house (built in 1902) in the historic Hanover Place district near downtown. Claire and I had left Omaha just after our Sunday afternoon church service; enjoyed a very pleasant drive with conversation, prayers, and some old radio programs; and then joined the Harrolds at the bed and breakfast a few minutes after 7:00. Catching up, sharing memories, snacking on Paleo apple muffins, and a bit of reading H. Rider Haggard rounded off our Sunday and a very restful sleep prepared us for the full day to come.

6:30 Monday morning found me at Mother Earth coffee shop on Gillham Road, just two minutes from the house. Spacious, quiet, clean, classical music playing softly, and good coffee -- I could certainly use a place just like this in Omaha! And after journaling, devotions, making final edits on the May newsletter, and beginning J. Warner Wallace’s excellent Cold-Case Christianity, I rejoined the crew to take on the august Nelson -Atkins Art Museum which houses the most impressive art collection in the Midwest. Heavy on ancient China and India, the museum also has several remarkable Egyptian pieces. But that’s only the beginning. Their vast collections also include art by Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Seurat, Gaugin, Vernet, Tolouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Cezanne, Caravaggio, Gainsborough, Constable, Turner, Stuart, Benton, Cranach the Elder, Rembrandt, and many, many more, including very provocative items from Medieval and Renaissance Christian art.

We were wowed all morning and our tour through the centuries stimulated us to make notes of several things we want to explore in the future. Of course, there was a lot of modern, lousy stuff there too that progressives hail as art. But, believe me, there was more treasure than trash and I recommend the place to anyone visiting Kansas City.

Oh yes; we also had a very nice lunch right there in the lovely atrium of the museum.

Our afternoon and evening were more sedentary, but still very enjoyable. We watched together (on a really large TV screen) some of our favorite Christian music selections; we talked about a host of topics; I explored the old house’s basement; we had a delicious BBQ dinner at Jack Stacks (I highly recommend the Burnt Ends Stew); and we had a “command performance” of the April “When Swing Was King” program. A bit more talk, a bit more reading, and a brief (and successful) search for a lost phone concluded what was a full and invigorating day

Today (Tuesday) began again for me with coffee at Mother Earth but I was back home in time to join in on to the Arabia Steamboat Museum just north of downtown. Many years ago I read the book, Treasure in a Cornfield, which told the amazing story of five men (all regular working stiffs) who took on the herculean task of uncovering a steamship that had sunk in the Missouri River before Civil War! That steamship was found way, way down in a cornfield, a mile and 1/2 from the modern shore of the river. It was an amazing true-life story. But to go to the museum today and see a portion of the material they unearthed from America's past is almost indescribable. Indeed, the Arabia Museum houses the most extensive collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world. Browsing through that material, along with learning more about the story of its astounding discovery, along with the privilege of meeting one of the original 5 adventurers made it the most memorable of experiences.

We had a quick but very enjoyable lunch near the museum (the City Market area) and are now involved in more relaxing pursuits back at our home base. We may very well continue to do so until we all take off tomorrow morning -- Larry and Deb for home in Omaha, Claire and I for Wichita in order to visit my little sister Sherry for a couple of days. Thank You, Lord, for this momentous get-away with dear friends. 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Top 5 (April 27)

* “Conservatism’s ‘Three-Legged Stool’ Has No Legs Left” (John Daniel Davidson, Federalist)

From the article -- It’s hard to overstate how out-of-touch this way of thinking is, as if the past 15 years simply never happened, to say nothing of the past 50. Consider the three legs of the stool. On fiscal conservatism, we’re swimming in an ocean of debt that grows no matter which party controls Congress, while inflation is killing middle- and working-class families. On traditional values, we legalized gay marriage and then quickly moved on to normalizing transgenderism and acquiescing to so-called “gender-affirming care,” even for minors. On peace-through-strength foreign policy, we lost the War on Terror and are now funding multiple wars all over the world as part of a crumbling global imperium. The stool has no legs left...

* “Mean Girls Rising: Democrats are increasingly beholden to leftist radicals in their midst.” (Joel Kotkin, American Mind)

From the article -- Once the putative party of the people, the Democrats are increasingly the party of political “Mean Girls.” Epitomized by the congressional “Squad,” radicalized women are driving the party ever further to the leftist fringe on issues such as embracing Hamas, apocalyptic climate policies, mass illegal immigration, and transgenderism.

Party organs including the New Republic and the New York Times hail these activists as the “future of the Democratic Party.” Unlike traditional Democrats who won over small business owners, members of industrial unions, and aspiring middle class minorities, the Mean Girls have broken with the New Deal tradition that united the party. Rather than appealing to the aspirations of  families, in the new configuration it’s all about “the personal is political,” with lifestyle and sexual orientation as defining issues....

* “A Letter-Party Wrap  -- Along with Sample Letters” (Denny Hartford, Vital Signs Blog)

From the post -- Dear Congressman Bacon, Okay, President Biden and the Democrats rightly get the blame for some of America’s horrendous national sins. For instance, the twisting of Title IX to allow men into girls’ showers, or the mega-abortion profiteer Planned Parenthood getting an incredible third of its $2 billion revenue from the government. However, it is the Congress who controls the purse strings of the government! So why hasn’t the Republican-controlled House put a stop to these travesties? Because, like junior high kids who wilt at the possible displeasure of the “cool kids” clique, Republicans refuse to stand their ground before the criticism of Democrats and the establishment media. Were Republicans to actually do in Washington what they promise their constituencies back home, how much more moral and safe and efficient and happy our nation would be.

* “FBI Director Accused of Hypocrisy for Monitoring Conservatives but Not Pro-Hamas Protests” (S.A. McCarthy, Daily Signal)

From the article -- The director of the FBI is being accused of hypocrisy for allowing the targeting of concerned parents, Trump supporters, and American Catholics but not “monitoring” pro-Hamas rallies and protests on college campuses. Director Christopher Wray was asked in an interview on Tuesday about “actively monitoring” the rallies erupting across college and university campuses, which have become the subject of controversy and condemnation from even senior government officials. Wray replied, “We don’t monitor protests.” [No, says Graham Allen] They just monitor Republicans, Church, Christians, Donald Trump supporters, and parents who attend a PTA meeting...

* “When the Church Shrinks Back” (Aaron Edwards, Decision Magazine)

From the article -- The reason so many Christian leaders have drifted on these issues is that they’ve come to see Biblical sexual ethics as “unloving,” even “evil.” Such is the fruit of secular infiltration of the church. These doctrinal erosions don’t happen overnight. They occur gradually, year by year, compromise by compromise. It sounds like Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3—of a time “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions”—was written for today. 

Even some evangelicals are losing their way, ceasing to be as convinced of their convictions as they once were. Increasing numbers now identify as “deconstructed ex-vangelicals,” more keen to proclaim stories of how the church has hurt them than stories of how Christ has redeemed them...

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A Letter-Party Wrap (Along with Sample Letters)

Yesterday Vital Signs Ministries hosted our quarterly letter-writing parties with the issues considered including sanctity of life, religious freedom, sexual and gender sanity, and a lot of thank-yous to those who well deserve them. Both parties proved a terrific success with 8 letter-writers at the brunch party (Sandy, Allen, Cindy, Dan, Ann, John, Claire and I) and 9 in the evening edition (Keith, Carol, Becky, Don, Sharon, Karla, Claire and I) And the total for the two parties? 85 cards and letters! Great job, guys!

Many of those letters dealt with the government’s giving $699 million to the mega-abortion profiteer Planned Parenthood, President Biden’s outrageous twisting of Title IX which will (among other stupid travesties) allow men into girl’s bathrooms and showers, the vicious attacks on Israel and the anti-Semitic demonstrations around the country, the pornographic actions of Instagram, and school choice. Below in this post you can find reprints of a few of those letters.  But first, here’s a breakdown by recipient: 

President Biden (4 letters); Kamala Harris (3); 3 Supreme Court Justices; Senator Deb Fischer (5); Senator Pete Ricketts (5); Senator Marco Rubio (1); Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (3); Congressman Don Bacon (7); Governor Jim Pillen (5); Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers (1); Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert (3); and 3 State Senators.

In addition: Israeli Ambassador Herzog (5); Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu (1); Food and Drug Administration (1); Instagram (1); College of the Ozarks (2); Hillsdale College (1); Scheel’s (3); the letters section of the Omaha World Herald (1); and 3 pastors.

Finally, among those receiving notes of thanks, encouragement, and compliments were Vital Signs Ministries colleagues who are dealing with tough trials (3); Assure Women’s Center (5); Amir Tsarfati (2); the Omaha Police Department (3); Eternal Perspective Ministries (2); and receiving cards signed by all of the letter-writers present…the Omaha Fire Department, Julie Arant, Alliance Defending Freedom, Samaritan’s Purse, Tim Tebow Foundation, Joni & Friends, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and One for Israel. 

Okay, about those sample letters…

To the Public Pulse of the Omaha World Herald,

The latest annual report of Planned Parenthood is out and it reveals information that the abortion business certainly hopes the public will not learn about. For instance, that surgical abortions are at an all-time high (392, 715); revenue is at an all-time high ($2 billion with $699 million of that coming from taxpayers); hormone therapy, puberty blockers and other “gender care” dramatically increasing; and for every adoption referral Planned Parenthood makes, it performs 228 abortions. As they say, it’s your tax dollars at work.

Congressman Bacon,

Okay, President Biden and the Democrats rightly get the blame for some of America’s horrendous national sins. For instance, the twisting of Title IX to allow men into girls’ showers, or the mega-abortion profiteer Planned Parenthood getting an incredible third of its $2 billion revenue from the government. However, it is the Congress who controls the purse strings of the government! So why hasn’t the Republican-controlled House put a stop to these travesties? Because, like junior high kids who wilt at the possible displeasure of the “cool kids” clique, Republicans refuse to stand their ground before the criticism of Democrats and the establishment media. Were Republicans to actually do in Washington what they promise their constituencies back home, how much more moral and safe and efficient and happy our nation would be.

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

We are just a few of Israel’s friends who are writing tonight with a quick word of thanks for your noble and courageous leadership and a reminder that the few of us are only a small slice of the many, many Americans who support Israel, who pray for her safety and prosperity, and who are urging our own leaders to be much more supportive of Israel in her battles against terrorism and anti-Semitism. As evangelical Christians, we have a loyal love for the nation of Israel and we will continue to pray for you.

To the Food and Drug Administration,

The FDA is supposed to watch out for the health and well-being of the people in this country. However, you are allowing unborn children to be destroyed by powerful abortion chemicals and, at the same time, you’re endangering the lives of untold numbers of women. How wicked! 

To the officials at Meta,

Why does Instagram and Facebook promote the sexualizing of children? You should be ashamed of the way your company promotes pornography and the abuse of women and children. Please reconsider how you can stop these horrific practices. Remember that God sees all that you are doing and one day you will be judged for these actions.

Dear Senator Rubio,

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading your Decades of Decadence. What a terrific book -- enlightening, inspiring, and frequently infuriating! You did such an excellent job in your research and in the writing of the book. Way to go! But thank you, Senator, even more for the principled, energetic, winsome leadership you are providing in the United States Senate. Stay the course!

You are in our frequent prayers.

Dear President Biden,

I’m writing this morning with 10 specific complaints which I hope you will, with God’s grace granting you repentance and a brand new start, make right very soon. 

1) Please stop promoting the barbaric bloodshed perpetrated for profit by abortionists. 

2) Please stop lying and cheating and bribing.

3) Please stop trying to divide the American people along lines of race, religious convictions, ethnicity, gender, economic status, and political opinions.

4) Please stop placating wicked bullies like Iran and China. Indeed, please stop “weaponizing” government agencies to harass (even persecute) Christians and others who oppose your radical “woke” plans for America.

5) Please defend America’s borders. 

6) Please stop wasting American money on useless, counterproductive, and even blasphemous practices. 

7) Please stop your incessant actions to promote, assist, and fund perverted sexual practices and ideologies. 

8) Please free American industry and creativity so that we can once again be energy independent. 9) Please start protecting religious freedom and freedom of conscience. 

10) Please stop trying to destroy America’s most noble ideas and traditions.

You are in my prayers, Mr. President, as I ask God’s grace for you to make a dramatic change of heart and mind.

To the brave men and women of the Omaha Police Department,

We are having a letter-writing party tonight and, among the thank-yous we’re sending, is this one to you guys. Thank you for your sacrifice and skill, your compassion and bravery as you serve the people of our city. You are in our frequent prayers. 

Senator Fischer,

Please do whatever you can to defund the nation’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood. Also, whatever you can do to turn off the funds to Biden's vile re-definition of Title IX. Every woman in the Congress and Senate should be outraged by this move. Thanks for fighting!

To the fantastic team of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,

We are in the middle of one of Vital Signs Ministries quarterly letter-writing parties tonight and, along with our letters of advocacy regarding sanctity of life, religious freedom, sexual and gender sanity, and so on, we also like to take time to send along a few thank-yous to saints who are doing a strong and beautiful work for the Lord Jesus. So...thank you! And may our Lord continue to bless and protect and purify and empower you all to glorify His name and secure His purposes. Stay the course, dear friends. Maranatha!

Dear Speaker Johnson,

I am very disappointed in the huge amount of aid that is just gone (once again!) to Ukraine without money being spent beforehand in securing our own borders. You broke your promise, Mr. Speaker, and it was a terrible disappointment to those of us who had such high hopes for your leadership. 

Dear Governor Pillen,

Thank you for standing firm on the life issue, school choice, and the integrity of women’s sports. There are so many areas in these culture battles where we need attentive and courageous “watchmen on the wall.” Thanks for fighting and not backing down. 

Dear Justice Thomas,

I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you and your service. I have looked up to you all these years as you have stood so magnificently for truth and justice in our nation. You have been so unjustly attacked and yet you continue to stand firm. I know you also get your wisdom from above. Thank you for fighting for me; you are not fighting in vain! I thank God for you. 

To the College of the Ozarks,

Thank you so much for the great work you are doing for America’s youth and for the noble cause of American ideals that serve not only our nation, but the whole world. Please know we support you as you stand against the unjust, immoral schemes of President Biden to force the College to comply with his horrific twisting of Title IX. You are in our frequent prayers.

Dear Ambassador Herzog,

Just a quick word to say we stand with Israel in her noble and courageous defense against the forces of hatred and terrorism. Your nation’s leaders and her people are in our frequent and fervent prayers.

We apologize for the weak and inconsistent attitudes of the present American administration towards your nation. For we know how profound is the support for Israel by the majority of Americans -- support that continues despite the horrendous and viciously unfair coverage by the leftist media. Stay the course! And May God protect Israel.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Top 5 (April 20)

* "California’s Senate Democrats Reject Bill to Make Purchasing a Child for Sex a Felony" (Katy Grimes, California Globe) 

From the article -- As we explained at the time, human trafficking was defined as a “non-serious” crime because of Proposition 57 passed in 2016, which meant the act of human trafficking could no longer be considered a strike under California’s Three Strikes law. There is a plethora of history like this with California’s Democrat lawmakers.

Six proposed bills in 2018-19 would have corrected unclear language and serious flaws in Proposition 57, passed in 2016 by voters, which reclassified many serious heinous crimes as “non-serious.” The initiative specified early parole for persons who committed non-violent offenses. However, the initiative never specified what is considered a non-violent felony. But all 6 bills were killed by Democrats.

* "Planned Parenthood Checklist: More Abortions, Less Actual Health Care, More Tax Dollars Than Ever" (Melanie Israel, Daily Signal)

From the article -- In the long term, the trend of more abortions and fewer health services is even more stark. Pro-life scholar Michael New points out that “in the past 10 years, the number of abortions performed by Planned Parenthood has increased by 20%. Meanwhile, cancer screenings fell by more than 58%, and prenatal services declined by more than 67%.”

After going all-in on “gender-affirming hormone therapy” starting in the 2015-2016 reporting year, Planned Parenthood reports an all-time high of 45 clinics offering such services. Planned Parenthood buries the specific number of services in an “other” category in the medical data tables. We can reasonably infer that gender services drove a noticeable spike in the category. It went from 8,153 in 2015 to 177,237 in this year’s report.

Now take a look at the financial side of things. Planned Parenthood reported:

$2.5 billion in net assets, up from $2.3 billion the previous year.

$699 million in government funding, up from $670 million the previous year.

$2 billion in total revenue, up from $1.9 billion the previous year.

* "The Joy of Imagining Heaven" (Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries)

From the article -- Too often we’ve been taught that Heaven is a non-physical realm, so we fail to take seriously what Scripture tells us about Heaven as a familiar, physical, tangible place. We cannot anticipate or desire what we cannot imagine. That’s why, I believe, God has given us glimpses of Heaven in the Bible—to fire up our imagination and kindle a desire for Heaven in our hearts. And that’s why Satan will always discourage our imagination—or misdirect it to ethereal notions that violate Scripture. As long as the resurrected universe remains either undesirable or unimaginable, he succeeds in sabotaging our love for Heaven.

If God didn’t want us to imagine what Heaven will be like, He wouldn’t have told us as much about it as He has.

* "Why Not Do Only the “Pleasant” Ministries?" (Denny Hartford, Vital Signs Blog)

From the article -- So, with all of this heavy decadence to lift and with the playing field tilted so dramatically against us, why do we bother protesting abortionists? Why not gracefully resign the job, pat ourselves on the back for all the years we’ve sincerely tried to make a difference, and just move on to ministry activities that are less confrontational, less sorrowful, less hopeless?

* "The Obama and Biden Administrations' Betrayal of America's Closest Ally in the Middle East: Israel" (Majid Rafizadeh, Gatestone Institute)

From the article -- What onlookers see, including terrorists and America's enemies and adversaries – when they also factor in the open US southern border across which millions of illegal immigrants have recently poured, including 46,000 Chinese, many of whom are military-aged men possibly "building an army from within" – is that the Biden administration is perfectly content to welcome and support terrorists.

The White House actions have bolstered America's adversaries and pretty much extinguished America's credibility as an ally. The universal "optics" are that if America will throw its closest ally, Israel, under the bus, what chance has anyone else got?

Why Not Do Only the “Pleasant” Ministries?

Our Monday started with our pro-life witness on the street outside Planned
Parenthood, the unbelievably evil business that lies to women, exploits their fears and confusion, kills their preborn sons and daughters with high-powered vacuums and knives and poisons, and then guarantees its ongoing business by promoting to America’s youth the grossest and most perverse sex propaganda imaginable. In so doing, this mega-abortion profiteer not only exploits millions of dollars from their clients, it is enriched yet further with millions of dollars taken from the pockets of American taxpayers. It is a truly sickening reality.

Set against this monstrous evil, our small and simple witness doesn’t seem like much of an opposition, does it? It’s only a few pro-lifers (5 of us on that Monday) holding beautiful baby signs and offering truth, compassion, and liberating alternatives to abortion to both clients and staff. Just a few pro-lifers, quietly standing outside this blasphemous business, praying to God for a swift end to the injustice and bloodshed that goes on inside. 

Again, we are hardly a powerhouse of opposition. After all, Planned Parenthood enjoys protection from the law; it is funded by Big Tech foundations as well as federal and state governments; it has been given a “free pass” from ambulance-chasing lawyers who are otherwise ready to bring lawsuits against anything that moves; it receives lavish praise from all corners of the media; and, saddest of all, the abortion industry has conducted its horrific violence with a general indifference from the pulpits of American churches.

So, with all of this heavy decadence to lift and with the playing field tilted so dramatically against us, why do we bother protesting abortionists? Why not gracefully resign the job, pat ourselves on the back for all the years we’ve sincerely tried to make a difference, and just move on to ministry activities that are less confrontational, less sorrowful, less hopeless? Why not focus instead on things like our “When Swing Was King” shows? For compared to sidewalk counseling or abortion protests in the public square, ministries like “When Swing Was King” and the Sunday afternoon church services at Aksarben Senior Living are a lot more pleasant and rewarding. And, of course, in ministries like those, there’s abundant evidence that we’re making a positive difference. We lift spirits and build self-esteem. We successfully chase away boredom and loneliness in people’s lives. We build friendships, secure a winsome reputation, and garner plenty of appreciative praise.

Indeed, rather than people being callously indifferent to our anti-abortion activities (let alone being the target of ugly curses, obscene gestures, slander, and physical threats), the residents and staff of the other senior centers give us smiles and applause, expressions of gratitude and compliments. And, as you can imagine, that’s pretty wonderful stuff. So, since these kinds of ministries produce such obvious and happy effects, why don’t we just go with things like that and make life a little easier in our last years? Believe me, these questions have been asked of us frequently over the decades. Goodness, we have sometimes asked them ourselves! However, the answer to these questions lies in the noble opportunity given us by God to embrace His wisdom, grace, and empowerment. 

Here’s how it works. God’s mercies have been poured out upon everyone who trusts Christ’s sacrifice on Golgotha’s cross to be the complete (and forever) payment for their sin. Praise be to God! But, as astonishing and liberating as this is, it is just the beginning. For the Christian is not merely saved from hell, he is also adopted into God’s family, given spiritual gifts and callings, and baptized into a custom-made adventure which finds its triumphant destination in heaven. And for that pilgrimage, our Lord gives the redeemed divine powers to serve as His ministers, ambassadors, and warriors with solemn duties to be “lights of the world” -- lights that shine so brilliantly that the watching world will see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father. Wow.

But, to do this effectively and consistently, we must be true to the marching orders we have been given in Holy Scripture. For instance, our lights are not to be hidden in a pitcher or under the bed. They are not to be turned into safe corners or to blaze forth only when in the company of other lights. Oh, no. We are commanded by our Captain to let our lights shine before others, to shine from the tops of the hills, to shine in the dark places, to shine in the very midst of a crooked and perverse generation, to “shine like stars” in places where the unrighteous will see and be drawn to the same splendid truths that saved and elevated us. 

Now I freely confess that shining our light in pleasant surroundings and to audiences who appreciate our witness is great. And, though our ministries to the elderly and infirm do involve their own degree of difficulty, hard work, and sadness, we are deeply grateful to our God Who has allowed to engage in these activities. But the several Bible references I’ve mentioned above referring to lights shining in the darkness -- combined with the commands our Lord gives us to confront correct error and rebuke evil, to stand firm in the faith even when speaking prophetic truths to those in power, to “do” justice, to deliver those drawn towards death and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter, and so on -- well, that doesn’t give us any excuse to present before the Lord only those tasks that we consider more pleasant or comfortable or fun or successful.  No, the tough duties are ours too. The ones that are stressful, the ones that elicit criticism and opposition (even persecution), the ones that routinely break our hearts and have us crying out all the more desperately for the Lord’s return. 

So, as long as abortion profiteers wage their grisly war against babies, exploit their moms and dads, pollute the culture, brazenly deny the order of creation, and wage war against the Creator God, Vital Signs Ministries will continue to peacefully, prayerfully voice our protest…even as we seek to persuade people from ever showing up at the doors of a Planned Parenthood or other abortionist. But does that mean we will ignore other ministry opportunities when the Lord adds them to our agenda? Of course not. Indeed, just like you, our Christian journey is likely to have us involved in many different tasks, different seasons, different levels of commitment, different skill ratings, and different degrees of difficulty. Just stay closely tuned in to Jesus and seek to “man up” and accomplish whatever jobs He sets before you today. Leading a charge. Washing the dishes. Making a donation. Mowing the lawn. Holding a sign in front of an abortion mill. Volunteering at a pregnancy aid center. Explaining to the local librarian why they should offer more classic children’s literature instead of perverse propaganda. Visiting someone who needs some encouragement. Writing a letter to your Congressman. Saying your prayers. Keeping unstained by the world. And so on. 

That, my friends, is what life as a servant of Jesus Christ will look like. So take an honest look at the needs and opportunities around you and ask the Lord to put you where you can best serve His purposes. And, once underway, keep looking up and stay the course. His rewards are right around the corner.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Ronald Reagan's Simple Testimony

I was sitting in a room, and across from me, about ten feet away, was seated the then governor of California and soon-to-be president of the United States, Ronald Reagan.  I had the opportunity to ask him some questions.  I said, “Governor, I would like to ask you a very important spiritual question.  If something were to happen to you and you were to die and stand before almighty God, and He said to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”

His response was surprising.  He doubled over, put his head down between his knees and stayed there some time.  Then, after about thirty seconds, he slowly straightened in his chair, looked me in the eye, and in a very sober tone said, “I don’t deserve to go to heaven.  The only thing I could say would be, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him  should not perish, but have everlasting life.’”

(From  D. James Kennedy's Risen Indeed: Evidence for the Resurrection, Coral Ridge Ministries, 2005)

Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Top 5 (April 13)

* "On Abortion, Donald Trump Goes The Way Of Stephen A. Douglas" (John Daniel Davidson, Federalist)

From the article -- By taking this stand, that abortion should not be a federal issue, Trump has not just betrayed his pro-life supporters but taken the side of Stephen A. Douglas over Abraham Lincoln. He has insisted that popular sovereignty, not moral principle, should decide the abortion question, just as Douglas insisted popular sovereignty in the new federal territories must decide the slavery question...

As Lincoln understood about slavery back in the 1850s, the eventual political consequences of tolerating abortion in some states will be the acceptance of it in all the states. (We’ve already seen this with the abortion referendums in Kansas and Ohio, with more referendums on the way.) Moral neutrality on abortion — Trump’s “popular sovereignty” approach — will weaken the foundation for legal prohibition and open the way to tolerance and eventually political acceptance.

* "Trump’s Mixed Messaging On Abortion And IVF Plays Right Into Democrats’ Electoral Strategy" (Jordan Boyd, Federalist)

From the article -- The Republican once hailed as the most successful pro-life president in American history made clear on Monday that he is softening his position on abortion and beefing up his support for in vitro fertilization ahead of the 2024 general election.

Former President Donald Trump has a history of criticizing heartbeat bills when they come from his political rivals, misrepresenting the Supreme Court’s landmark Dobbs v. Jackson decision, and wrongfully blaming Republicans’ 2022 midterm losses on their unapologetically pro-life positions. His recent declaration on “abortion rights” only further confirms that his once-celebrated pro-life track record doesn’t meet voters’ demands of a Republican president.

 * "YouTube Spreads Abortion Pill Misinformation" (Stephen Kokx, Human Life Review)

From the article -- Pro-lifers point out that while abortion pills are dangerous in themselves, using them alone and without medical supervision can be especially harmful. To that end, ADF released a video in February titled “Abortion Drugs are High-Risk. We must hold the FDA Accountable for Removing Commonsense Safeguards.” The minute-long clip featured a woman who said she suffered “intense pain and prolonged bleeding” after taking abortion pills on her own.

YouTube added a “context” note to the video in response, claiming that abortion, whether medicinal or surgical, is “done by a licensed healthcare professional.” Attorneys generals from 16 states sent a letter to YouTube CEO Neal Mohan arguing that the note was not only misleading but also false, as chemical abortions are NOT done “by a health professional.”

* "Admit it, Dawkins, you totally screwed up" (Laura Perrins, The Conservative Woman)

From the article -- Dawkins was part of a group of New Atheists who after 9/11 were all the rage for a while, a bit like bell bottoms, although you don’t hear much from them now. Goodness, what an insufferably smug bunch they were: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, as well as Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hitchens has passed on and Ayaan Hirsi Ali has converted to Christianity. Dawkins now declares himself a ‘cultural Christian’..

I can perhaps understand why Dawkins and Co didn’t want to focus on Islamic extremism and instead pushed the idea that children gathering around the crib at Christmastime was just as mad and bad as flying planes into buildings. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, and if you want to stay alive these days, best to keep your mouth shut when talking about certain belief systems. Still, Dawkins is now in a panic. He is suffering from buyer’s remorse.

* "Repentance Brings Revival" (Franklin Graham, Decision)

From the article -- Few were worse than King Manasseh, the son of righteous King Hezekiah. His 55-year reign was marked by great wickedness and evil. He did evil in the sight of the Lord. He built altars to false gods. He practiced sorcery and divination, and even sacrificed his very own son in the fire. He also shed much innocent blood (2 Kings 21:1-18). Can you even imagine such evil?  The compiler of the Chronicles, however, pens a wonderfully encouraging addition to the distressing narrative of the kings that should give hope to all who feel they are unworthy of God’s reconciling love, even those who have committed great sin in their lives. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

“A Test of Character” (On Reading The Wind In the Willows)

Claire and I just finished another interesting and inspiring online Hillsdale College course, this one entitled “Classic Children’s Literature.” And that has prompted me to drop into Vital Signs Blog another quick post on the subject. You see, I have already posted a column dealing with children’s literature earlier this week. That short piece (“What’s Missing from the Guardian’s List of Books For Boys? Plenty!”) was prompted by a request from a friend here in our neighborhood who needed ideas on books for his son. 

But today, sparked by Dr. Daniel Coupland’s closing Hillsdale lecture on Kenneth Grahame’s delightful The Wind In the Willows, I’m moving again into the realm of children’s fiction with a short column which I sincerely hope will be an encouragement for you yourself to take a trip with Ratty, Badger, Mole, and Mr. Toad very soon. (And, by all means, don’t wait until you have a kid around! The book is a gem for perceptive adult souls too.)

“A Test of Character” (On Reading The Wind In the Willows)

The intriguing, heartwarming, and much beloved book The Wind in the Willows began as tales told by Scottish-born banker Kenneth Grahame to his only child, Alastair whose premature birth created such health issues as being blind in one eye. Alastaire loved his father’s stories but they  ended up going much farther afield, even winning the praises of such notables as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, A.A. Milne, and President Teddy Roosevelt. Indeed, Roosevelt is not only credited with persuading Scribners to publish the book in the first place, the President wrote a letter to Grahame from the White House enthusiastically thanking him for his effort and told him that he considered the characters in the book to have now become his “dear friends.” 

You say you haven’t read it lately? Maybe even since the days of childhood? Well, I would urge you to discover afresh the joys, the beauty, and the profound life lessons of The Wind in the Willows. And to further whet your appetite, let me pass along a few remarkable responses to Graham’s classic, including famed Vanity Fare editor Richard Middleton who said of The Wind In the Willows, “It is the best book ever written for children and one of the best written for adults”.

And check out the opinions of A.A. Milne, the celebrated author who gave us the Winnie the Pooh stories. Milne once said of The Wind in the Willows: “I shall not describe the book, for no description would help it.  But I shall just say this; that it is what I call a Household Book.  By a Household Book I mean a book which everybody in the household loves and quotes continually ever afterwards; a book which is read aloud to every new guest, and is regarded as the touchstone of his worth.  But it is a book which makes you feel that, though everybody in the house loves it, it is only you who really appreciate it in its true value, and that the others are scarcely worthy of it.  It is obvious, you persuade yourself, that the author was thinking of you when he wrote it.  ‘I hope this will please Jones,’ were his final words, as he laid down his pen.”

Here’s yet another sparkling observation from Milne: “One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and, if she does not like it, he asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The book is a test of character. We can't criticize it, because it is criticizing us. But I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down to it, don't be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgment on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself. You may be worthy: I don’t know. But it is you who are on trial.”

C.S. Lewis also chimed in on The Wind in the Willows. “It might be expected that such a book would unfit us for the harshness of reality and send us back to our daily lives unsettled and discontented. I do not find that it does so. The happiness which it presents to us is, in fact, full of the simplest and most attainable things -- food, sleep, exercise, friendship, the face of nature, even (in a sense) religion. That ‘simple but sustaining meal’ of ‘bacon and broad beans and a macaroni pudding’ which Rat gave to his friends has, I doubt not, helped down many a real nursery dinner. And in the same way the whole story, paradoxically enough, strengthens our relish for real life. This excursion into the preposterous sends us back with renewed pleasure to the actual.” 

Elsewhere Lewis wrote, “I never met The Wind in the Willows or the Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.” 

And finally, here’s one more. G.K. Chesterton scholar James Woodruff once named The Wind in the Willows as the most Chestertonian thing ever written…by anyone other than Chesterton, that is. He claimed this was because it is “a celebration of the primal things Chesterton loved -- Home and Friendship and Adventure -- all suffused with a sense of wonder and lived out by characters who write poetry and go forth to battle and both eat and drink with right good will.”

So how can I add anything else to these superb testimonies? Suffice it to say, that I too did not come to The Wind In the Willows until my adulthood. But, bless the Lord, that I finally did discover the Riverbank, the Wild Wood, Toad Hall, and the other enduring locales found in Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful world -- complete with the matchless illustrations provided by Ernest H. Shepard. My, my; this book has deepened my wonder and appreciation of so many grand things: God’s rich and intriguing Creation, home, faithfulness, friendship, kindness, the responsibility to defend the young and the innocent, hospitality, the noble longing for adventure that lies in each human heart, and the need to courageously fight for the right. 

The Wind In the Willows -- go and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

A Unique Dickens Novel

I have been hanging out a bit with Charles Dickens here in the first quarter of 2024; first with a re-reading of the massive David Copperfield and then, more recently, with another rewarding re-read of A Tale of Two Cities. Both novels were wonderful challenges with important and fresh value.

David Copperfield is classic Dickens -- exquisite descriptions, the vivid creation of emotion and mood, enlightening analyses of both social conditions and individual character, a bountiful cast of intriguing personalities, occasional moments of high comedy and satire, and elaborate plot lines full of surprise and drama and moral lessons. It was rich reading through all 682 pages.

But A Tale of Two Cities? That book is, in all the voluminous Dickens canon, absolutely one-of-a-kind. This striking description of the French Revolution is unrelentlessly intense. And the scenes, the spirit, the villains, the mad violence of the mobs, and then the bloodshed issuing from beneath guillotine, are unforgettable. The outrageous nihilism and irrational injustice which fed the Red Terror are presented by Charles Dickens in raw detail, making it impossible for the reader to ever again be swayed by arguments that the French Revolution was, in any way whatsoever, noble or measured or justified. 

And when I say unrelentlessly intense, I mean just that. For completely unique to Dickens novels, there was not one comic character in A Tale of Two Cities, not one comic scene. And even when the reader finds a witty or wry comment, it only serves to underscore the blasphemy and vile wickedness of which man, unmoored by Christian values, is capable.

And yet, set against the depth of depravity which was the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is also the most Christian, and thus most hopeful, of all of Charles Dickens’ novels. Yes, Dickens demonstrates the profound and enduring values of Christianity to the social order in almost all of his books. Those values provide the foundation for the powerful criticisms in his work of both individual baseness and social rot. But it is in A Tale of Two Cities where Dickens openly (even boldly) presents the power of the gospel in transforming an individual. Indeed, the finale of the novel not only presents a selfish, sardonic, wastrel becoming a forgiven and elevated hero, but it repeatedly points to the reason for that transformation being the character’s his meditations on and acceptance of Jesus momentous claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”

I have long maintained that A Tale of Two Cities was my least favorite of the Dickens novels. But, after reading it again -- for the 4th or 5th time by now -- I have raised it higher, much higher on the scale. 

Yes, Virginia; Books Are Still Appreciated Here

For several reasons, my reading started slow in 2024, but I’m pleased that it picked up to a more normal pace in March. And there have been in that mix a couple of clunkers, several very enjoyable “pleasure reads,” and a few really outstanding books of which I pass along my highest recommendations. Here is a quick breakdown...

First the “clunkers,” those books that rate 2 stars or less. Those would be: Piercing the Reich by Joseph Persico (Can you believe that a history of late WWII espionage could actually be boring? This one was.)  Nightmare in Pink by John D. MacDonald proved to be one of the least plausible, least captivating in the whole series of Travis McGee novels, a series that I usually like quite a bit. The same kind of disappointment came when I finished San Andreas by Alistair MacLean for, generally speaking, I love MacLean’s well-paced adventure thrillers. And finally, this time around, I found Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea rather flat. I even had to prod myself into finishing it.

I had much better fare when reading these 3 star books: Fear Is the Key (Alistair MacLean), Eavesdropping on Lucifer (Don Stenberg), The African Queen (C.S. Forester), From Prison Ministry to Prison (ChristyAnne Collins), The Romantic Prince (Rafael Sabatini), Silver Dollar: The Story of the Tabors (David Karsner), It’s Your Turn, Mr. Moto (John P. Marquand), A Man Lay Dead (Ngaio Marsh), Hickory Hickory Dock (Agatha Christie), Seawitch (Alistair MacLean), The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (Adrain Conan Doyle, John Dickson Carr), and A Purple Place for Dying (John D. MacDonald).

And finally, the best reads of the quarter -- all fully deserving of the 4 stars: David Copperfield (Charles Dickens), Redeemed: My Journey After Abortion (Toni McFadden), Decades of Decadence: How Our Spoiled Elites Blew America's Inheritance of Liberty, Security, and Prosperity (Marco Rubio), No Little People: Sixteen Sermons for the 20th Century (Francis Schaeffer), and A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens).

Monday, April 08, 2024

What’s Missing from the Guardian's List of Books For Boys? Plenty!

It has been 16 or 17 years since I first described my frustration and disdain differences with the list of “160 Books All Boys Should Read” by one of England’s most left-leaning newspapers, the Guardian. But because a friend and mountain-climbing colleague recently asked me about books I might recommend for his son, I am posting an updated version of the piece I originally wrote in response to the Guardian’s list. Here it is...

The Guardian’s list of “160 Books All Boys Should Read” was not only a very disappointing compilation, it was an absolutely terrible list, a compelling example of just how far Western cultural standards have devolved in these last decades of mediocrity, leftist political-correctness, and the wacky insistences of the woke crowd. 

Out of that entire 160, there were just 8 books of their entire 160 that I, a lifelong reader, and one who holds a particular endearment for classic children’s literature, had read. No, that’s not exactly true. Make that only 7, because my version of Kidnapped was, alas, not the “graphic novel in full colour” edition that made the Guardian’s list.

Those 7, by the way, were Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also by Mark Twain.

Therefore, what was most significant (and sadly inexplicable) was what the list left out. Here are just a few of the most serious omissions. Not only was the rest of JRR Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings series nowhere to be found in that whole 160 books, there was not one Sir Walter Scott title that made the list. Not Ivanhoe; not Rob Roy; not even the moving poetry of The Lady of the Lake. None! Furthermore, there were no Jack London titles. No G.A. Henty. No James Fenimore Cooper, John Buchan, Jules Verne, A.A. Milne, or Edgar Allan Poe. Unbelievably, there wasn’t any recommendation for Arthur Conan Doyle -- not The White Company, not The Lost World and, quite shockingly, none of the Sherlock Holmes collections.  

But, amazing as this has already been, that’s not all!

Watership Down didn’t make the list, nor did Kon-Tiki, Raffles, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Johnny Tremain, Robin Hood, Sink the Bismarck, The Iliad, or Knights of the Round Table, or any of the Hardy Boys or Tom Swift mysteries. 

Even the Bible was absent!

Peter Pan author James Barrie was missing from the Guardian list of “160 Books All Boys Should Read” of list. So too were James Herriot, O. Henry, Herman Melville, Rafael Sabatini, and the Brothers Grimm. And, though it’s really hard to believe, but the vapid and inane Guardian list didn’t even recommend Charles Dickens or Alexander Dumas!

Almost needless to say then, Jonathan Swift wasn’t there. H.G. Wells wasn’t there. G.K. Chesterton, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Washington Irving were not there. A.E. W. Mason or H.E. Bates were not there. And even taller literary giants were inexplicably left cooling their heels in the Guardian’s outer office: George Orwell, Victor Hugo, Kenneth Grahame, C. S. Forester, and Horatio Alger.

Tarka the Otter was missing. So was The Song of Roland and Don Quixote and Lorna Doone and The Neverending Story and The Wizard of Oz and The Prisoner of Zenda, no Ben-Hur…and none of the absolute gems from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

Of course, you can guess by now that such sparkling historians as Winston Churchill, Samuel Eliot Morison, Walter Lord, Shelby Foote, and John Toland were not in the list. That too is an inexcusable crime.

Going through this list of “160 Books That All Boys Should Read” was, to say the very least, a sad and very disconcerting experience. And, feeling that I need to respond in some way more positive than just running into the night screaming, I pass along these humble paragraphs with their reminders of what exceptional “boy’s books” are still there waiting to enlighten, thrill, and inspire to manly virtues.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

The Top 5 (March 6)

* "CDC Releases Hidden COVID-19 Vaccine Injury Reports" (Zachary Stieber, Epoch Times)

From the article -- "However, according to data released in 2022 as a result of a different lawsuit, nearly 8 percent of the 10 million users required medical attention or hospital care after vaccination, and many others reported missing school, work, or other normal activities."

* "Living in the Land of the Enemy" (Tom Gilson, The Stream)

From the article -- "Joe Biden’s support for 'Trangender Day of Visibility' on Easter Sunday was a sharp slap in the face of Christ and Christianity. He might as well have called Christians “enemies of the land.” I’m sure he sees us as enemies (politically if not officially). His party has been telling us that in so many words for years now. This raises a disturbing yet unavoidable question for believers: Does that make Biden our enemy, too? What about other progressives, especially their leaders, who stand just as strongly against our beliefs and values? Are they our enemies, too?"

* "Abortion Pills and the Supreme Court" (Edward Mechmann, Human Life Review)

From the article -- "Chemical abortion is a two-drug process intended to kill and expel a developing child from the womb in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The first drug is mifepristone. Its only purpose is to kill a baby in the womb by denying her nutrition and oxygen. The second drug, misoprostol, is used for legitimate purposes but is also used for chemical abortions as well. According to recent reports, over 60% of abortions are currently performed this way."

* "Scotland’s new hate crime law is no laughing matter" (David Robertson, (The Wee Flea)

From the article -- "This means that the subjective feeling of a perceived victim, or of a policeman, could be enough to have you accused of a hate crime – one which carries a sentence of up to seven years." and "The police in Scotland have said they will investigate every report of hate crime, despite having recently announced that they would not be investigating every case of ‘low level’ crime, including apparently some cases of theft!"

* "The WHO’s Power Grab" (John Tierney, City Journal)

From the article -- "The response to Covid was the greatest mistake in the history of the public-health profession, but the officials responsible for it are determined to do even worse. With the support of the Biden administration, the World Health Organization (WHO) is seeking unprecedented powers to impose its policies on the United States and the rest of the world during the next pandemic."