I considered several directions for this the first LifeSharer letter of 2018 but in the end I decided to do a brief review of 3 timely things: 1) our Christmas activities; 2) our Christmas resolutions; and 3) a few reading recommendations. Let’s go.
I) The Kaleidoscope of Christmas. As you all know by now, Christmas is a very big deal for Claire and me. And though it is certainly the most hectic season of the year for us, it is also the most wonderful. I list below the highlights from this year.
* The “When Swing Was King” Christmas shows in all 11 of the senior citizen facilities that we visit every month. The response was absolutely tremendous as exemplified in the comment of one of the residents who, through sweet tears, told Claire, “This was the most beautiful Christmas program I have ever seen!” We continually thank God for the series of miracles that is “When Swing Was King.” Indeed, the combination of beautiful music and pictures, the entertaining but also enlightening narration, the well-received quarterly newsletters, and the personal visits with people who become genuine friends have made for a very powerful outreach. (In next month’s letter, I will share a few particularly tender moments from the “When Swing Was King” ministry.)
* A very successful Christmas card edition of our quarterly letter-writing parties. Over 101 cards were sent out including 51 encouraging, Scripture-filled cards to Christians imprisoned for their faith around the world – and in their own language, no less! We are so pleased that the Voice of the Martyrs website has created this service.
* Several mornings in which our prayers and public pro-life witness outside Planned Parenthood were accompanied with our singing Christmas carols. Even in this dark, demonic place, we proclaimed through our pro-life signs and banners, our appeals to clients and workers, our concerted prayers and, in this season, through the singing aloud of Christmas carols the glory and grace of Jesus, He Who came into the world expressly to pay the penalty of man’s sin.
* Baking and decorating a ton of cookies for our party guests and to fill platters which we then delivered to neighbors, the staff at Life Care Center, the police and firefighters in our neighborhood, and several others.
* Hosting 16 Christmas dinners, brunches, or lunches throughout the season, involving (if my math is correct) 73 guests. That was a new record for us.
* The rest of our Christmas highlights? Reading. Music. Fires in the fireplace. Christmas eve with Claire’s family in Lincoln. Taking in a couple of bell choir recitals. Writing and reading Christmas cards. I also published through Amazon Kindle two Christmas-themed short stories and wrote a third. And finally, Claire and I spent one morning listening to heartwarming stories from family members of an elderly saint who had just died. Then, on the 3rd Day of Christmas, I conducted her memorial service. (My sermon included reading some of the lyrics of Stephen Curtis Chapman’s profound song, Going Home for Christmas.)
II) Purposefully Preparing for the New Year. We take very seriously our Christmas Resolutions. Why? Because God does. It is He, after all, Who commands His disciples to carefully pray, reflect, repent, correct, rededicate, strengthen, improve their serve, grow in love, and move forward in holiness. Therefore, we think through our resolutions, pray about them, discuss them with one another, and then give fresh vows to God as Christmas presents.
“From You comes my praise in the great assembly; I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.” (Psalm 22:25). “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And pay your vows to the Most High.” (Psalm 50:14). “Your vows are binding upon me, O God; I will render thank offerings to You.” (Psalm 56:12). Other Scriptures dealing with the making (and keeping) of vows can be found in Ecclesiastes 5:4-8, Jonah 2:9, Psalm 66:13-14, Psalm 116:12-18, Psalm 61:8, and more.
These resolutions, by the way, are not substitutes for dependence upon the Spirit’s power nor are they plans to somehow earn God’s favor through carnal efforts. Rather, they are acts of worship through obedience to His Word, a recognition that sanctification requires the Christian’s purposeful, sacrificial, and steadfast participation. (Do you remember the letter I wrote a few months ago about walking in the Spirit?)
And, after we make our resolutions, we do something else that we believe is critical to their successful accomplishment; namely, we set up quarterly evaluations of our resolutions. This helps keep our vows from being merely a New Year thing. Rather, they become an ongoing part of our commitment to Christ, a helpful way to check in with our resolutions throughout the year and either be encouraged with our progress or to correct course if that’s the need.
I recently heard that only 3% of Americans bother to set goals. That’s a very sad statistic since I believe it’s a key reason for the lack of efficiency, progress, self-esteem, happiness, and spiritual vitality we see in today’s world…including even in the lives of many Christians. As the old adage goes, if you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it! And many do just that. Perhaps it’s because of complacency, perhaps because of the tenacity of bad habits and easily-besetting sins, maybe because of bad doctrine or a false sense of security, or perhaps because people are too distracted by entertainment or chasing after wealth or enjoying the blame game by which they dismiss all responsibility for their lack of spiritual progress.
In whatever case, I urge such Christians to break free and, depending upon the liberating and empowering grace of God which is new every morning, to think through, pray about, and then make fresh resolutions in their relationship to Christ. If you would like a bit more on this subject, please check out the following articles now featured on the Vital Signs Ministries website -- “Want To Do Better In Your New Year's Resolutions?” and “The Thanksgiving Jar.”
III) On Reading. Let me begin this last section of the letter by giving you 10 good reasons why we should all read more.
10) Reading exercises your mind and imagination, allowing you to be a co-creator and not just a sponge. 9) Reading reduces stress. 8) Reading makes you smarter by increasing your vocabulary, your intellectual discernment, and your analytical thinking. 7) Reading improves your communication skills, both in writing and conversation. 6) Reading helps focus your concentration and improves your memory.
5) Reading makes you a more interesting person. 4) Reading reduces your dependence on the modern secular culture for entertainment choices. 3) Reading provides excellent opportunities for self-discovery. 2) Reading builds bridges and stimulates an appreciation of the creativity of God expressed through others. And 1) Reading keeps you away from the schlock that dominates modern television and film.
With these things in mind, let me make a few specific reading recommendations.
* Last year, for the first time ever, Claire and I managed to read through the entire Bible in a year. Yes, it was one of our Christmas resolutions and we were greatly helped in the effort by tackling the job together, by being part of a larger Facebook group committed to the same project (my younger sister Sherry down in Wichita was a part of this group too), and then reading along with Alexander Scourby’s masterful narration of the Bible recorded in 1950-1953. It’s an ambitious goal but certainly do-able. And any plan that increases your time in the Scriptures is a good one. (We have pledged to pursue this again in 2018.)
* Our Christmas resolutions for reading used to be pretty general as in “Read more quality stuff.” And that very line is again among this year’s resolutions. But we’ve also included some more specific items. Last year, for instance, I aimed at re-reading a lot of C.S. Lewis and successfully did so. I was also shooting for 12 Shakespeare plays but only managed 8. (I graded that a B.) I started Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness which was terrific but I somehow got distracted and never finished it. (That’s an F.) So I have renewed my resolve to start over and read it through this year. I’m already a bit more than halfway. It’s really good stuff and so I’m taking my time, making sure I’m thinking through the applications of what I’m learning. Might you be interested in reading it too? Maybe even getting together over a coffee to discuss it? We are convinced that one of the best stimulants to reading is to read things together. Give it a thought.
*And while you’re at it, you might consider reading along with us a few of the other books that are on the Vital Signs 2018 reading list. They include 2 books by Francis Schaeffer, No Little People and Genesis in Space and Time; Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World; and 2 titles from the amazing Joni Eareckson Tada, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty and Glorious Intruder: God's Presence in Life's Chaos.
* Claire has long loved the Mitford series by Jan Karon and in 2017 I finally joined her in that enthusiasm and appreciation. We both plan on reading several of these in the coming year. In addition, Claire is getting together with a few women to discuss each Mitford novel they read and they’re having a really good time doing so. (I think they are now on book four.) If you’re interested in joining them, please let Claire know soon.
* And a final note, one that may be of particular significance if you like to read classic fiction. We are starting a brand new book club. It isn’t to replace the one we’ve been enjoying for the past 26 years. No, that’s still going strong. This new one is the Wild Knight Literary Society (named after a provocative Chesterton poem) and is a book discussion group that will meet only quarterly. This will allow more careful readers and people whose reading time is limited to still get in some quality books during the year. Another unusual feature is that we are inviting into the Wild Knight group members far afield from Omaha who can check in electronically via email, a special Facebook page, and even participate in our discussions via Skype. Our first book in this new club (set for March) is the Sir Walter Scott classic, Ivanhoe. Again, if you’re at all interested, please let us know…and get a copy of Ivanhoe!
Okay, there you have it – a New Year’s LifeSharer letter with reviews, resolutions, and recommendations. What’s up next? Well, coming up here in January are our regular prayers and pro-life witness in front of Planned Parenthood; our 11 “When Swing Was King” presentations; and our various meetings, correspondence, and internet activity. In fact, we are nearly halfway through. We will also be doing some planning for a visit in early March from my Belarusian friend and ministry colleague, Hleb Yermakou; working on the late Darrell Scott’s Sentence Sermons; and taking a day off for a medical screening procedure. But the next morning (January 27), we will be in Lincoln for the annual Walk for Life, 10 o’clock at the north steps of the Capitol. We would love to see you there – at the Walk, by the way, not at the doctor’s!
Blessings and thanks so much for your prayers and financial support,