Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries, May 2023
It is one of the most dramatic and wonderful scenes in the New Testament – the people of the Gadarenes, prompted by the frightened testimony of the swineherds who had witnessed Jesus casting the legion of demons out of a terribly tormented man and into a pack of pigs, come out to the country “to see what happened.” And what do they encounter? The demon-possessed man they had known to roam free among the tombs, terrorizing anyone who came near with his nakedness, his loud cries, and his gruesome self-torture — the same man who was so crazy and violent and powerful that he had busted the chains and shackles with which they had tried to bind him — that same fellow was now sitting serenely alongside Jesus “clothed and in his right mind!” What a marvelous picture of the deliverance provided by the Lord. For when Jesus saves, it is not merely a matter of subtraction (i.e., the casting out of evil effects and influences) but also of transformation. This man had been freed from the demon’s control; but furthermore, he had been cleansed, empowered, and welcomed by the compassion of Christ into His service. Remember?
“And as He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was begging Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him,
‘Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.” (Mark 5:18-20)
I have always found this miracle exhilarating and motivating, in part because it emphasizes how positive and proactive is God’s mercy. His grace doesn’t just save us from sin (as awesome as that deliverance is!) but it also saves us for glory. For when we believe in Christ, He takes away our condemnation (completely and forever) but He also imparts into us His righteousness. He saves us. He gives us a new heart and a right mind. He adopts us into His forever family. And He sets us apart for His service.
In this month’s LifeSharer letter, I want to make some observations about that wonderful phrase “in his right mind.” And then I have a few illustrations of how Claire and I are trying to apply these lessons in our lives and in Vital Signs Ministries.
The Greek word translated “right mind” in Mark 5 and Luke 8 is “sophroneo.” It is a composite word which combines “sozo” (to save) with “phroneo” (mind, thought, intent) and the word (along with its various forms) describes a mind that is correct, healthy, filled with the right content, set on the right purposes. In the case of the formerly demon-possessed man, the word underscores the mind’s restoration to both wholeness and wholesomeness, freed from being blinded and perverted by Satan. “Sophroneo” and its other forms are found in Acts 26:25, Romans 12:3, 2 Corinthians 5:13, I Timothy 2:9 and 2:15, I Timothy 3:2, I Peter 4:7, and 6 times in Paul’s epistle to Titus! And the English translations? Right mind, sound mind, sober. The point made in all these verses is that the believer is to use the new mind God gave them and thus think correctly. Christians are to be clear-headed, seeing things as they truly are and not influenced by error, intoxicants, passion, fear, vanity, ambition, or anything else that would lead to false trails and bad ends. One might say, have your head screwed on tight. Get smart. Be right minded. And, my oh my, if there’s anything the world (and the Church) needs nowadays, it’s a lot more saints who are in their right minds.
How does this challenge play out with Claire and me? First and foremost, of course, are the obvious duties of sanctification, Bible study, prayer, and the pursuit of “love and good deeds,” which are incumbent on all believers. But within our specific responsibilities for Vital Signs Ministries, we have several things we do to keep in our right minds…as well as several ways in which we try and help others to do the same. Let’s look at just a few of these “sanity checks” as they’ve occurred since last month’s letter.
* The inspiration we receive from friends is an always-timely, deeply appreciated way of keeping us right-minded. Whether that comes from handwritten notes of thanks and encouragement (Thank you Ruth, Ruby, and Don!) and emails, calls, and comments with the same purpose, it is of tremendous value. Claire and I pursue the same goal in our own correspondence ministry. Every month we write a lot of notes inside those Colorado cards of ours and we also try and respond to the emails we receive. There are special correspondence projects too like VSM’s quarterly letter-writing parties and the letters Claire and I write every few months to everyone on our prayer list. In fact, we did that in April with 84 personal letters explaining the specific springboards we are using in our prayers for the next few months. Oh yes, there’s one more letter-writing task we engage in – writing letters to one another! And believe me, receiving letters with encouragement, gratitude, compliments, and expressions of love from those closest to you is an invaluable incentive to keep you thinking right.
* The appreciations expressed to us from our “When Swing Was King” audiences and the members of our Sunday afternoon church at Aksarben Village Senior Living are among the most cherished of all our “sanity checks.” For, as you might easily guess, we sure have a lot of moments where we wonder if we’re doing much good in the world. After all, the culture is extremely dark and cold and hostile to Christian activists. And even those within Church walls can be apathetic, unfriendly, even scornful of brethren who dare urge them to truly live as children of light. Imagine then how uplifting to us are testimonies like this one: “‘When Swing Was King’ is my absolute favorite thing in the month. It means so much to hear these songs and look at these pictures and be reminded of the times I was younger. Thank you for doing so much work for us.” Or there’s this one: “We are so grateful for you bringing church to us, and for doing everything so well and thoughtful. The songs are always inspirational and you say more of importance in your 10 minute sermons than most preachers do in an hour! And then for you all to stay and visit with us afterwards is wonderful. You really bless us!” Such comments mean the world to us. And yes, they help a great deal to keep us in our right minds.
* And do you know, we even find “sanity checks” in the actions of our enemies? That’s right. For instance, take a look at today’s headlines and how absurd and pernicious they reveal the world to be — the current insanity of gender denial; the promotion of sexual perversion through government schools and public libraries, the popular attraction to socialism, the antics of a grossly inept and easily-corrupted Nebraska Unicameral which proved unwilling to protect preborn boys and girls, etc. Certainly, no one in their “right mind” wants any part of such slimy wickedness. And here’s another one. Watching the abortion zealots who serve as “escorts” at Planned Parenthood as they engage in bizarre behavior, schoolyard provocations, and clownish dancing to profane music is most definitely a reminder of Who’s side one should be on! And a final example. Contemplating the current abode of the recently deceased Leroy Carhart, a particularly vile and barbaric abortionist who rejected our appeals (over many, many years) to repent and get in his “right mind” about his need for God’s mercies…well, that provides one of the most persuasive “sanity checks” of all.
* Right minds must also be concerned with the right content, the right priorities, and the right disciplines. For instance, what one watches and reads and listens to is very important — as are all the other things that occupy their time. Claire and I have been blessed in recent weeks in these pursuits in our Bible studies (Psalm 84, angels, the Pastoral epistles); our reading (Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Anthony Esolen’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and Benjamin Wiker’s 10 Books that Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help) and even our viewing (Hillsdale’s online course on The Inklings). And I’m pleased to say that our deliberate move away from Google and Facebook that we talked about last month is working out quite well.
* The goal of maintaining sound minds is also helped immeasurably by quality Christian fellowship – and plenty of it! For instance, our Tuesday and Thursday morning coffee meetings are very important “sanity checks.” So too are the less frequent but still wonderful in-person conversations, phone calls, networking with other pro-life groups (like my involvement with Business and Professional People for Life and our ongoing support for Assure Women’s Center), visitation in hospitals and senior facilities, and so on. And genuine friendship includes more than just “atta boys” but also the honest, robust sharpening of each other’s ideas and spiritual disciplines. Example? A friend recently called me about my recommendation a few months ago of a Nick Cannon pro-life video. My friend knew more about Cannon’s reputation than I did and so he expressed his disagreement with my recommendation. He did so very kindly, by the way, and though I still think there is significant value in the very moving story of Cannon’s deliverance from being aborted (even as I utilize other non-Christian comments and examples – so did the apostle Paul), I believe my friend’s warning was a good one. My recommendation should have made clearer that (apart from this particular video), Cannon’s opinions about life’s values are not at all to be commended, let alone applauded. Right thinking requires openness to reconsideration and I benefitted from my friend’s insight and concern.
Okay. I’ll close this morning by moving on to a few announcements of upcoming happenings for which we would appreciate your prayers and, when applicable, your physical involvement. 1) We recently returned from another trip to Wichita where we spent a couple of days with my little sister, Sherry. Her dementia continues to worsen, and we would deeply appreciate your remembering her in your prayers. 2) We have begun a new “watchman on the wall” service called The Top 5 in which we send to our mailing list every Saturday (or Friday night) links to five articles from the alternative media that I highly recommend. We believe it’s a way for Christians to stay abreast of at least some of the important news and commentary from the culture wars without being overwhelmed by information overload. 3) The next Vital Signs Book Brunch will be at our home on Saturday morning, June 24 at 10. The book under discussion will be a classic by C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength. The relevance of this novel is greater than ever and a discussion of it (by thoughtful people who actually read the book) will undoubtedly be of significant value. Please let us know soon if you’re interested.
That’s it for this month, my friends. But do remember you can always check in with Vital Signs Ministries’ website (where major changes are occurring) Vital Signs Blog (which will soon be established in a new home), our Twitter feed, and for those on our email list, the Top 5 recommendations every Saturday.
Denny & Claire