Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries,                                      November 2023

During one of my walks along Table Rock Lake (which are a standard feature in our annual 2-week working vacation down here in Branson), a couple I encountered on the trail gave the following response when I wished them a good afternoon, “You sure seem to be walking with a purpose!” I merely chuckled, gave them a compliment about their dog, and moved on along. But that comment came back to me when Claire and I were praying later, and it comes back to me now in the early morning hours of the next day as I sip coffee at the Branson Panera.

“You sure seem to be walking with a purpose.”

The fellow’s remark was prompted because he saw me walking in jean shorts, tennis shoes, a sleeveless T-shirt (on which I have a pedometer attached), and taking long strides at a pretty fast clip. So, yes; he was right. I was indeed walking with purpose — actually several of them. Purposes of reducing both my weight and my width. Purposes of meditation and intercession. And, on those days when I’m blessed to have Claire alongside me, purposes of stimulating conversation too. But I bring the incident up in this Vital Signs letter to suggest that more than being just an interesting complement, the man’s remark serves as a fresh spur to me (and, I hope, to you too) regarding the crucial importance of intentionality, effort, and perseverance in our life of faith.

Do you recall the number of times that the Bible uses the metaphor of walking to describe our part in sanctification? We are told, for instance, “to walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4); that is, to walk dramatically different than how we walked when we were apart from Christ.  We are to “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7). We are to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). We are to “walk in good works” (Ephesians 2:10). We are to “walk in love” (Ephesians 5:2). We are to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Get the picture? Because we have been forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Christ’s atoning death, we are to carefully, consistently walk in the purposes these Scriptures command.

And just as my walk at the lake was noticed that day, so too will my walk through life be noticed if it is liberally laced with faith, light, and love. As the apostle Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:1, we are “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling” of our heavenly Father. Now, of course, such a walk, being remarkably different from the norm, will not only be noticed but, depending upon the character of the observer, our “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10) will either draw men by its winsomeness, or it will repel them by its conviction of their sin and unbelief. One or the other. But that fear of what unbelievers will say about us is why so many Christians refuse to take God’s challenge “to walk before God in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul” (1 Kings 2:4). Such indifference leads to outright cowardice. That’s bad enough. But the next steps backward are towards compromise with the world and eventually a slavish conformity to it. What lousy thinking. What terrible choices. And it was this type of tragic betrayal that Paul addressed later in Ephesians 4 when he urged Christians to “no longer walk as unbelievers walk in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them.” (Ephesians 4:17,18).

No, God forbid! We who are in Christ have such a higher and more beautiful calling. After all, the debts of our sins have been paid in full by His atoning death. We are holy, set apart for God. We have the spiritual mysteries of the ages revealed to us through His Word. God’s righteousness has been imparted to us and we have the power of the Holy Spirit resident in our hearts. We have the confident assurance of heaven with all of its glories, rewards, and peace. Dear brothers and sisters, why oh, why should we bother about the world’s opinions? Why should we be distracted from our position in Christ and our loyal duties as His ambassadors by any of the world’s foolish fashions and frivolities? “Therefore, be careful of how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time.” (Ephesians 5: 15,16)

“You sure seem to be walking with a purpose.” Amen. And walking, as we’ve seen in its biblical sense, requires intentionality, effort, and progress. Lord, may this ever be an apt description of us as we walk the pilgrim pathways towards our heavenly home.

Okay, speaking of pilgrim pathways, let me share a few “snapshots’ from the last few weeks of Claire’s and my ministry pathways before I pass along news of upcoming activities.

* Cutting up donuts and helping my little sister eat them was one of the tender moments in our latest visit with Sherry down in Wichita. My youngest brother Ric and his wife Ellen had driven in from Denver during those days and so we had a mini-family reunion in the care facility there. It remains a heartbreaking experience to see my beloved little sister deal with this severe (and tragically early) dementia, yet we are grateful for every moment we have together — every smile, every laugh, every tear, every embrace, every memory, and every reminder that one marvelous (and everlasting) morning, our time together will be spent in wholeness, happiness, beauty, peace, and glory. Come, Lord Jesus.

* We had just enjoyed a wonderful visit at a rehab facility with one of the members of our Aksarben Village Senior Living Sunday afternoon church who has been there for several weeks after suffering a fall. (We are practically her only visitors.) However, the moment we particularly cherished was when our friend had the nurse aid help her get to the door nearest her room so she could wave goodbye to us through the glass. Oh, the deep needs people have for spiritual connections…and how very simple it can be for us to help meet those needs.

* As the culture grows darker, as our bodies weaken under the rigors of age, as our spirits yearn all the more for the Lord’s return, we find sessions of prayer all the more necessary and precious. Especially important to Claire and I are our daily “12 and 12” prayers (you will have to ask us about that sometime); prayers as we drive in the car or sit out on the deck; prayers when Quint calls on Thursday mornings as Patrick, John, and I are having coffee; and the intense prayer meetings we hold in front of the abortion business that also serve as a winsome pro-life witness. And then there’s our prayer walks (including the ones occurring as we hike the Table Rock Lake trail down here) which are also of significant value…both in simple fellowship with the Lord and in advocacy and intercession ministries. But as we approach the holiday season, Claire and I are going to try something else too, something brand new for us. As an extension of our journal and Thanksgiving Jar disciplines, we are going to try writing out an occasional prayer. There are others who have found this to be an inspirational exercise and so we’re going to give it a try. We will let you know how it goes.

* We never get tired of seeing how grand an effect can be accomplished by such simple ministries as paying a visit or writing a card or making a phone call. For, make no mistake, even these modest acts of kindness are also ways to “walk with a purpose.” Furthermore, they demonstrate that “divine appointments” are not only opportunities that drop out of the blue; they are also moments of ministry that are deliberately planned and prepared for. Examples? The gift of Claire’s chocolate chip cookies or a selection of the greeting cards we have made which feature photos I’ve taken in my Colorado 14er climbs elicit the most remarkable receptions. A few phone calls and text messages that we made during a pause in our walk along the Table Rock Lake trail proved absolute delights to those on the other end. Recording some music onto CDs for a friend in a senior facility, sending Auden’s “Night Mail” to a person who loves poetry, sharing relevant Scriptures with ones in need of assistance and cheer — these are only a few of the many things we can easily do (all of us!) to shine the light of God’s love. Remember the commands of Hebrews 10:24 and 25? “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” And “encourage one another and all the more as you see the day draw near.”

* The woman in the blue dress looked like she might be one of the “problem people” that the activity director in charge of the memory unit had warned us about. After all, the woman was anxiously fidgeting, frowning at everyone around her, and complaining about the volume of our “When Swing Was King” show even when it was about as low as we could go if we wanted everyone else to still hear the music. In fact, after the first song, the woman got up and walked out. However, after a few minutes more, she sauntered back in, and this time she came over and sat right next to me. She was staring at me in what certainly appeared a scowl of disapproval. I smiled warmly and told her I was sure glad that she came back, but the ice still didn’t seem to be thawing any! That is, not until a few minutes went by of the show. Slowly, the lady’s stern visage relaxed until a faint smile actually appeared. And when Dick Haymes began to croon the 1943 hit, “You’ll Never Know,” the woman touched my arm and said, “I know this song.” I asked her, “Do you know the words?” And, in answer, she began to sing in a very pleasant voice, every single lyric. I was so deeply touched that I joined her. (Yes, I know these old songs too!) The woman’s face almost beamed as she and I (and Dick Haymes, of course) sang that song. It was an exquisite moment. For at least those 3 minutes, we were not weighed down by Alzheimer’s or confusion or loneliness; we were just regular people enjoying lovely music, the satisfying joy of remembering song lyrics, and something that knows no equal — the overwhelming comfort of human contact. Now it’s likely that this dear woman will not remember the moments we sang together that morning but, by the grace of God, Claire and I will never forget them.

* Seeing me reading the Bible and taking notes, the young man crossed the Panera restaurant down here in Branson and asked me, “Sir, are you a pastor?” I explained that no, even though I was preparing for a couple of upcoming sermons, I wasn’t a pastor but simply a longtime student of the Bible. I asked him if he’d like to sit down and he did. It turned out that Josh has been for some time a counselor/organizer at the nearby Kanakuk Camp; he’s recently married; and taking seminary courses. And, as our talk continued, Josh found not only my ideas about hermeneutics and sermon preparation of great interest, but we discovered that my pro-life ministries were also gratifying to him for he himself is involved in a local CPC.  It was a lively and faith-building conversation that we both enjoyed very much. But that’s not the end of the story. A couple of mornings later, I found out that a 79-year old local fellow had overheard a great deal of Josh and I talking and he had learned, as he put it, “an awful lot about Bible study even though I’ve been working at that myself since I was 19.”

* We were still at the Lake where Claire had just finished recording my short sermon that she would now prepare to send back to Keith for presentation at the Sunday afternoon church service at Aksarben Village when we received the most encouraging call from Joanne back in Omaha. Joanne had just finished reading The Christmas Room which she had received at a September pro-life luncheon where Claire and I were the speakers. She absolutely loved the book and told Claire that though she isn’t much of a reader, she couldn’t stop turning the pages of The Christmas Room. In fact, she had read the whole novel straight through. Her heart was so blessed that she was going to read it again…and she ordered 7 other copies because she is going to give them as Christmas presents this Yuletide! What a nice part of our afternoon that was.

Well, okay; I need to close this month’s letter because we have some more walking to do. And I’m not talking only about the sanctification adventure; I mean it quite literally. We have another 5.8-mile walk coming up this afternoon around Table Rock Lake! But before I sign off, let me slip in a couple of reminders about upcoming Vital Signs opportunities.

The Christmas card edition of our letter-writing meetings will be on Monday, November 27. Morning and evening. And the next Vital Signs Book Brunch will be on Saturday morning, December 9. The book under discussion will be a short but important one, Eric Metaxas’ Letter to the American Church. Also, remember that we asked you last month to consider being a Vital Signs “cheerleader” by encouraging your pastor, youth pastor, seniors pastor, etc. to invite us to present a showing of our Christmas “When Swing Was King” in late November or December? Well, since we only had one response to that call, we’re daring to ask it again.


But be doers of the word,
and not hearers only.