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Living Off-Line

Dear friends,                                                                           February 2012

                For almost two weeks now my cyber-life has been on hold – no blogging, no time on Facebook, almost no time on the internet whatsoever.  But I’m not on vacation.  I just decided I needed a break in order to better catch up on other responsibilities.  And it turned out to be providential as a couple of unexpected duties were pressed upon us; namely, Claire going to the ER for what we feared was a heart attack and my need to minister to a family whose loved one passed away.

                In the first crisis, Claire was given a complete heart work-up.  This involved repeated blood tests over several hours, chest x-rays, CAT scan and stress echo test.  They did this because of Claire’s symptoms and because of family history – her father died of heart failure four days after he turned 43.  Claire had been experiencing some chest pain (which she hadn’t mentioned to me!) but during an afternoon presentation of “When Swing Was King,” she began to feel very bad.  The pain intensified in the chest and was also moving down her arm and up into her neck.  She was ashen white, hot and was finding her surroundings, to use her words, a bit “surreal.”  We headed for the Lakeside ER as we called Ralph’s office to find out what we should do.  They said to go on to the hospital.  We did and, for about 7 hours, that’s where we were.  The stress echo test was the next morning.

                The result?  Claire’s heart is great.  That’s wonderful news.  However, in addition to her irritable bowel syndrome, she has now developed acid reflux.  She has started on medication but it hasn’t kicked in completely yet.  Thank the Lord that because of diet and exercise Claire had brought down her blood pressure and cholesterol.  We’ll just have to intensify those things a bit to see if we can help improve these other problems.

                While this was going on, I also was trying to serve a family whose mother had died the previous Saturday night.  I had received a phone call from one of her sons informing me that his mom was very near death.  He explained that he knew I was always very busy but he wondered if I could somehow come and say a prayer over her with the family present.  Claire and I had been in Lincoln all day for the Walk for Life, hosting a Vital Signs booth and then lunching with the 22 friends from our little Faith Bible Church who had come down for the event.  And we were scheduled for our book club discussion that night.  But yes, I said, I’ll be there.

                I talked with the family (especially the sons whom I knew a bit from times they occasionally accompanied their mother to church) and led them in prayer over their mom.  Lucille was comatose and her breathing was increasingly shallow as I prayed – and about 15 minutes later, she passed on into the presence of her Savior.

                Tuesday morning I spent 2½ hours with the family (some of whom came in from Chicago and Texas).  Part of the reason I had asked to meet with them was to talk about their mom and sister so that my sermon the following day was thoroughly Lucille.  But the greater reason was that I know how important it is for spiritual perspective and emotional healing that family members freely talk about the loved one that has left them.  We had a very warm-hearted, moving conversation and I was really grateful to God for the many ways He blessed that time.

                It was that afternoon that Claire had to go to the hospital.

                I was preparing to call the family and get a substitute for conducting the funeral but Claire said no.  Because the initial heart tests were encouraging and because she was forced to lay there in the ER for another few hours before they did the next blood tests, she insisted I go on over to the mortuary that night for the visitation in order to make sure the funeral details were worked out.  Afterwards I returned, sat around talking until the results from the third tests came back clear and then took her home.  Early the next morning, we went back for the stress echo test.  Carol Moran met us there in order to drive Claire home while I wrote up the obituary and funeral sermon down in the hospital cafeteria.  The tests went quickly and contained more good news about Claire’s healthy heart.  And I was really comforted that she even managed to meet me over at the mortuary and be a part of Lucille’s funeral.  Things there (and at the gravesite and luncheon afterwards at the church) went extremely well and God was glorified by the exciting testimonies of a saint’s well-lived life.

                So, I hear you say, that was a pretty busy couple of days.  But what else has kept you off the internet these last couple of weeks?  Fair question. 

                One of the things I’ve been doing is sending out letters to 22 pastors reminding them of the very effective Christian witness represented by Vital Signs’ letter-writing parties.  My letters also included an offer that Claire and I would host a special letter writing party for members of their congregations.  We would provide the action targets, the stationery and stamps, even the dessert treats.  I explained that the outreach would be specifically tailored for their congregation (each action item would be pre-approved by the pastor, letters to church missionaries would be included, etc.) and, if the church members found it to be a profitable ministry, they could then take on subsequent letter-writing events themselves. 

                As I wrote, “These advocacy events present a practical, pleasant way for Christians to express their biblical convictions to those in the public square.  It is one of the ways that believers in Jesus can be lightbearers for His righteousness, choosing to shine rather than merely whine about how bad things are!  And given relevant information and direction, these letter-writing parties go a long way in helping Christians be more informed, more encouraged, and better equipped to give a reasonable, courteous and principled defense of their views.”

                At the end of my letters, I asked the pastors to give us a call or send along an e-mail if the idea had any appeal to them…if they thought that such a letter-writing party might make a relevant part of their church’s public witness in 2012.

                Well, it’s been more than two weeks and I’ve yet to receive a reply.

                So, let’s add it up.  Evangelical churches don’t show up for the Walk for Life or the Life Chain.  Only a handful of these churches support the AAA Center for Pregnancy Counseling.  Pastors are very rarely involved in Sanctity of Life Sunday; they are very rarely involved in testifying for pro-life, pro-family legislation; they very rarely pray at the abortion mills; and they very rarely preach on sanctity of life topics or promote congregational prayer for abortion, euthanasia, embryo experimentation and so on.

                But the appalling and outrageously evil killing of preborn boys and girls continues every single day in American cities.  Am I wrong to think that evangelical pastors should be doing…something?

                Anyway, on to other matters.  Also on the schedule these last couple of weeks has been an extensive revision of “When Swing Was King.”  This has involved: 1) locating hundreds of new photos for the Power Point slides which accompany the music, 2) editing and improving the categorization of the photos already acquired, 3) editing, amplifying, and reinstalling all the songs from the first six volumes (because I didn’t know how to do it properly when we first got started), 4) revising each individual volume by replacing photos and even some songs, and 5) creating another six volumes to insure that each program is fresh and exciting for our audiences in the nursing homes and assisted living centers.

                It is very time-consuming work.  But, with the response of the audience being more enthusiastic and grateful than ever, it’s more than worth it.  Yesterday, for instance, every one of the 24 people in the audience made a point to come thank us for the program, tell us how wonderful the music and pictures and commentary were, tell us how much they look forward to us coming, and imploring us to keep coming back.  Words cannot adequately express how blessed we are to have been given this extraordinary ministry from God.

               “When Swing Was King” actually was getting so popular (remember, we did the Christmas volume 17 times!), that we needed to scale things back in order to make sure we got all of our other Vital Signs work done.  So for 2012, we have decided to do presentations only at those facilities where they schedule us every month.  That way we can maximize the relational element of the ministry as we get to know the residents better.  We know there will be a few exceptions to this rule but the regular order now is presenting “When Swing Was King” at 10 facilities every month: Life Care Center of Omaha, Immanuel Courtyard, Lindenwood, Skyline (the nursing home wing), Life Care Center of Elkhorn, Autumn Pointe in Fort Calhoun, North Crest in Council Bluffs, Heritage Pointe, Brookstone, and Walnut Grove.

                Now, before I close this month’s LifeSharer letter, let me briefly mention a few of the other matters that have occupied our time.  There’s been more work on our Russian-language website…correspondence regarding Komen and Planned Parenthood…correspondence regarding the immoral actions contemplated by the NU Regents and Omaha City Council…sidewalk counseling and prayer at the abortion mill…Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood activity…and my ongoing sermon series on Galatians for Faith Bible Church.  (By the way, you can listen to or download these sermons at http://www.vitalsignsministries.org/index.php/media.)

                And one more thing, I’ve immensely appreciated reading three books in recent weeks, all of them dealing with World War II.  I can recommend all of them very highly.  They are: Bob Greene’s deeply inspiring Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen; Jeff Shaara’s historical novel, The Final Storm: A Novel of the War in the Pacific; and the masterful new 608-page book by British historian Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War.  For her part, Claire has read the first two plus another on the history of College of the Ozarks.

                Okay, that’s enough for one letter.  Please keep us in your prayers as God brings us to mind.  And keep in touch with us too on Vital Signs Blog and Facebook – I’ll be back there beginning this week!