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An Apology from Aristides and VSM Notes

Dear friends and colleagues,                                                                    June 2017

            In this month’s letter I will jot down a few Vital Signs highlights from the past few weeks but I’ll do that a bit later. First of all, I’d like to pass along a striking testimony concerning the early Christians, a testimony that creates an important perspective on our ministry, our times, and the upward call of believers throughout the ages. I will quote from a document written by Aristides of Athens, the early 2nd Century philosopher who converted to Christianity and penned a critically important description of the early Church.  

            Most scholars believe that Aristides dedicated his Apology to Hadrian, the Emperor of Rome, who though a non-Christian was nevertheless interested in history, culture, and humanistic values. It is sad that this remarkable document is so little known, even in the Church, for it is a bold yet winsome argument that everyone (even unbelievers) would do well to honestly consider. 

            The section of the Apology I print below describes the lifestyle of early Christians as it regards the search for truth, virtues devoutly practiced, the attractiveness that a love of God produces, practical egalitarianism, deeds of mercy, and a confidence in a glorious life to come.

            But the Christians, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come.

            Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. They honor father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols made in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure. 

            And their oppressors they comfort and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.

            They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God.

            And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him, they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. 

            They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him.

            And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happens to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. And further if they see that any one of them dies in his ungodliness or in his sins, for him they grieve bitterly, and sorrow as for one who goes to meet his doom.

            Very moving. Very beautiful. And very convicting. Yet the high ideals Aristides presents are thoroughly biblical ideals and thus are eminently do-able when the believer yields his heart to the control of the Lord. So, let’s make sure we’re always aiming at those ideals. Yes, we confess to God whenever we sin and fail, but we have a duty (and the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us) to then put on again the armor of God and move out into the fray.

            I shared this excerpt from Aristides’ Apology recently on Vital Signs Blog and Facebook and I encourage you to pass it on also. It is a much-needed exhortation for the Church in our day.

            * Okay, let me move on and quickly tell you about some of the Vital Signs Ministries happenings from the past few weeks. The regular duties continue apace: the pro-life witness outside Planned Parenthood; the information and exhortations posted on the blogs and social media; correspondence and visitation; intercession; and “When Swing Was King.” Concerning that last item, we did our regular schedule of 12 senior care facilities last month (with the usual rave reviews!) but we also managed to fit in a “mini road-trip” to Fremont and Columbus where we did 5 more shows over 2 days.

            * One of the spin-off ministries from “When Swing Was King” that we are pleased to see taking off is the entertaining history presentations we offer to the senior care facilities where we take our music program. Although, I should point out, these talks are great for almost any group. For instance, my talk on “Piety on the Plains: A Church History of Omaha” has been given to church groups, Sunday school classes, even civic organizations. We encourage you to consider us coming with one of these talks to your group. Anyhow, back to the present point, I gave this talk at 2 senior care facilities in the last few weeks. Very good responses. By the way, this particular talk allows for a natural transition into a part of my Christian testimony.

            * At the invitation from a fellowship group with one of the local churches in Omaha, Claire and I facilitated a letter-writing evening. At that party, the 10 attendees (6 of whom the 10 had never done anything like this) jumped in with enthusiasm and purpose, so much so that we ended up with 43 pro-life and pro-family letters written at the evening’s end. By the way, the next Vital Signs letter-writing party is at our home on Tuesday, July 11th at 7:00 PM. We would love to have you join us. 

            * We were honored that Don & Alberta Kohls printed in the Omaha for Decency newsletter a recent LifeSharer letter which gave counsel on improving one’s prayer life.       

            * I have done a little preaching recently. I presented a sermon entitled “The Annunciation and It’s Amazing Aftermath” at two Sunday services of Community Bible Church and another entitled “Going Home: Are You Looking Forward To It?” at Grace Bible Church. I also gave the opening eulogy at the memorial service for Darrell Scott. 

            * Claire began a semi-official book club with Linda Osborne, Linda Scheffler, and Jean Lawson. They are reading and discussing Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

            * We are again making C.S. Lewis a starring feature of our summer by A) hosting parties where we show our guests a video of a one-man play in which David Payne portrays C.S. Lewis. (Thank you for the use of the DVD, Larry & Deb Harrold.)  B) hosting two other discussion parties with people who have promised to read two of Lewis’ classic works. Those parties are Monday, June 26th (covering Mere Christianity) and Saturday, August 12th (covering The Screwtape Letters). And C) we have recently finished the free online course on C.S. Lewis offered by Hillsdale College. Neat stuff. 

            * Oh, one more important thing -- last night was our quarterly Board meeting and we were pleased (and a little surprised) to give them (and now you) the very good news that for the 2nd straight quarter, Vital Signs Ministries’ accounts were in the black! We thank God for this gracious provision of funds and, of course, we ask Him to richly bless all of you who have made investments in Vital Signs Ministries. We are deeply grateful to all of you too. And that gratitude extends to those who frequently pray for us and who give us encouraging words in person or through correspondence. Until next time,