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Branson, Election and Ministry

Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries,                       November 2016 

            This is one of those months when there’s just too much to write about – our working vacation in Branson, a response to the elections, the Vital Signs pie social and its inclusion of Claire and I celebrating 45 years of marriage, as well as several Christian service opportunities coming up in the next few weeks. However, I’ll try and run through at least a few of the highlights, hoping that they will be an encouragement to you to see how the Lord is blessing us, stretching us, and using us in a variety of ways.

            Let’s start with our time in the Ozarks the middle weeks of October. Why do we love going down to Branson in the fall? After all, we don’t fish or go boating. We very rarely take in the restaurants or the shows playing down on the strip. What we do love is the natural beauty, serenity, and the friendliness to faith and family that we find. But what exactly does fill up our time there?  Well, this time around we had 3 warm-hearted get-togethers with members of the Ellsworth side of my family. My Mom’s brother, Thomas, was the patriarch of a wonderful, godly family and his sweet wife Farris and several of their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren live in the Crane and Aurora areas. So they have become an important part of our trips. ----- Also, Claire got in quite a bit of work on the “Sentence Sermon” project that several friends and we are doing for our dear friend and former pastor, Darrell Scott. ----- I read 5 books while in Branson. 4 of them were great (Francis Schaeffer’s The Church Before the Watching World; Colin Duriez’ Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life; Randy Alcorn’s hand in Hand; Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur) but the other one, the October selection for our book club, was pretty lousy.

            I also managed to hike 9 out of the 12 days we were there, each hike being 7.5 miles. Claire accompanied me part of the way in 5 of those hikes, setting new distance records for herself. Way to go, babe! -----We took drives into the country, spent a lovely day at Dogwood Canyon, attended church twice at Williams Chapel on the College of the Ozarks campus, fed ducks on Lake Taneycomo 3 times, put together 2 Christmas jigsaw puzzles, did some Christmas shopping, wrote 70 letters and cards, and did some intense planning for our New Year Resolutions both for ourselves and Vital Signs Ministries.  We also spent a lot of splendid time talking, praying, and relaxing. 

            Okay, next topic – the elections.  We were, like most conservatives, bracing for the worst; namely, Hillary Clinton moving into the White House ready to unleash an unprecedented assault (yes, Barack Obama notwithstanding) upon sanctity of life laws and organizations, religious freedom, the rights of conscience, economic responsibility, ideals of law and order, and more.  But an astounding thing happened on the way to the media’s coronation of Secretary Clinton. Donald Trump won the Electoral College handily and is now our nation’s President-elect.  As you might guess, that result made the Vital Signs pie social much less of an “anxiety affair” than it could have been. Nevertheless, the comments I shared that evening with the 81 people who attended were pretty challenging. Now is certainly not a time to relax our attentiveness, the moral obligations we owe our country, or the priority obligations we owe to God.  Indeed, much of the talk I’d prepared when still assuming the Democrats would win the day remained every bit as relevant though the Republicans ended winning big. 

            Can we trust the Republicans? Well, we haven’t been able to trust them much in recent years. And Donald Trump represents a whole new batch of questions and worries and embarrassments. Nonetheless, I do believe the sweeping victories of the G.O.P. represent a respite for American culture and perhaps, through it, even the world. After all, imagine what a far left administration would have meant to the future of the Supreme Court, to crisis pregnancy centers and other pro-life advocates, to the livelihoods of bakers and florists and landlords and anyone else who took their religious convictions seriously. Imagine the increase in illegal immigration, the disdain for the Constitution and the rule of law, the further entrenchment of vote fraud, yet greater failures in education, increased religious intolerance in the public square, the further erosion of marriage and sexual morality. No, it looks like we have been spared (momentarily, at least) from the worst that would have befallen us.

            Yet my remarks at the pie social emphasized what Christians should bravely, consistently, and winsomely be doing no matter who sits in the seats of governmental power. 1) Develop a counter-culture lifestyle, one that recognizes the awful results of worldliness. For instance, watch less TV and select very carefully the places where you get your news and commentary. Read more. Meditate on Scripture more. Pray more. Interact with others more, and not just via computer venues. 2) Reduce your HQ (hypocrisy quotient) by obeying God’s Word in all areas of life, trusting that He knows what is in our best interests. Eliminate the excuses, the easily-besetting sins, and the blind spots. 3) Invest in the world to come by carefully redeeming your time. Live in the light of your true (and forever) citizenship as you exemplify a living orthodoxy; that is, a life marked by both a knowledge and thorough practice of Bible doctrines. Like the EPM bookmark that we have enclosed with this letter suggests, embrace the blessed opportunity we have to live for the line and not the dot! 

            For a specific action step to get us started in the political/cultural realm, we asked those gathered at the pie social last week to sign petitions to President-elect Trump, Vice President-elect Pence, and our political representatives.  We would urge you to send along similar notes soon.  Here is an example:

Dear Senator Fischer,

Back in September, Donald Trump organized a pro-life coalition that he said would help him achieve four specific and critically important goals: 1) Nominate Justices to the Supreme Court who would be pro-life and strict constitutionalists; 2) Pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act; 3) De-fund the mega-abortion corporation that is Planned Parenthood; and 4) Make the Hyde Amendment permanent.

As pro-life Nebraskans, we enthusiastically applaud these goals, believing that they represent common-sense moral progress in our efforts to create a more just, more compassionate, more nurturing culture. And we write to urge you to please dedicate your own efforts to help President Trump keep his promises.

Thank you. You are all in our frequent and fervent prayers.

            Oh yes, there was another element of that pie social evening, one reflecting a more personal celebration. That was our showing a PowerPoint presentation of photographs from our 45 years of marriage accompanied by the three songs that Claire and I have long viewed as our songs. They were “In My Life” (Beatles), “For You” (John Denver), and “The Way You Look Tonight” (Fred Astaire).  This retrospective proved to be a hit with the crowd. It was interesting, fun, sometimes humorous, but also quite touching.  It was a wonderful way to celebrate the amazing blessing that has been our marriage and we were delighted to have so many of our friends share in the moment. Of course, the pie social also stimulated many marvelous conversations as people milled around the large room there at Hope Church. And everyone enjoyed the delicious pies that had been brought to the party.  It was a truly inspirational night for Claire and me…and we hope for everyone else. So many heroes in one room.  So uplifting the words of congratulations and camaraderie.  So encouraging the fellowship of such a noble band.

            Well, now…what else needs to be included in this November letter?  I’m delighted to pass on the news that our new quarterly “When Swing Was King” newsletter is a big hit with the residents of the 12 senior care facilities we visit every month.  The staff members of those centers also love it. That’s very pleasing to us because our purpose for these 4-page newsletters was to combine interesting big band trivia, humorous observations, and thoughtful quotes and Scriptures to make another winsome way to share truth with our “When Swing Was King” friends. In fact, the response has convinced us to add to our 4-season schedule a special Christmas edition.  We’re working on it now. 

            I see I’m nearing the end of page 3, so let me quickly mention a few more things before I close. First of all, we’re really looking forward to the upcoming Vital Signs letter-writing party. As you know, one of the Vital Signs Ministries activities that has been going on for more than 3 decades now is our quarterly letter-writing parties where we use the powers of prayer and the pen to promote issues of life, justice, religious freedom, and chivalry. We are hoping to broaden the base beyond the regular crew for this next party. We know you’ll find these letter-writing parties stimulating, fun, very do-able, and they’ll give you the satisfaction of engaging in an effectively “salty” Christian witness. The event will be held at our home on Tuesday night, November 29th from 7 to 9. We will be writing brief notes to be put in Christmas cards to, of course, our political representatives but also to business leaders, retired and injured members of the military, Christians imprisoned for their faith around the world, and heroes of the faith who deserve sincere thank-yous. Just call or email us if you’d like to participate. We would love to have you 

            2) Several of the Vital Signs team stand together in prayer and public witness in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion business (2 blocks north of Maple on 93rd Street) every 1st and 3rd Saturday mornings from 8 to 9 AND the 1st and 3rd Monday mornings from 8 to 9:30. We would love to have you join us whenever you can. Our long tradition is to also include the singing of some Christmas carols on those December Saturdays.

            3) We believe that every “When Swing Was King” presentation is something quite warm and wonderful. And we’re thrilled that our audiences think so too! Still, we would all agree that our program reaches its inspirational height with our Christmas show. We would invite you to come along to one of our December programs for what might well be one of the most Christmassy moments of your whole season. The schedule is on the Vital Signs website.

            4) And speaking of Christmassy moments, we invite those of you who have not yet read my novel, A Christmas Room, to plan on enjoying it this December. One of the recent Amazon reviews of the book (written by a writer himself, Jack Niewold) included this opinion ---

            “I recently read Denny Hartford's heartwarming novel while in the process of applying for my certification in Clinical Pastoral Education. The confluence of these two events couldn't have been more timely. It's not merely that I was enlightened in regards to life in what we used to call nursing homes, but I gained insights into the kinds of people who make such institutions a success. Since I may one day soon be working in such a home, I feel better prepared for the kinds of dramas and crises that occur there.

            That's reason enough for you to buy and savor this delightful story. But there's more. Hartford's book has been personally encouraging to me. It is not inconceivable that in the not distant days ahead, I may find myself a resident of such a home. To know that there are the Carolyn Kovacs and Rita Costellos all around us is immensely hopeful.

            I recommend this book to pastors and lay workers who visit those in hospitals, rest homes and long-term care institutions. It might also find its way onto the training schedule of those who care for others in such places.

            Thanks to Denny Hartford for this true-to-life tale of grace and mercy.”

            Note -- Copies of A Christmas Room can be ordered from Amazon, or you can get autographed copies from Divine Truth and a couple of other local bookstores, or you can get them directly from us.

             Okay, as I said at the start of this letter, a lot has been going on but I hope these highlights have been informative and encouraging. As always, we send along our thanks to all of you for your support. The Vital Signs Ministries mailing list isn’t very large (less than 500 counting both email and regular post) and we’re aware that only a small percentage of you are able to help our work financially. Nevertheless, we are pleased to send these monthly letters out to everyone interested with hopes that you will pray as the Lord brings us to mind. Donations are greatly needed, of course, but encouragement, passing along information to others about Vital Signs Ministries, and fervent prayers…well, those kinds of support are also very precious and deeply appreciated. So thank you. Until next month’s letter or until we see you at one of the events mentioned above,