Monday, October 7, 2013

The Testimony of Philip P. Bliss, Hymnwriter and Song Leader

A couple weeks ago, our church choir did a concert that shared the story of the life of Philip P. Bliss, a 19th-century hymnwriter, song leader, and "chorister" [choir director] from Chicago.  Although he died at the young age of 38, he write many hymns and songs, and is best known for "It Is Well With My Soul," written after his four young children perished in a shipwreck.

Our church's choir director found the excerpt below and, at my request, shared it with me.  I lifted it from this website.  You can also find it here (Chapter 4).  It originally comes from a contemporary pastor's recollection of Bliss.

Please notice that Bliss believed church music to be integral to the worship, and that, contrary to ideas widespread today, those who participated needed to be singing for their God's glory, not for their own; not for their own recognition, but for His. 

Few pastors, I am persuaded, are privileged to have in their choristers such gifted, sympathizing, efficient helpers. Too often, it is to be feared, the pulpit and the choir gallery are out of harmony as to the ends proposed, or the methods by which the ends agreed on shall be sought; and the cases are not few, nor hard to find, where in the handling of choir-leaders and those who abet them, the Lord's house is turned into a concert hall, the service of song made largely a device for filling and renting pews, and the minister compelled to sandwich his part in between performances that suggest anything but the worship of God or the salvation of men. Sometimes, indeed, he has to come to his duties in the pulpit after the world and the flesh and the devil have, through the fingers and lips of an unconverted organist and choir-leader, set things moving to their liking, and then turn the service over to them after the sermon, to be finished up as they elect. Doubtless the devil likes that way of conducting Sabbath services. If he can only get people's heads full of waltzes and operas and sonatas and what-not else, before the preaching comes, and then have a chance to follow it up with a march or an aria of his own selection, the preacher's thirty minutes of Gospel will not damage his interests. Little wonder that preaching in such circumstances saves few souls. It is like expecting harvest with the enemy invited to go before the toiler, sowing tares, and to follow him gathering up and snatching away the seed.

To those who knew anything of P.P. Bliss, it will not be needful to say that he had no sympathy with any such idea of the music of the sanctuary. He shared to the fullest extent my feeling, that the disposition to make the song and service of God's house showy and entertaining was an abomination in God's sight. He held, as I did, that all music in connection with worship, whether by instrument or voice, should be consecrated and worshipful. In his conception, he who led at the organ should be one to come to the keys fresh from his closet, one who should pray, as his hands swept over the manuals, that the power of God might, through him, constrain the people's hearts to worship in spirit and in truth. So he believed that all who led in the service of song should sing with grace in their hearts; that the music should be strictly spiritual music - not selections made on grounds of taste, high musical character, but selections aimed at honoring God, exalting Jesus Christ, magnifying His Gospel - music, in a word, that God's Spirit could wholly own and use to comfort, strengthen, and inspire God's people, and lead unsaved souls to Christ. Accordingly, the highest devotional character marked all his selections, all his rehearsals, all his leadership in the Lord's house. It was his invariable custom to open his rehearsals by prayer. He often invited me to lead in that service, and to address the choir on the subject of the singing adapted to worship; and few weeks passed without his impressing the spiritual idea as the all-controlling one, and one never to be forgotten by those who were to lead the praises of the congregation.

As Mr. Bliss stood in the choir gallery, partly facing the singers, during his leadership, there was exactly in front of him, in the eastern window of the transept a large crimson cross. Many times during rehearsals he would point thither, saying, "I am glad we have the cross always before us. Let us forget everything else when we sing. Let us seek to have the people lose sight of us, of our efforts, our skill, and think only of Him who died thereon, and of the peace, comfort. strength, joy He gives them that trust him." It is not strange that, with such a chorister in charge, all solicitude about anthems and voluntaries vanished from the preacher's mind. Whatever the selection, I knew it would be full of worship alike in the sentiment and the rendering, would prepare the way for the Word of God; and when the sermon was ended, no matter what the final thought, whether admonition, encouragement or appeal, I always felt sure that the choirister's heart was one with mine, perfect confidence that the impression sought to be produced would be deepened.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On the Folly of Sports Betting

Disclaimer:  I do not bet on sports events of any kind, nor would I encourage anyone to do so.  This post simply gives my observations.

Last night, in college football, Ohio State traveled to Northwestern and, after trailing for much of the game, came from behind to win, 40-30.  But it was the way the game ended that drew my attention.  Ohio State had scored a go-ahead touchdown with 5:22 remaining in the fourth quarter to take a 34-30 lead.  On Northwestern's ensuing possession, they turned it over on downs.  Ohio State killed most of the remaining time on the clock before facing fourth down and punting.  Northwestern had 21 seconds remaining and eighty-four yards to travel.

Northwestern was then sacked for a nine-yard loss on first down, moving them back to the seven yard line.  After stopping the clock with just a few seconds left, a short pass was thrown, followed by some slopping lateraling, a fumble, and a group of OSU players falling on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.  (No PAT was attempted, since time had expired.)

Being a math-oriented, statistics-enjoying kind of person, I looked up the betting line for the game.  Ohio State was, depending on the bookies chosen, about a 6.5-to-7-point favorite.  By scoring the goofy last-play touchdown, all of those who took OSU to cover the spread were suddenly very, very happy.  Those who took the opposite play were probably either horrified or dejected. 

What struck me as interesting was that at no time during the game, except at the end of the final play, was Ohio State ever ahead by more than four points.  And for that matter, Ohio State never came close to taking a bigger lead than four points, particularly in the fourth quarter.

I do not mean to imply any betting-related shenanigans here regarding the conduct of the game.  My point is this:  Betting is taking a risk that could easily—and unexpectedly—cost you money.  To gamble one's money on sports is to be a poor steward of it.  Even what appears to be a "sure thing" can suddenly turn out to be a deep and unsettling loss.  Steer clear of the temptations to wager.

In related news, that touchdown cost Nevada sports books $3-4 million.

Monday, August 26, 2013

We Meet the Governors

That was really fun.

Today, Gov. Nikki Haley came to Greenville, SC, to announce her intent to run for a second term as the governor of SC.  She has done a great job so far, leading the state to one of the best economies in the nation and demonstrating how to govern from a conservative, fiscally prudent standpoint.  And what she says, she does.


To help her make this announcement, Senator Tim Scott served as the emcee for this event.  He did a great job firing up the crowd and defining what it is conservatives should be doing.


Three of the nation's best GOP governors then came to the stage and spoke about Gov. Haley and the fine job she has done.  First was Texas governor Rick Perry:


He was followed by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal:


And finally, the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker:



Each of the governors stayed for various periods of time to mingle with the crowd, and my family got to meet all four of them.  Governor Jindal stayed the longest, and impressed me with his talkative nature (which, admittedly, is an asset in his line of work) and the sincere enjoyment he seemed to take in meeting total strangers.  He spent more than two minutes with my own children, having a wide-ranging conversation that I caught on video: 

 (still haven't figured out how to make this work...)

I hope you listen carefully to what he said to the kids.  I found it satisfying that he encouraged my kids to read their Bibles, even though there was no obvious evidence that we were Christians (in other words, we had not explicitly said so).  I hope you enjoy the video, and if you get a chance to vote for Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, or Nikki Haley in the future, please consider doing so.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why $50,000 Wouldn't Change My Life

So many people think that a sizable sum of money would change their lives.  Perhaps it would, or perhaps only for a time.  But after some contemplating, I came to the conclusion that if I suddenly came into possession of an extra $50,000, it wouldn't change my life all that much.

Why?  Because of what I would do with it.  Here's the summary.

Tithe:  I would give at least $5,000 to my church.  Balance: $45,000.

Retirement Savings:  There are two major reasons why it would be wise to maximize the amount of this part of the windfall.  First, to mitigate the tax consequences of my sudden jump in income.  Second, because it is the wise thing to do.  Ideally, I would like to retire before I die.

Since my wife and I are still well short of the age of 50, we can each put a maximum of $5,000 into an IRA, and we would do so.  Furthermore, I would immediately, and for the rest of the calendar year, sharply increase the amount I put into my 401(k) at work, compensating for a smaller paycheck by drawing from the windfall.  Depending on the time of year, I could possibly see $15,000 moved into tax-sheltered retirement savings.  Balance:  $30,000.

[Note: Some of you might be wondering whether my wife and I would use traditional or Roth IRAs; conceivably, we could each open a different kind.  I don't know.  I would consult people more knowledgable than myself.  The suddenly-higher marginal tax rate for the windfall year would make me lean toward a traditional IRA, but further research would be required.]

Taxes:  The amount of the $50,000 subject to income tax (both state and federal) would be diminished by the tithe, the amount going to the 401(k), and the amount going into traditional IRAs.  Even if it dropped all the way to $30,000, I would plan about $10,000 for taxes.  Balance:  $20,000.

Big-ticket Items:  Most likely, the balance would be going toward one or more big-ticket items.  A new car.  A remodeled kitchen or bathroom.  A hot tub on the patio (in my dreams).  A daughter's wedding.  Consequently, most of the remaining $20,000 would be put into savings until such time as it is needed.

Anything Else?  Sure.  We'd probably take a week's family vacation somewhere we would really like to go.  And a celebratory dinner at Olive Garden.  I might get a new suit.  But really...not much else.  To fritter the final $20,000 on a miscellaneous wishlist of not-really-needed items would be wasteful.

And I certainly wouldn't quit my day job.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Hymn of Thanksgiving

"Now Thank We All Our God" is a hymn we sung in church this morning; unfortunately, it is one that typically just gets sung around late November.  It is, however, a great hymn with a great story behind it.  From the Cyber Hymnal website:

Rinkart, a Lu­ther­an min­is­ter, was in Eil­en­burg, Sax­o­ny, dur­ing the Thir­ty Years’ War. The walled ci­ty of Eil­en­burg saw a stea­dy stream of re­fu­gees pour through its gates. The Swed­ish ar­my sur­round­ed the ci­ty, and fa­mine and plague were ramp­ant. Eight hund­red homes were de­stroyed, and the peo­ple be­gan to per­ish. There was a tre­men­dous strain on the pas­tors who had to con­duct do­zens of fun­er­als dai­ly. Fi­nal­ly, the pas­tors, too, suc­cumbed, and Rink­art was the on­ly one left—doing 50 fun­er­als a day. When the Swedes de­mand­ed a huge ran­som, Rink­art left the safe­ty of the walls to plead for mer­cy. The Swed­ish com­mand­er, im­pressed by his faith and cour­age, low­ered his de­mands. Soon af­ter­ward, the Thir­ty Years’ War end­ed, and Rinkart wrote this hymn for a grand cel­e­bra­tion ser­vice. It is a test­a­ment to his faith that, af­ter such mis­e­ry, he was able to write a hymn of abid­ing trust and gra­ti­tude to­ward God.

Here are the words to the three stanzas of the hymn:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.


O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!


All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An Excellent Perspective on Israel

I am on an email list from Shalom Ministries, a NYC-based ministry to bring the good news of Christ to the Jewish people.  Craig Hartman, its founder, sent out an email last evening regarding the situation in Israel.  I am copying it here.


Greetings friends,

By now you all have, no doubt, heard about the barrage of rockets being launched against Israel from the Palestinian-controlled territories. For those of you who follow us on Facebook, you already are receiving frequent updates on what is happening through that resource. Many news outlets are covering the violence. Too much is happening to try to review it all here, but all believers should track what is happening.

In light of these events, I wanted to share a few thoughts as we watch the matter unfold together. It should be noted that within the last week over 600 rockets have been launched against Israel. This barrage is different than ones in the past because of the number of rockets within such a short period of time and especially because of the locations where the rockets are landing. Now, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem neighborhoods are being hit as well as the areas in the south near Gaza. That is new. Many of the rockets are being intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome, but sadly a number have hit, and there have been a few deaths of innocent civilians. Amazingly, some in the world community are blaming Israel and labeling her defensive actions as aggression. America has condemned the attacks and expressed Israel's right to defend herself. The recent actions are very bold, without any pretense, to the point that Hamas is actually tweeting its actions and intended targets. It is a very tense and sad time for the people of Israel and a matter of great concern for all of us who love the people and the land.

In addition to tracking the news in the region, we are also in contact with friends there. Israelis are a tough people and have a great attitude even in these times. I received an e-mail from an unsaved friend, who lives in southern Israel. He wrote from his bunker and was matter of fact about the realities of their situation. He also expressed that he was looking forward to when we are back in Israel to visit him. I have spoken with another friend in Tel Aviv, who told me that the people there are encouraging each other to celebrate their lives in the land in spite of the difficulties, and that many entertainment and other public facilities and gathering places were removing all charges for attendance. The theaters were full last night. The spirit of life and strength is always demonstrated by the Israeli people. They will not be intimidated by terror.

The timing of all of this is rather interesting in that it all started just two days after the US election, and there is a new election coming in Israel in just a couple of months. Further, the Palestinian Authority has recently reiterated its intention to raise its status at the United Nations. Interesting indeed. I am not speculating here, just noting the fascinating timing of it all. In any event, we must not be surprised by any of this, and we must remember that God is still on the throne. We know that Israel will not be destroyed (Jeremiah 31), and we know that a far worse time will be experienced by her and the entire world during the Seventieth Week of Daniel. Perhaps these current events can cause us to remember the terrible events that are yet to come in the future and motivate us to reach out to the very dark world around us before it is too late.

As Israelis celebrate the Sabbath, we should all be praying for Israel, Jerusalem, and the Jewish people. We should be praying for the salvation of Palestinian people. Their only hope is the Lord, and He is the only cure for the evil that consumes their leaders.

I also want to suggest that the attitude of the Israelis at this time should challenge us all about how we respond to living in the midst of constant attack. I have been challenged to celebrate light and life in the midst of the darkness and hatred around me.

I can only imagine that times will become more and more difficult for people throughout the world, and we know Israel will be at the center of it all. The Bible is very clear about that. My heart is aching for my people, and I am having difficulty on a personal level just hearing what is happening and the reaction of some in the world community. Please join with us in lifting up sacrifices of praise to the Lord and heartfelt prayers for the people throughout the Middle East. Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for our country. This is also a test for America. These are perilous times indeed, and we must hold each other up as the day approaches.

Blessings,

Craig Hartman

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Biennial Olympic Rant

Every two years we get to observe the Olympic games; now we're in the middle of the Summer Olympics.  For the most part, they are quite enjoyable.  The opening ceremonies, with the parade of athletes (ever wonder if any of those people from Montenegro will medal?), is usually memorable, if perhaps a bit esoteric.  And the British did a good job this year.

But I cannot help but think that some of these Olympics events should be removed from future games.  Let me review my criteria for something which should be part of the Summer games (similar criteria apply to the Winter games):

1.  Only sports which can be measured by strictly objective, quantitative criteria should be included.  Events which require judges to "score" the events should be removed. 

Quantitative criteria are things like time (e.g., track and swimming races), distance (shot put, javelin), mass (weightlifting), or some clearly defined scoring system (basketball, soccer).  Events like gymnastics and diving, which depend on the judgment of judges to determine this or that, are much too subjective and open to unethical judging.  Referees and other officials, of course, will always be required.

2.  Only sports which are, or have been, participated in by large numbers of people, should be included.  So, like it or not, soccer stays in.  So do archery and shooting.  For that matter, judo can stay, too.

Corollary: Sports which are only participated in by minimal numbers of people in the present day should be dropped.  Exception to corollary: Games that were part of the ancient Greek games (discus, javelin, etc.) are allowed to stay.

3.  Special considerations:  Boxing goes.  It is barbaric.  Beach volleyball also goes.  The only reason it's even an Olympic sport is because the women are...you know.  BMX...is beyond ridiculous as an Olympic event.  Any "sport" that looks like it belongs in the X Games not only violates #2 above, but should simply be moved to the X Games.

Therefore, I would recommend also eliminating these sports from Olympic competition (and will consider others):

Diving (violates #1)
Equestrian (#2; I'm not even sure what this involves beyond horses and some obstacles)
Field hockey (#2)
Gymnastics, Rhythmic gymnastics (#1)
Sailing (#2)
Synchonized...anything (#2)
Trampoline (#2; what actually do they do in trampoline?)

Those are my thoughts.  Yours?

Monday, June 4, 2012

In a Truly Liberal World....

Sam loves his car.  He's named the car "Lucy."  Lucy had been his for years now, staying in his garage.  He cares for her, washes her, changes her oil regularly, even cleans her tires.  In short, he is truly in love with her.

So Sam, being a liberal, decides to marry his car. 

Sam goes down to the courthouse and asks the clerk for a marriage license.  He has an easy enough time filling out the demographic information for himself, but the part for the other "spouse" is a bit trickier.  (Not to mention the fact that it looks suspicious that Lucy's actual age is 7.)  He hands the completed paperwork to the clerk, who observes that "Lucy" not only lacks a last name, but is also not present.  The clerk asks where Lucy is; Sam replies, quite naturally, that she is outside in the parking lot.  The clerk asks if Lucy can come inside; Sam replies, quite naturally, that this is not logistically convenient.

Sam explains that, in a truly liberal world, that the definition of marriage as between "one man and one woman," or as between "any two people" (as the truly liberal government recently redefined it) is discriminatory, and that marriage should be allowed between any two entities, as long as at least one of them is alive.  (The current debate in truly liberal society is whether "not alive" is a discriminatory category.)  Therefore, he wishes to marry Lucy.  The clerk, puzzled by the novelty, gives in and processes the paperwork.

Sam and Lucy go on a brief honeymoon highlighted by a trip to Fred's Auto Detailing.

A few months later, Sam goes to Wal-Mart and upon departing, he realizes to his horror that someone has backed in to his beloved, defenseless Lucy and put an ugly gash in her bumper.  He promptly takes her to the auto body shop, where Lucy is evaluated.  Repairs are estimated to cost $823.46.  Sam is asked how he will pay for it—cash, credit card, etc.  Having realized an error in the process himself, he suddenly asks if Lucy should first have gone to a primary care provider, instead of this specialist.  The body shop guys look at him like he's sucked on the exhaust pipe.  After all, Sam explains, Lucy is his "wife," and she is carried on his insurance policy at work.  The body shop guys suddenly decide that Sam really needs to find a "primary care provider" first and get that in order...and then return. 

Sam calls his health insurance company and demands that his spouse receive the prompt and humane care she deserves.  The health insurance company responds that since Lucy's injuries are not life-threatening, she needs to go to a primary care provider first.  They then wrangle over the fact that there are no primary care providers in-network that do auto body work.  Eight months later, Sam finally extracts the money from the insurance company—less his deductible—and Lucy is "whole" again.

Time goes by.  Lucy is starting to show her age (she's 14 now), and Sam decides to bring home another car.  This one is named Sally—and Sally is younger, faster, and goes longer between oil changes than Lucy.  Being truly liberal, it never really occurs to Sam that marriage usually just involves two entities.

Lucy and Sam still spend time together, but the love is cooling, and one day Lucy quits running.  The auto shop guys—still wary of Sam; they have nicknames like "crackpot" for him back in the garage—report that Lucy's transmission is cooked.  It will have to be replaced.  The cost will be $2,321.87.  Sam leaves Lucy at the shop and goes home to contemplate his choice.

But in this truly liberal world, Sam really doesn't have a choice.  What Sam's healthcare provider finally tells him is that auto shop care is now rationed, and unless he finds healthcare—I mean, in this case, transmission care—on the black market, Lucy will be forced into the Cash for Clunkers program.  He has her hauled to the junkyard, where the proprietor gives him $75 for Lucy.  (In Sam's truly liberal world, this is enough to put a third of a tank of gas in Sally.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Importance of the Resurrection

I want to share a few thoughts today, Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ's resurrection, about the supreme importance of that event.  Specifically, let's see what 1 Corinthians 15 says about it.

12Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

For us who are Christians, this is a sobering thought:  If Christ did not rise from the dead, we are without hope and miserable!  But the next verses give us great encouragment:

20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Christ was seen by many people after His resurrection, and two millenia of history testify to His living influence in the lives of countless Christians.  And why?  Because He is alive!