Sunday, October 23, 2016

My College Football Dream

10/23/16:  If the rest of the college football season could go the way I want…

Penn State wins out the rest of the regular season to finish 10-2 and 8-1 in conference play.  They become increasingly dominant each week, never giving up fewer than 14 points nor scoring fewer than 38.  But they need a little bit of help…

Michigan ends up laying an egg against Iowa, so it comes down to “The Game,” during which Ohio State fulfills another part of the dream by defeating Michigan, 28-17.  Penn State holds the tiebreaker and moves to the Big Ten title game against a still-undefeated Nebraska squad.  They have people reminiscing about OSU’s thrashing of Wisconsin a couple years later, winning 56-0, and making a strong case for inclusion in the College Football Playoff, despite a two-loss season.

But they need help.  And they get it.

The Big 12, as usual, falls into something resembling chaos.  No team ends the season with fewer than two losses, and a three-loss Oklahoma (thank you, Oklahoma State) team ends up being the conference champion.  Baylor and West Virginia fade badly down the stretch.  No team from the conference has a chance at the CFP.

The ACC is only marginally less chaotic.  Clemson ends the regular season undefeated.  Louisville gives up a shocking 61 points to Houston and takes a second loss.  In the conference championship game, North Carolina, taking the tiebreaker over Pitt, pulls a shocker and defeats Clemson, 34-27.  However, no one expects a three-loss UNC team to be invited to the CFP.  Clemson, looking increasingly worse but escaping each game in the final weeks of the season, tries to pull the “But we only have one loss” card.

The Pac-12 sorts itself out cleanly, with Washington winning out; at 13-0, their invite is secure.

The SEC gets interesting.  Florida stinks up their game against Georgia and Tennessee wins the SEC East; the rescheduled Florida-LSU game ends up being inconsequential.  In the SEC West, Alabama wins out, with no other team having fewer than two conference losses.  [Note—My real dream regarding Alabama goes something like this:  They lose three of their final four regular season games, barely beating Chattanooga before Auburn posts another 56-3 smackdown in the Iron Bowl.  Nick Saban is not seen in public again until the following Wednesday, when he shows up in Columbia, SC, for the announcement of his new coaching gig with South Carolina; he’ll leave SC three weeks later to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns.  He is burned in effigy throughout the post-Iron-Bowl week in no fewer than 47 Alabama towns and villages.]  Tennessee makes Alabama look pretty bad for three quarters before committing two costly turnovers and losing by three.  Alabama heads to the playoff.

The CFP committee has no trouble ranking Alabama #1 and Washington #2 (although there is discussion about switching them), but has to decide among other teams for the two remaining slots.  Ohio State, Nebraska, and Clemson each have one loss but none won their own conference.  Western Michigan finishes the season undefeated, but their strength of schedule is appalling.  North Carolina and Oklahoma win their conferences—but each has three losses.

The announcement is controversial, and stirs up strife among certain fan bases, but the committee takes Clemson as the #3 seed and Penn State, champion of the Big Ten, as #4.  Western Michigan subsequently gets a Big Six bowl; they will eventually shock Oklahoma with a pick-six in the final minute to win by 14.  [WMU will subsequently go on a stretch where they win the MAC five times in six years and win a total of three bowl games against Power 5 conferences; they also become the first FBS team in a decade to beat North Dakota State.]

The opening game on December 31 features Washington and Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.  Washington, a 6-point favorite, covers the spread by winning 31-24.  The late game is surprisingly won—surprising both for score and victor—by Penn State by a 31-24 margin.  Penn State forces three turnovers and gets enough offense to send Alabama home.

After Ohio State defeats Utah in the Rose Bowl, there is a lot of talk about the Big Ten-Pac 12 championship matchup.  Will the Big Ten win again?  Will the Pac 12 team take home the trophy?  [SEC fans grumble about a two-loss team being in the championship game, proving that irony is still alive and well.]

It’s my dream, so I say that Penn State beats Washington, 24-21, to take home the trophy.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts on Last Night's Penn State-Ohio State Game

Last night Penn State's football team, weakened by the past few years of scholarship reductions and the like, and following a dreary first half, came back and nearly had a huge upset of favorite Ohio State.  I watched the game on TV and had two primary thoughts.

1) Penn State has the best football fans in the college universe.  I've only ever been to two games in Happy Valley (one was a night game), so I know that there are a lot of fun-loving, friendly people who attend their football games.  But last night, the fans were raucous, fervent, and just plain LOUD all game long.  Even when the Nittany Lions were trailing by 17, the cheers were strong.

For this reason alone, I hope I can someday go to a night whiteout game.

2) The referees were a major factor in the game—and shouldn't have been.  There were two huge calls that favored Ohio State in the first half.  My wife claims there was a semi-bogus roughing the passer call in the second half (it was one of the rare moments when I wasn't watching, so I can't say) that kept a Penn State drive alive.  Even the coin toss to start overtime seemed to be ineptly handled. 

It's time to go out and prepare for next Saturday's game, team, so remember: We are...Penn State!!

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.


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 know. 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?