Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The "When Swing Was King" Newsletter Swings Towards Christmas!

Beginning this Thursday Claire and I start into our “When Swing Was King” Christmas shows. Because of the enthusiastic, warm-hearted response we have received over the years (yes, even more intense than the regular “WSWK” presentations), our Yuletide is more wonderful than ever. For a little over a year now we have added a quarterly newsletter to our outreach in all the eleven senior care facilities where we take “When Swing Was King” every month. Those newsletters include a personal note from us, quotations and Scriptures, and a whole lot of big band trivia.

Here’s a few examples from our latest newsletter.

Did You Know? — Originally written to honor America’s military serving far from home, the beautiful song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has become a favorite for many generations now.  However, the song’s final phrase (“if only in my dreams”) was considered too sad and no one in the business wanted to record it. But when songwriter Kim Gannon sang the song for Bing Crosby (while they were playing golf), Bing loved it and promised to make it a hit. And, of course, he did. By the way, the song on the flip side of that Decca record was a lovely but sad song too – “Danny Boy.”

Did You Know? — In 1957 Elvis Presley made “Blue Christmas” into a hit on the pop charts. However, it had been taken to #1 once before. And that was on the Country charts in 1950. The singer? None other than Ernest Tubb!

The Music Man’s Christmas Song — Meredith Wilson is best remembered for his hit musical The Music Man. But he also wrote other stuff including one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time. In 1963, the song was incorporated into his musical, Here's Love which was based on the classic holiday film Miracle on 34th Street. Unfortunately, the play bombed. But the song, already very popular from recordings by Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and many others is going strong to this day. That song? You know it well --  “It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”

If you'd like to check out the whole 4-page, big print newsletter, you'll find it right here.

Friday, December 01, 2017

The Face of God: A Christmas Reflection

"The Face of God: A Christmas Reflection" (by Denny Hartford)

It was a story the old shepherd loved to tell, the story of that night when the skies were ablaze with a heavenly light and an angel direct from the throne of God had announced the news for which Israel had yearned for centuries.  The old man told the story well – the sudden terror, the adventure of fleeing down the mountain and searching Bethlehem for the baby in a manger, the overwhelming joy when they finally discovered the new family, and the spiritual peace that flooded their souls as they reflected on the Savior’s humble entrance into the world.

Emmanuel.  God with us.  The face of God that even Moses was not allowed to look upon, they had been allowed to see up close, unveiled, welcoming.

The shepherd didn’t exactly know how it would be accomplished but he believed both the angel’s message and the things that had been explained to them by Joseph and Mary. He believed this Child was the spotless Lamb of God Who would take away the sin of the world. Just think of it.  Here at last was the Son of David, the long-awaited Deliverer Who would save all people who turned to him, even Gentiles, from the wages of sin. It was magnificent, a world-shattering event. And yet he, a poor shepherd of no account, was a part of this wondrous story.

It is no wonder then that the shepherd never tired of telling his story. Even as the years went on and many sufferings came upon him – Herod’s soldiers murdering his newborn son, the early death of his wife after a long illness, and his own body broken when, defending the flock from wolves, he had toppled from the cliffs of Migdal Eder -- he never tired of telling the story of that blazing night and of the world’s Savior lying in a manger.

Oh, how I wish that dear shepherd was alive tonight.  How I wish I could apologize to him for my disrespect and disbelief, for my mocking the tears that welled in his blind eyes whenever he spoke of that great adventure.  How I wish he could see the tears in my eyes now and the excitement in my voice as I tell him that I’m sorry for my arrogance and disdain.  For this afternoon, on a grassy hillside outside Jerusalem, I met Jesus, He Who was once the child in that manger. And I accepted the invitation of Jesus to trust in Him for my salvation and be born again. In that very instant, I too knew the peace the old shepherd had discovered on that blazing night of the King’s advent.

Yes, I would love to hear the old shepherd tell his marvelous story at least once more and to laugh and thrill and weep along with him as he tells it. For then he would know that his willful, wayward son, the rebellious son for whom he so long prayed, now understands and appreciates his father’s experience of so many years ago. For today, the old shepherd’s son also saw the face of God -- up close, unveiled, and welcoming.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Bravely Bear His Banner

Banners in the Old Testament are military standards. They first appear in Numbers1:52 and 2:2 in the directions God gave to Moses for the arrangement of the Israelite camps in the wilderness. Those banners, specifically and publicly, identified the tribal armies to which each Israelite belonged. Thus the banner represented identity, strategic organization, purpose, and inspiration for battle. And it is these practical elements that provide the foundation for the metaphorical use of banner in later Old Testament Scriptures. Let’s take a few moments to consider these four elements.

1) Identity. The soldier finds fellowship, accountability, and stimulation to strive harder by being part of a solid corps of soldiers. Therefore, the corps flag, as a visual symbol of all its values, is deeply cherished and carefully protected. Psalm 20:5 emphasizes the blessing of identifying with God in His victories by erecting banners. “We will sing for joy over Your victory and, in the name of our God, we will set up our banners.” A similar expression is seen in the exultation over Zion’s new and forever glory in Isaiah 62:10. “Build up the highway, remove the stones, lift up a standard over the peoples.”

But the banner isn’t only displayed after the victory. No, it is also unfurled preliminary to and during the battle itself. Indeed, the banner of God can serve as a prophetic announcement of His holy, conquering purpose. Babylon, for instance, is warned in Isaiah 13:2 and 3, “Lift up a standard on the bare hill… I have even called My mighty warriors, My proudly exulting ones to execute My anger.” Ethiopia and the other nations are also warned of judgment by the appearance of the Lord’s banner in Isaiah 18:3. “All you inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth, as soon as a standard is raised on the mountains, you will see it.”

2) Organization. Throughout history, military commanders have used the various banners of their armies to help conduct strategic movement during a battle. Though a being a whole and unified army, it is composed of different parts and the skillful coordination of their action is critical to success. The individuals within the corps do not necessarily need to know the overall battle plan, they simply need to stay close to their standard and obey their orders.

3) Purpose. In some cases, the military banners of an army represented specialized talents, training, or tasks. For example, an infantry corps played a different role in battle than did pikemen or archers or cavalry. In the same way, the Lord often gives Christians different banners to carry, banners that signify their unique callings and spiritual gifts. Nevertheless, they serve in a common cause, under a common Commander, anticipating a common inheritance.

4) Inspiration. Bonds forged by love and trust and shared ideals are tremendously strong. And those bonds yield courageous, sacrificial devotion. Historical examples abound of the honor involved in carrying the flag in battle. One standard-bearer falls but another picks it up and moves forward. Through the cries and confusion, the smoke and shells, the flag continues to wave, inspiring and guiding soldiers in their advance.

All four of these elements are relevant in the “banner verse” that’s been on my mind lately. It is Psalm 60:4. “You have given a banner to those who fear You that it may be displayed because of the truth.” As a believer, one who fears God with proper reverence and love, I am fully identified with Him…and He with me. Scripture teaches that because I have trusted in Christ as my Savior, I am one of His beloved disciples. And that service carries the responsibility of being a bondservant, a faithful witness, a dedicated soldier. And especially applicable to these tasks is His gift to me of a holy banner -- a banner which needs to be publicly displayed.

My identity isn’t static or platonic, it involves function. I am a standard-bearer, responsible to show forth in the public square (as well, of course, in my private life) His truths concerning righteousness, justice, and the offer of grace through the atoning work of Jesus. I must bear this banner for others to see and do so boldly, consistently, gratefully, and joyfully.

God is working out his will in history. And, amazingly, I am honored to be a part of that. In the spiritual rebirth that comes through receiving Christ, God has not only forgiven my debt of sin, He has redeemed me, transformed me, and (through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), equipped me for every good work…including bearing His banner in my corner of the battlefield.  All the banners of the Lord display His character and the glorious truth He offers to men. Like the lights we are given that are not to be hidden under a basket, the banners we are given or not to be stowed away in the trunk of our car to be unloaded only when we attend church. No, the Lord’s banners are for public display. Therefore, if we fail to raise His standard, we are living in flat out disobedience.

“You have given a banner to those who fear You that it may be displayed because of the truth.” So don’t neglect your high calling. Bravely bear His banner.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

“The Only History That Is Worth a Tinker's Damn”

“History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today.”

That's Henry Ford as quoted in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1916.

Of course, the only portion of that quote which has gone down in...uh, history, is the first line. But it is actually the last line that is the most relevant to modern culture.

Indeed, it's pretty obvious that the cultural powers that be (politics, academia, Hollywood) are determined to escape what they believe are the shackles of the past. They are progressives through and through who believe that civilization is like detergent or breakfast cereal -- only the “new and improved” brands should be allowed on the shelves. Everything else should go to the trash bin.

Therefore, the virtues of Western culture, no matter how beautiful, ennobling or indispensable for a society's health (think of the U.S. Constitution, Christianity, marriage, family, etc.) are ignored if not mocked and vilified.

History is made an ally of this bold social transformation; that is, a distinctly progressive version of history, a twisted thing that is much more propaganda than it is precision. It is a thing that is quite willing to drastically distort the actual record, to carefully omit (even conceal) those things that do not fit with the desired political conclusions, to engage in outright invention -- all to create an ideologically favorable product.

“History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today.”

Yes, the words are Henry Ford's. But the sentiment is alive and well in the hearts of today's progressives.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Os Guinness on the Reformation, Covenants, and Passing On the Torch

A couple of weeks ago I very much enjoyed watching the Trinity Forum’s presentation of Os Guinness speaking on the Reformation's ideals and effects. His talk (and the response to it by Joseph Loconte) was remarkably cogent, enlightening, and corrective. Indeed, I can't thank Trinity Forum enough nor can I recommend the presentation more highly.

Below I embed the entire video from the Trinity Forum website knowing that it takes time to listen carefully to the talk…but knowing also that it is well worth it.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Words to Live By (From Billy Sunday and Fr. Edward Flanagan)

Last month I gave my talk, “Piety on the Plains: A Religious History of Omaha,” to audiences at 5 different senior citizen facilities with nearly 120 people involved. It was, we are delighted to report, very well received. And Claire and I had a great time following up with wonderful visits with the residents afterwards.

The talk covers a lot of ground – the earliest missionary activity in the area, church beginnings, the impact of such groups as the Sisters of Mercy and the Immanuel Deaconess Institute, Christian radio, notable events and persons, and much more.  And since that review included the 6-week revival crusade in 1915 led by baseball player/evangelist Billy Sunday as well as the founding of Boys Town by Fr. Edward Flanagan, we handed out a double-sided sheet of quotations from those two leaders.  We thought you might find those quotations of value too so…here they are.

From Billy Sunday:

“The trouble with many men is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable. If there is not joy in religion, you have got a leak in your religion.”

“Some homes need a hickory switch a good deal more than they do a piano.”

“Better die an old maid, sister, than marry the wrong man.”

“If there is no hell, a good many preachers are obtaining money under false pretenses.”

“Hypocrites in the Church? Yes, and in the lodge and at the home. Don't hunt through the Church for a hypocrite. Go home and look in the mirror. Hypocrites? Yes. See that you make the number one less.”

“I believe that a long step toward public morality will have been taken when sins are called by their right names.”

“Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

“Religion needs a baptism of horse sense.”

“Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.”

“I believe the Bible is the word of God from cover to cover.”

“God likes a little humor, as is evidence by the fact that he made the monkeys, the parrot -- and some of you people.”

“Some persons think that they have to look like a hedgehog to be pious.” 

“The inconsistency is not in the Bible, but in your life.”

“If you live wrong you can't die right.”

“Churches don't need new members half so much as they need the old bunch made over.”

“Try praising your wife, even if it does frighten her at first.”

“If you don't do your part, don't blame God.”

“When I hit the devil square in the face some people go away as mad as if I had slapped them in the mouth.”

“To train a boy in the way he should go you must go that way yourself.”

“It is not necessary to be in a big place to do big things.”

“Yank some of the groans out of your prayers, and shove in some shouts.”

“The Bible will always be full of things you cannot understand, as long as you will not live according to those you can understand.”

And from Fr. Flanagan…

“The work will continue, you see, whether I am there or not, because it is God’s work, not mine.”

“When parents fail to do their job, when they allow their children to run the streets and keep bad company, when they fail to provide them with good examples in the home, then the parents, and not the children, are delinquent.”

“Without God at the beginning, there can be only confusion at the end.”

“A true religious training for children is most essential if we are to expect to develop them into good men and good women — worthy citizens of our great country.”

“No race that does not take care of its young can hope to survive — or deserves to survive.”

“Our country needs good men and good women who have learned to love God above all things, and their fellow man for the love of God.”

Monday, October 30, 2017

3 Big Mistakes the Enemy Made at Pearl Harbor

Here’s something I ran across while reading a copy of The Seahorse, the official newsletter of the U.S. Seagoing Marine Association that Dick Wilson sometimes passes along to me. The item concerned Admiral Chester Nimitz’s response to his initial review of the damage done following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the phone. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet. Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat — you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war.

On Christmas morning, Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters everywhere you looked. As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, ‘Well, Admiral, what do you think?’ Admiral Nimitz's reply surprised him. He said, ‘The enemy made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make. Either that or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?’ The young man had no answer. So Nimitz explained.

He said, ‘Mistake number one: The Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk, we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

Mistake number two: When the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow everyone of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

Mistake number three: Every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply. That's why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.’

President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the right job. We desperately needed a leader that could see silver linings in the midst of the clouds of dejection, despair, and defeat.”

The Scandal of Grade Inflation. It's Even Worse Than You Think.

“A professor at the University of Georgia has adopted a policy that puts a premium on stress reduction.  Hoping to avoid the ‘profound consequences’ of stressful situations, he has set out a policy that includes all tests being open-book, and designed to be completed in half the time allowed.  Those exams will be designed to assess a ‘low level mastery of the course material.’  If students are unduly stressed by a grade, they may contact the instructor and indicated the grade the student considers ‘appropriate, and it will be changed.’ 

There are more provisions in the policy, to prevent  those profound consequences of stress, including only positive comments made in class about presentations.  The professor acknowledges that the policy ‘might hinder the development of group skills and mastery of the class material,’ but ‘ultimately these are your responsibility.’

How did Chesterton put it?  ‘Standardization by a low standard.’”
(Mark Pilon, Gilbert Magazine)