Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hymn of the Week: There Is a Fountain

Before we get to this week's hymn, I wanted to thank everyone for your comments on Paul's thoughts on the Holy Spirit and public worship. If you haven't taken the time, check out the comments from the last post (they're more thoughtful and more concise than the post itself), I hope we are challenged to see worship through music as a means to edify our brothers and sisters.

For this week, I decided to go with what I thought was a very well-known hymn, but have recently discovered that not everyone knows it. It's written by William Cowper, a British poet and songwriter. I recently read some of the background of his life and discovered that he suffered from severe depression at times. As someone who has "down" periods in life I was encouraged to see man who sought to worship the Lord faithfully despite himself. At any rate, here are the lyrics, followed by some thoughts.

There is fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
Wash all my sins away
Wash all my sins away
And there may I, though vile as he
Wash all my sins away

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power’
Til all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more.
Be saved to sin no more
Be saved to sin no more
Til all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be ’til I die.
And shall be ’til I die
And shall be ’til I die
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be ’til I die

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save

If you don't know this song, then the repetition of certain lines might look more annoying than anything else, but it sounds great when you sing it. There are a number of things to love about this song, let me highlight a few. One, I love the emphasis on the blood of Christ (a theme more popular in times past, it seems) and the extent of the rewards of His sacrifice ("lose all their guilty stains", "wash all my sins away", "be saved to sin no more").

Two, this is a song that is incredibly honest about the human condition (sometimes depression offers incredible clarity). There is little doubt about where humans stand in this song- they are sinful. But it points the finger internally as well; rather than simply saying "we are sinful" (which is obviously true) it forces us to look at ourselves and see our need for redemption. This is especially seen in the 2nd verse about the thief on the cross- "there may I, though vile as he..." If you sing this song and miss this truth, well, you've missed the point entirely.

Three, I love the little bit about the ransomed church, and the future aspect of salvation. We are still awaiting the day when our salvation is consummated and we will cease to sin. One of the most common phrases used in seminary was "already/not yet" when discussing salvation. We have already been saved, but we have not yet seen the full completion of that, and will not until Christ's return.

Four (I could go on, but I've decided that this is it for now), I love the language of the last verse. As far as I know, Cowper did not suffer from any speech impediments, so the idea of "this poor, lisping, stammering tongue" is probably metaphorical. Doesn't that describe us so well? We are incapable of offering perfect praises to our God, they come out in stutters. But someday, no matter how hard it is to see it now, that will not be the case. My pathetic whimpers will someday rush forth with the cries of the redeemed in a deafenig roar.

Let us not forget where the power of this song lies: in the atoning death of Jesus. If not for this, there would be no hope of salvation from sin and no hope of our stammering tongues being loosened for praise. Thankfully, there is a Fountain where we can have our sins washed away.

Monday, July 24, 2006

what would you do, if I sang out of tune...

In the comments of my last post, my good friend, Pam, asked this question:

What do you think about speaking to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual
songs? Can I say "Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise" next time I see
you? Would that make you chuckle, or be encouraged? What is the not-so-literal
interpretation of that charge? (in your thoughts...)

First, yes, I grant you permission to say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” to me next we see each other. Second, yes, I probably would chuckle, but maybe I shouldn’t.

As for your question, you are no doubt referring to Eph 5:18-19, where Paul states, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…” This passage is similar to Colossians 3:16, where Paul says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” I’ll deal mainly with the Ephesians passage, but the Colossians passage is helpful, since they are parallel (Ephesians and Colossians are very similar, which has led many scholars to think that they were written around the same time). Anyway, I think they’re basically saying the same thing.

What can we say about the Ephesians passage? First, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” modifies the main verb, “be filled with the Spirit.” This isn’t obvious in the NIV, which treats all the participles (speaking, singing, making melody, giving thanks and submitting) as separate commands. (I really like the NIV, but this is something they consistently get wrong. Thankfully the TNIV has corrected this.) The exact relation between the participles and the main verb can be debated, for now I’ll stick with the idea that the participles (speaking, singing, etc) are results of being filled with the Spirit. Clearly not the only results (Paul elsewhere talks about spiritual gifts, the fruit of the Spirit, and so on), but they are the results Paul chooses to highlight. People who are filled with the Spirit are people who speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (I wouldn’t make too much out of the 3 types of songs mentioned here).

So, part of life in the Spirit is speaking and singing songs. This shouldn’t be surprising, since in 1 Corinthians 14 (an extensive teaching on the Holy Spirit and corporate worship), Paul encourages his audience to have a psalm (among other things) when they assemble (v26). And the Colossians verse is really interesting because there songs are used for teaching and admonishing one another. I think that the same idea is present in Ephesians as well (community expressions of the Spirit filled life). So what we have here is the use of music and singing as a means of encouraging and teaching each other.

So what should we do? Well, for one thing, it affirms the use of music in the life of the Church. This, of course, is to be expected, since there is an entire book of songs in the Old Testament meant for God’s people. It also shows us that songs are used for more than just a nice beginning (and end) to our worship service. Songs of worship play a role in teaching the body (in seminaryspeak, they have a “didactic function”). Music has played an important part in most (if not all, I’m not an expert) cultures, why not the Church?

In my opinion, this should influence the music we choose to play in our churches. Do the songs we choose accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible? Do they reflect the character of God? Do they encourage/inspire/rebuke/challenge the people? I’m thankful that my church has a worship leader who puts a lot of thought into the music and chooses songs that are primarily God-centered (which is rarer than it should be).

Let me also say, however, that it has become more and more common to hear people bash modern worship songs as theologically shallow and weak, especially compared to hymns (this is quite popular in some circles, and amongst many in seminary). This bothers me, and I’m clearly a big fan of hymns. First of all, pick up a hymnal and you’ll find that most of the entries leave a lot to be desired. The best of the hymns are unbelievably powerful, but many are pathetic. Anyway, that’s not my main point, so please don’t get caught up in that.

Second, I think there are a higher percentage of quality modern worship songs than many are willing to admit. There certainly have been plenty of bad ones (anyone remember the Hop on the Bus craze of about 10 years ago?). But there are plenty of good ones. I think part of the problem is that people confuse simple with shallow. Jesus Loves Me is a simple song, but it is hardly shallow (that’s why it works so well with children). I’ve even heard people claim that a worship song was shallow, until I pointed out to them that it was taken practically word for word out of the Bible (I wish I could remember what song it was). It’s a matter of song selection, just like with hymns, we need to choose the ones that glorify God and edify the body.

Let me give an example from our worship service this past Sunday. We sang a song written by David Ruis called We Will Dance. I like this song, but I wouldn’t put it in my top 10 or anything. But the imagery used for the people of God really struck me. It relates the Church as people “from every tribe and tongue and nation” and a “pure, spotless Bride.” What an opportunity to teach about the Church! I thought about how I can look around at the people of God and not see a pure, spotless Bride. I certainly don’t feel pure and spotless. But this song accurately portrays the people of God, especially as we will be seen from God’s eyes at the wedding feast. I think this is a great way to teach people about how Christ has redeemed for Himself a people and the true nature of the Church (ecclesiology). And like I said, this isn’t even necessarily a great example of a theology-laden song (although I do think it has more than first meets the eye).

Let me make one final point about the Ephesians passage. Paul also says “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” It seems obvious, but it’s worth saying (in order not to forget) that worship through music exists first and foremost to bring glory to God. It does not exist primarily to provide us a medium through which God can touch us, although He may do that. And the best time for us to learn and be edified is when God is glorified.

Anyway, I’m not really sure I’ve addressed Pam’s question. I thought about this the other night and really wanted to put some great thoughts out, but who has the time? Instead, I’ll throw these out there and hope that someone will respond and refine what I’ve said. Does anyone else have any thoughts about how we can use music to help teach and encourage the Body?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hymn of the Week: Be Thou My Vision

This week's selection for Hymn of the Week is in honor of my roommate, Jonathan. As he is in Ireland on business for the next 100 years or so, I figured it appropriate to choose an old Irish hymn just for him. I wanted to pick one out last week for him related to that trip's location, but there is a surprising dearth of great hymn writers from Winnipeg. Those Manitobans need to pick it up.

We sang this a few weeks ago in church, and I loved it. Actually, this is a good time to unveil something Jonathan and I discovered a while back. We've found that the power of the Spirit evident in any given meeting is proportional to the quality and quantity of hymns that are sung. I stress quality because one How Great Thou Art is worth at least a dozen renditions of When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder. Maybe we should call this the Charles Wesley Corollary. I'll get back to you on that. At any rate, I think this is a song that becomes more powerful to me every time I sing it (which is not often enough). It was a favorite of many in seminary, and as time goes on I can see why. Here are the lyrics of which, as far as I know, the original writer is unknown.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, and I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High king of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

High king of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.

This is one of those songs that works well as a prayer. In fact, I invite you to try it out as such. One thing I like about it is the combination of the rightful place of God in our lives and thought, as well as our communion with Him. It also places emphasis on the benefits of being His child (inheritance, victory). The last verse includes the hope of heaven (for the third week in a row I point out that many hymns have this, someone needs to do an in-depth survey or thesis on this), as well as a It Is Well With My Soul-like "whatever befall, still be my vision." This song has everything. It is rapidly approaching "That Better Be Played At My Funeral" status. Thanks for reading, I hope you take the time to meditate on this great Irish hymn, feel free to leave your thoughts.

Monday, July 17, 2006

the Boss: o-v-e-r-r-a-t-e-d

In a recent mailbag column, Bill Simmons (link to the right) took a question from someone who provided a link to the video of Bruce Springsteen's performance with the Wallflowers at the 1997 Video Music Awards (click on the title of this post to get there). The jist of the question, as well as Simmons' answer, was that Springsteen blew the Wallflowers and poor Jakob Dylan (son of Bob) out of the water.

Watch the video. I'm telling you, I'm not sure they did. Honestly, Springsteen was awful. Dreadful. Vomit-inducing. I just don't understand the fascination some folks have with him. While he is a decent guitar player, he can't sing for anything and is painful to watch.

Of course, if one is predisposed to like the Boss (thereby providing extra-biblical evidence for the depravity of man) they will love this video. It is classic Bruce, here's the checklist: painful vocals- check (listen to him sing the chorus, was that harmony? wailing? squeeling?); messing up the lyrics- check; looking like he's going through a painful bowel movement while playing the guitar- check; and finally (and most egregious in my opinion), sharing the microphone in such a way that it should make every heterosexual male cringe- check. See, what's not to love?

Mind you, some of these things aren't so bad. I don't mind folks who can't sing, after all, I'm a phish fan, so clearly off-key vocals don't bother me too much. But that's part of their style. Bruce is a guy who participated in the We Are the World video, and was awful. You don't see Trey Anastacio doing that stuff, he knows better. Even the painful looking guitar playing isn't that big of a deal. I love Stevie Ray Vaughan, and that man was uglier than homemade sin when he played.

But the microphone sharing thing hurts. He just gets so close to the other guy, it's uncomfortable. Anytime a dude's lips are this close to touching another man's lips, I can't get excited. On the other hand, I agree with Bill Simmons that this would make a hilarious SNL sketch. So maybe it is redeemable.

One final thing and then I'm done. Simmons posits that maybe this performance is a reason why the Wallflowers weren't as big as many thought they would be (that album, Bring Down the Horse is awesome). He says, "it's quite possible that Bruce completely derailed young Jakob", and then asks, "What would have happened if Bruce didn't agree to play the '97 VMAs?" Is he serious? I realize that sports writers are prone to exaggerate, it's their M.O. (that's modus operandi, just for Ryan). But this is ridiculous. We're supposed to believe that because Springsteen showed up on some meaningless show and outplayed (supposedly) Dylan that the Wallflowers never recovered? Sorry, I just can't. It's far more likely that Dylan was so grossed out by Springsteen's spit flying into his mouth during the Share-Your-Microphone portion of the program that he was never the same. I know I wouldn't be.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

two Pierces in one blogosphere?

I know, I know, two posts in one day! Surely you're thinking, "Danny, there's no way you have much of interest to say!" And more often that not you'd be right. However, this time, I feel two posts in a day is justified.

Back in college I ran into the website of a guy named Jeremy Pierce. Jeremy happens to be my second cousin, more commonly known as my paternal grandfather's brother's grandson. He was then a bright young Ph.D. student at Syracuse. Now, he is a bright not-as-young Ph.D. student at Syracuse (according to the blog of his wife, Samantha, whom I've never met, he's on his 9th year, which means he must have 3 Ph.D.'s by now, right?). I'm not sure if I've ever met Jeremy, if I did I was probably 10 years old or so, though I do remember meeting people from his family. The truth is that I couldn't pick him out of a police lineup.

A few months ago I decided to look up his old website to see what he was up to, and somehow eventually ended up on his blog. I've become a big fan, only too timid to leave comments, except for a recent one. That comment, on a thread about split infinitives (which should be avoided, sorry, Jeremy), led him to check out my blog, which led him to link to a post of mine (the one about being called a "Follower of Jesus" or a "Christian"), which then led to some new people reading my blog, which then led me to decide that I need to inform my friends of his fine blogging skills. See, the connection is quite clear.

So, I'm telling all three of my readers to check out Jeremy's blog, just click on the title of this post and you'll get there. It's a bit different than mine, I will warn you. He (and his readers) are far more well-spoken, well-read and all-around more intelligent than I am (but I'm betting I would whip all of them in a baseball trivia contest). He is a philosophy student, so you get all sorts of philosophical musings to chew on (again, way above my head). He also posts on racial issues (extremely interesting), ethical dilemnas, politics, Biblical thoughts, and the occasional randomly entertaining topic. However, I'm still waiting for him to write about his research on our family lineage.

Jeremy is also a man after my own heart, posting on Biblical commentaries, including a recent review of Leviticus commentaries. In fact, his exchange with John Glynn (author of Commentary & Reference Survey) has been a delight for me to read. I've been inspired to resurrect the dormant idea of writing about my favorite Biblical commentaries (in effort to alienate all but the nerdiest of my readers).

Anyway, I'm glad I've run across his path once again, and someday maybe I'll manage to work my way up to Syracuse to meet Jeremy, Samantha and the kids. He is, after all, my mother's mother-in-law's brother-in-law's grandson.

Hymn of the Week: It Is Well With My Soul

Before I post this week's hymn, I wanted to plug a website (which was plugged in the comments section of my last hymn post) that I have discovered to be a pleasure. You may recall I mentioned a series of cds called Indelible Grace, put out by RUF (which we learned stands for Reformed University Fellowship). Here is the website for their online hymnbook. It has some great ones, complete with leader sheets, guitar chords, and other goodies. It also has an MP3 for each song to give you an idea of how to play it in its current arrangement (these aren't the full songs, just enough to give you an idea of how it works). Anyway, here you go:

Now, this week's pick is a very well known hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, by Horatio Spafford. I'm sure most of you know this great song, but I hope you'll take the opportunity to reflect on these words. As last time, here are the lyrics, followed by a few thoughts of my own.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul”

It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blessed assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross,and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)It is well, it is well with my soul

And Lord haste the day when the faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound,and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)It is well, it is well with my soul

The story behind these lyrics makes this song even more powerful. Spafford's children were killed in a tragic accident as they sailed with their mother on the Atlantic, though the mother survived. He wrote this song as he was dealing with their death. One story says that he wrote part of it as he sailed over the same place the ship carrying his children sank. Some say this is not true, either way, the context of dealing with the death of his children provides some more depth and meaning.

This is one of those hymns that I have trouble singing without being moved. I wish I could say that I trust the Lord enough to say "whatever my lot...", but I'm not sure I'm there yet. Also, as in last week's hymn, note that the verses lead up to Christ's return (a popular feature of hymns). This is, after all, perhaps the greatest comfort we have during difficult times: our Lord is coming back!

The 3rd verse (My sin, oh the bliss of that glorious thought...) is my favorite, in fact, these lyrics are some of my favorite of any song. I wasn't intending on posting this hymn until today, but opted to do so mainly because I was singing this verse over and over again this morning to myself. How often do I forget that all my sin was nailed to the cross? How often do I forget to live in light of this glorious thought?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these lyrics again. This song is certainly on my "This Better Be Played At My Funeral" list. Hey, maybe that should be the title of this series- This Better Be Played At My Funeral: It Is Well With My Soul. Hmmm...

Monday, July 10, 2006

the Red Sox: midseason report

Back in March, I put forth some thoughts on the 2006 Boston Red Sox. I decided to go back and reread what I had written and see how things are progressing. I've put in block quotes what I previously wrote and added some thoughts. There are plenty more things to say, but I figured I'd take it easy on everybody. At any rate, here goes.

When I look at this years Red Sox roster and I think about their chances of success, the one word that consistently comes out of my mind is "if."If Curt Schilling can regain strength in his heel/Achilles tendon, he may regain the form that made him an All-Star. I don't really think he'll become a 20 game winner again, but you never know. If this changeup he is supposedly adding to his arsenal works out, that will help an aging pitcher adjust to losing a bit of zip.

Well, it looks like he may become a 20-game winner again. He hasn’t been quite as good as he was in 2004, but he should have made the All-Star team. And the bottom line is that he is a gamer, a guy who you want pitching in an important situation. Gotta love him.

If Josh Beckett can remain healthy (which is a scary thing to say about a young pitcher), he will be a great pickup. Do you trade your best prospect for a guy like Beckett? Absolutely. Get him 30+ starts, and we'll love him. He's an ace for years to come.

Well, Beckett has been healthy, and he has a nice record, but his ERA makes me cringe (4.75). The truth is that he has been a disappointment thus far, and I think his start on Saturday showed why. He didn’t pitch well, and even when the offense picked him up he still went out and gave up more runs. Granted, Francone pulled a Grady Little and inexplicably put him out there for the 7th when he should have sat him, but Beckett still didn’t really do his job. Let’s hope he picks it up as the second half goes on.

If Keith Foulke can get healthy again, if he can regain his confidence, and if he can quit complaining about having to live in Boston, we will have our closer. As it is, this may not happen. He was terrific in the postseason of 2004, perhaps the most valuable player (along with David Ortiz). Having that Keith Foulke back would make a huge difference.

If their bullpen can get over the fact that they have no lefty to get guys out (Lenny Dinardo? come on), they'll be solid. Mike Myers wasn't the greatest reliever, but you knew what you were getting: a lefty who could get out lefties, but would get whacked by righties. But Timlin, Papelbon (who should be starting, but oh well), and Tavares should be nice. I like Tavares, he'll make up for the brawls that left town along with Bronson Arroyo. I also like him because he looks like Nosferatu. Can't beat that.

Okay, we still don’t have a lefty (although Javier Lopez coming in and striking out Jim Thome on Saturday with the bases loaded was nice), and I wasn’t entirely correct with my assessment of the bullpen, but hey at least I was right about Tavares looking like Nosferatu (seriously, check this out). Well apparently didn’t need Foulke to be our closer, because Papelbon is the second coming of Mariano Rivera (who hasn’t left, but oh well). Honestly, have you ever seen anything like Papelbon? He’s give up 3 runs! Other than him, however, the bullpen has been shaky. Timlin’s been fine, but he’s starting to show his age. They’ve had to rely on the kids (Hansen and Delcarmen) a little earlier than expected, but they’ve at least been decent, better than Tavares and the other bums.

If they can replace Bill Mueller, well, I'd be surprised. There's a sports radio morning show personality here in Boston who likes to bash Mueller for his lack of home run production. I'm sorry, is this the most important stat in judging a 3rd baseman? How about his great glovework? How about the fact he had two of the biggest clutch hits in recent Red Sox history- both off Mariano Rivera, arguably the greatest closer ever? You can't replace guys like that.

If Mike Lowell's off-year in 2005 was due to back problems that are no longer bothering him, he'll produce well in Fenway Park. If his numbers prior to last year were due to steroid use as is commonly believed, we'll see how much we miss Bill Mueller. If I were a betting man (and I am), I'd bet on the latter.

Well, I am a betting man, but luckily I didn’t bet anything, because I was dead wrong about Lowell. Mind you, I still love Bill Mueller, but Lowell has been such a great surprise. He’s on pace for about 60 doubles, along with batting over .300 and playing a great 3rd base. Not bad for a throw-in in the Beckett deal.

If Mark Loretta can get over last year's injuries, we finally have a solid 2nd baseman and, perhaps more importantly, a solid hitter to plug in the 2-hole (the first since Marty Barrett?). A .300+ hitter with some power (10+ home runs out of a 2nd baseman is a nice luxury).

Loretta’s batting over .300 and playing a great 2nd base. I love him.

If the 3-headed 1st baseman (Kevin Youkilis, J. T. Snow and Hee-Seop Choi) can produce better than Kevin Millar, it'd be a step up. That shouldn't be hard. But still, you can't help but think that they won't produce enough to keep Theo Epstein from pursuing a trade at some point this season.

Once again, Danny might have been a little off on this one. I was right about Snow and Choi, but wrong about Youkilis. Then again, I don’t think anyone thought he’d bat around .300 and play a great 1B. He may be the slowest leadoff hitter of all time, but who cares.

If Manny Ramirez can get over the fact he's still here it might cut down on the number of redundant articles and annoying blabbering on the radio. We know what's going to happen: close to the trade deadline he'll want to be traded, the Sox won't find a taker for his huge contract, he'll stay, redeclare his love for Boston and the Red Sox Nation and everyone will love him. He is, after all, the best right-handed hitter in decades (although Pujols is making his case). I love him.

I couldn’t have been more right, well, at least about Manny’s playing. Manny is great, +.300 average, +.600 slugging percentage and has even played well in left. You don’t hear too many complaints about him these days. I was wrong about the demanding a trade, but there’s still time before the trade deadline.

If Trot Nixon can overcome all his injuries (and they're numerous), it would give us another solid bat with some power in the middle of the lineup. But what are the chances of that happening? I love Nixon, and I think he's one of the most underrated players in the game. But he's never healthy enough to prove me right. So the Sox went out and got Wily Mo Pena. If he can learn to make decent contact more often than 1 in 20 swings he might fulfill his potential. I'm not holding my breath.

Well, Nixon has, for the most part, been healthy and he’s played great. He’s batting over .310 (even after an 0 for 9 day on Sunday), but his power numbers are down. That’s okay, he’s providing protection for Ortiz-Manny and is hitting lefties reasonably well (better than most will give him credit for). He’s still one of the most underrated players around. Pena was doing well before he got hurt, but with Nixon playing well, he’s not all that crucial (unlike, say, another starting pitcher, which is what we gave up for him). Chances are, Pena will take over next year full time since the Sox will probably let Nixon go.

If Coco Crisp can continue to improve I think we'll love him here in Boston. Will he be better than Johnny Damon this season? No. Will he be better in 3 years? Absolutely. Hitting in front of Loretta, Ortiz and Manny will be the best thing for his career.

I get a mulligan on this one, since Crisp was hurt for so long. He’ll be fine.

If the front office can stay out of the spotlight, the team would be much better off. But that won't happen, sorry to say.

Well, they’ve actually done a decent job of staying out of the way. This may be because we’ve gotten used to their antics and are a little more immune to them. Part of it stems from Lucchino spending less time with the media, which was a smart move. Hopefully they can stay out of the spotlight.

If you have this many "if" statement and a lot are related to injuries, that never bodes well. There are few sure things on this team. We know what we'll get from Ortiz- great power, good average and, best of all, the premiere clutch hitter in the game. We know what we'll get from Varitek- good numbers for a catcher and the best game-caller in the game. We know what we'll get from Alex Gonzalex- a great glove and a slim chance of batting over .250. And we know we'll get decent production from Wakefield and Wells (if he stays long). It's hard to know what to expect from Matt Clement, so I won't expect anything.

There are still some “if” statements that should cause us to worry. The biggest “if” is the pitching staff, as in, we only have 2 starters with any consistency (that’s including Beckett, who hasn’t been great), although Wakefield’s ERA hasn’t been horrible (4.05) he hasn’t had the best run support. We’ve relied on Jon Lester, who has pitched well but he’s only like 12 or something, so can we rely on him come October?

Ortiz has had another phenomal season, he’s on pace for 60ish home runs and over 160 RBI. His ability to hit in the clutch hasn’t diminished at all this year. There’s really nothing to say about him that hasn’t already been said.

The point is this: with this many "if's", every Sox fan should be a little worried. But then again, if some of these work out, we'll be sitting pretty. It will be a fun season, I do have high hopes. Now, if I could get some tickets without killing my bank account, that would be a miracle.

Right now the Red Sox are in first place. The Yankees have some serious issues, and the Blue Jays haven’t done much. And despite their success against the defending champion Chicago White Sox this weekend, I don’t think the Red Sox will stand up against the American League in the postseason. If they can get to the World Series, I’d pick them to win, simply because the American League is far superior to the National League. The Red Sox need more pitching, and they need to learn to hit lefties. We’ll see what happens, but as they currently stand, I don’t think they will win the World Series.

By the way, is anyone else astonished by the gap of talent between the American and National Leagues? I mean, after the AL swept the last two World Series I think we knew which league was the best, but did anyone realize just how much better? Even Kansas City was beating NL teams, and they can’t buy a win in the AL.

Many people have offered suggestions for why this is the case, and I’m sure the reasons are numerous. I’ve heard plenty of people say that it’s because the AL has a DH, therefore their offenses are better. But I think that misses the point a bit. In reality, because the AL has better offenses, that forces the teams to go out and find better pitching. Yes, the AL pitching is far better. How else do you explain Bronson Arroyo’s All-Star season? How else do you explain that Clemens went from an above average AL pitcher to a dominant Cy Young Award winning pitcher in the NL? Why did Randy Johnson struggle so much when he came to the AL? Carl Pavano? Even Josh Beckett (who’s still young enough to come around)? The truth is that the AL is forced to go out and find the best pitching available. The DH has made the league more competitive in this respect.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the second half of the season. Will Theo trade for another starter (John Smoltz?)? Will he end up giving away one of the prospects to do it? Will Crisp regain pre-injury form? Will Youkilis continue his surprising season? Will the tandem of Manny & Big Papi combine for 100 home runs and 300 RBI? Will the Sox outlast the Yankees for the division? There are plenty of other questions, which is all the more reason why we should be watching.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hymn of the Week: Jesus, I Come

I've been wanting to have a special weekly highlight of some of my favorite hymns for a while, and now I've finally sat down to do it (after almost a month of not posting anything, but I was out of the country for a while, so there). I'll basically just post the lyrics and some thoughts, but hopefully not so many as to detract from the song itself. I am no hymnologist (if there is such a thing) and certainly am not qualified to analyze the poetry of any song. These songs will simply be some that I have grown to love over the years. Hymns are a gift to the Church, and I hope we not allow them to be pushed to the back burner.

Leading off the Hymn of the Week segment will be one written by a man named William Sleeper. I've heard a couple different names for it: "Jesus, I Come" and "Out of My Bondage (Jesus, I Come)." Either way, you get the idea. Anyway, here are the lyrics:

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night
Jesus, I come; Jesus I come
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light
Jesus, I come to Thee
Out of my sickness into Thy health
Out of my wanting and into Thy wealth
Out of my sin and into Thyself
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross
Jesus, I come to Thee
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm
Out of distress into jubilant psalm
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come
Into Thy blessed will to abide
Jesus, I come to Thee
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love
Out of despair into raptures above
Upward forever on wings like a dove
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come
Into the joy and light of Thy home
Jesus, I come to Thee
Out of the depths of ruin untold
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold
Ever Thy glorious face to behold
Jesus, I come to Thee.

I had never heard this hymn until I was in seminary, when I borrowed a friend's Indelible Grace cd (Vol III, entitled "For All the Saints"). Indelible Grace is a series of cds put out by RUF (Reformed University Fellowship, thanks Stephanie) that features hymns redone by various Christian artists (Derek Webb, Andrew Osenga, Dan Haseltine, etc). This particular song was done by Matthew Perryman Jones, and I was floored the first time I heard it. I probably listened to it a million times that first day (by the way, he did another song on that cd, "Jesus Cast a Look on Me", which is also great). Anyway, I didn't really like the cd as a whole, but Jones' two songs are worth the price of the cd (which I don't actually own due to my lack of funds). Not too long after that we sang this in chapel, but other than that I've never sung it in a corporate setting.

So why do I love this song? I suppose the answer to this question might change depending on the circumstances of life, but for now I can say a couple things. One, I think it wonderfully portrays the exchange that comes with the Christian life. The Bible talks about receiving beauty for ashes and so on, this song hammers home this theme. Two, it talks about something I aspire to, that is, leaving behind my fear, pride, dread, etc., for the blessings that come with being in Christ. This song has become a constant prayer for me as I struggle through life. Three, I like how the song leads to the truth of eternity with Christ. It seems that a number of older hymns do this, and I really like that aspect. I just hope the reference to "raptures" isn't referring to the common belief in a "rapture" as seen in the Left Behind series and dispensational theology.

Anyway, that's about it. Like I said, I don't want to say too much, I'd rather these posts center around the hymn rather than my thoughts on the hymn. Feel free to leave your comments. There's a good chance that a number of folks reading this have never heard this hymn before, so I hope you enjoy this hidden jewel as much as I do.