Two men who had a great impact on my life passed away in the past week. One I knew personally; the other I knew only through his presentations before large groups of which I was a part. But both played major roles in the shaping of who I became as an individual.
James Blizzard was my pastor for several years, from my junior high and high school years until sometime during my college years. I sat under not only Pastor Blizzard's preaching but also in his Sunday school classes, vacation Bible school lessons, and youth group teaching and activities. To this day, I remember lessons he taught about the geography of Palestine, the life of Christ, the history of the early church, and the shorter and larger catechisms.
In VBS, he required us to memorize Bible verses that corresponded to each year's theme, at least one verse for every letter in the theme. I can still recall many of those themes, such as "Jesus Never Fails," which meant learning at least 15 verses in one week. And we kids competed for mastery of them because at the end of the week, the one who could say all the verses letter perfect and give the correct reference for each won a prize. And every year, the competition was stiff among Jimmy Blizzard (the pastor's son), Stacy Pease, Margaret I-Can't-Remember-Her-Last-Name-Now, and me. Occasionally, I managed to win, but it was always close.
We kids had fun playing games, both athletic and mental, in our Overcomers youth group meetings and get-togethers. There, too, we had competitions for not only games of an athletic nature but also memorization and Bible knowledge.
The Blizzard family were frequent visitors at our house (the accompanying photo captured just one of those visits), and we enjoyed the fun and fellowship of those times. Pastor Blizzard would discuss deep spiritual truths with my parents over a meal, but he probably was unaware of younger ears that overheard his words or of the hearts that were influenced by what he shared. I also witnessed a mysterious thing during the rare times he had to correct his children in our presence. He would interrupt his adult conversation to call attention to some misdeed and then say to the child, "Remind me to spank you when we get home."
I once asked Jimmy, "Do you really remind him when you get home?" He replied, "Of course! we'd be in even more trouble if we didn't."
That was an amazing lesson for me as a child. My childish mind would have thought, I'm praying that my parents forget the whole incident, and I certainly wouldn't have reminded them of it! But I learned from that the truth that we are responsible for certain things, even if it means our hurt. In the long run, we're the better for it.
It was under Pastor Blizzard's teaching and preaching ministry that I learned much of the Bible truths that shaped my beliefs and character. He especially helped me to realize the importance of the practice of daily Bible reading, which, he knew, would further influence my life. His inscription in the front of the commentary that he and the youth group gave me when I set out for my freshman year of college underscored those emphases. (See the accompanying photo.) I still have and use that commentary today. But I especially am frequently reminded of the challenge of the Bible reference he included in that inscription: "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27). That was Pastor Blizzard's heart and, through his influence, it became mine.
The other influential man who died last week was Frank Garlock. Although I did not know him personally, I attended several of his presentations on music and frequently witnessed his directing the students' singing in our daily chapel sessions while in college.
Garlock was a musician, a conductor, a composer, an authority on music theory and church music. He had been educated at the Eastman School of Music and had done post-graduate work under the famed Robert Shaw.
Some people can perform music, singing or playing instruments. Others can only recognize and appreciate good music when they hear it. I'm in the latter group. (I managed to squeak through Music Appreciation class, a requirement for education majors in my program, and I did so only with the help of a very generous and sympathetic professor. I learned to appreciate good music, but note reading, theory, etc., never seemed to "stick.")
Garlock chaired the theory department of my alma mater, founded the Master of Church Music program at another college, and directed his church's choir for many years. He also founded Majesty Music, which helped lead to the related ministry of "Patch the Pirate," aka Ron Hamilton, who happens to be his son-in-law. He also authored several books, the first of which was The Big Beat: A Rock Blast, which warned of the dangers of rock music. That book and his subsequent lectures on its subject greatly influenced my own views on music. His ministry career lasted nearly 70 years.
I was saddened to learn of the deaths of these two men of God. Both had an immeasurable influence on my life, one directly and personally, the other indirectly. But their ministries continue through the lives of the many other people whom, like myself, they influenced. And as more than one person has commented of these men, they exhaled on earth one final time but then inhaled the celestial air of heaven. What testimonies they were!