Monday, May 14, 2018

WHAT I'D SAY IF I SPOKE AT THE MARIAN HIGH GRADUATION

"But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."  (Luke 2:19)

At the outset I will state that it's probably much more likely I'd be struck by lightning than that I'd be asked to speak at the Marian High graduation!  This is just a piece about if I were speaking at the Marian High graduation!  It's purely hypothetical.  I'm a Protestant.  I'm an Ordained minister.  My theology differs from Roman Catholic theology- in some instances, it differs quite a bit!  I am not a celebrity.  I don't have a list of great monumental life achievements.  And, I'd expect that like all schools, if there is a special speaker for Marian's 2018 graduation, certainly that speaker was chosen many months ago.  But one can dream.  This has been a very difficult year for Marian High School.  On April 3, 2018, it was officially announced by the Marian school board that the school would close at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.  A group of committed parents valiantly went to work in an effort to save the school.  In my opinion, they did an outstanding job.  Many stepped forward in support of saving Marian High School.  On May 10, 2018, the Archdiocese of Boston formally announced that despite the efforts of the Save Marian organization, the school would absolutely be closing in June 2018.  My wife has been employed in the office at Marian, I think, since 2005.  My three kids graduated from Marian, in 2001, 2003, and 2005 respectively.  Despite the fact that I left the Catholic church over forty years ago, my wife and I found that Marian was a great fit for our family. There is so much I could say, but without further ado, here is what I'd say if I were speaking at graduation:

This graduation day brings more than the usual rush of emotions, both of great happiness and ecstasy and of nostalgic sadness.  Until April 3 of this year, who of us would have believed this would be Marian's final Graduation Day?  I'm the only one of our family who never actually attended Marian High nor worked at Marian High, that is, unless you count my volunteer time when my kids were here.  I haven't lived in Framingham since 2010.  So, you'd think this wouldn't be quite as difficult a day as it is for my wife and grown kids.  But let me tell you, it is!  However, my speaking here today does underscore a great truth:  Scripture says in Luke 1:37, "For with God nothing shall be impossible."

To those who worked to save the school and feel you failed, remember those words!  I actually have a Marian High School 2017 key ring.  I will keep that key ring until it is so worn and tarnished that it falls apart!  The buildings may be closed up.  The physical property may become something totally different.  But in the sense of that film, "We Are Marshall", every one of us who's ever been a part of Marian High School will go on and it can always be said of us that, "We Are Marian!".

I'm a Protestant minister and I'm speaking at the Marian High graduation!  If that's not God, if that's not impossible, I don't know what is!  And, I'm going to say some things today that are most unusual for a Protestant minister:  I'm going to speak about Mary!  Now, that wouldn't be at all unusual for a Catholic, but it's very unusual for a Protestant.   You see, Protestants don't tend to teach or preach or speak about Mary.  I pastored a small Protestant church in Framingham for over twenty years.  In all that time, I don't think I ever gave a single sermon about Mary.  Oh, we'll mention Mary briefly at Christmastime, or briefly in teaching on the incident of Jesus in the Temple as a twelve-year-old.  But we don't talk about Mary, because it just plan sounds too Catholic!  And that's a shame, because we evangelical Protestants claim to be people of the Bible, and you can't be any more of a "person of the Bible" than Mary!  So today I'm speaking about Mary.  It's fitting because this is Marian High School, named for Mary.  And let me say this:  If you'll truly follow the example Mary sets for us in the Bible throughout your lives, you'll be outstanding and godly men and women!

I want to briefly tell you six things about Mary from the Bible today:

Number One; Mary Was Faithful to God's Plan.  We don't have time, but sometime in the next few days, take some time and read Luke's Gospel chapter one.  The verse about nothing being impossible with God that I cited comes from that chapter.  Tradition tells us Mary was a teenager when she was visited by the Angel Gabriel and told that she would be the virgin mother of the Messiah, Jesus!  Wow!  Have you ever thought about how difficult that all must have been for her?  Everybody thought she "fooled around" before marriage.  In many quarters, she was disgraced and disdained.  But she said, "Yes" to Gabriel and "Yes" to God!  Would you say "Yes" to God, no matter what that meant?  Most people wouldn't but Mary did!  She was faithful.  She was a giant of faith!  Will you be a giant of faith like Mary?  Will you say "Yes" to God no matter what that means?

Number Two; Mary Was Obedient to God's Word.  In Luke 1:38, Mary said to the Angel Gabriel, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me accouding to thy word".  Mary said, "If God's Word, says it, I want to do it, I want to obey it!"  Do you obey God's Word?  My late father would have said, "It doesn't take a college degree to see that most people don't!"  Well, it doesn't take a college degree or a high school diploma to see that most people don't desire to obey God's Word, but if you will be a person who honors and obeys God's Word, there will be great blessings for you!

Number Three; Mary Was a Prophetic Voice.  Now that may sound a little spooky.  You may say, "Well wait a minute, Pastor Bob, I'm just an ordinary person, I can't speak as a prophet or a prophetess!"  I'm not talking about any foolish, crackpot nonsense here!  In the cults and in false religions there's plenty of that.  But Mary was a prophetic voice.  Have you ever read The Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1 verses 46-55?  It's one of the most beautiful portions of Scripture in which Mary speaks both poetically and prophetically!  Listen, you don't have to be a Billy Graham or a Mother Teresa to speak prophetically.  It just means you know God and you walk with God and you vocally speak what God wants you to speak.  Do you know what was the greatest thing about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr?  It's not all that leadership in the civil rights movement, as great as that was.  It was King's prophetic voice that sparked his actions in the civil rights movement!  Do you know who Corrie Ten Boom was?  She was a Dutch watchmaker who rescued countless Jews during World War 2.  She wrote several books which speak prophetically.  Like King, her prophetic voice led to her actions.  There's so much more I could say about this, but there are kids here who can and will change the world if they'll really get to know God, speak with a prophetic voice, and then let that lead to action.

Number Four; Mary Was Reflective of God's Wonders.  Luke 2:19 says of Mary that she, "...kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."  "All these things" was all she had seen and experienced God say and do.  She thought about this stuff.  She reflected on it.  She meditated on it.  And it affected her in a very positive way; and then she affected others in a very positive way!  What do you think about?  Listen, we all think about a lot of stupid or worthless things!  I do!  Great people think about a lot more than stupid and worthless things.  They think about what really matters!  There's a discipline to that!  Somebody says, "But Pastor Bob, I'm only a teenager!"  Listen, Mary was only a teenager, but she kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart!  Do you want to be like everybody else?  Some of  you do want that.  That's too bad.  But if some of you will discipline how you spend your time and talents, and what you think about and what you give your attention you, you'll inspire others and you'll motivate others, and you'll change your world!

Number Five; Mary Was Longsuffering and Committed to Christ.  John's Gospel tells us Mary was there at the cross when Jesus was crucified.  Can you imagine the sorrows she experienced?  The woman's name Dolores literally means "sorrows" in Spanish, and specifically refers to the sorrows of the Virgin Mary.  There's a line from the movie "Field of Dreams" that I love.  It's when the voice says to Ray the main character, "Go the distance!"  Most people don't "go the distance".  When the going gets tough, most people get going, meaning they leave!!  Not Mary!  Did you ever stop to think she could have been jailed or even killed?  She didn't care.  She was "all in" when it came to her faith.  She was willing to "go the distance".  Most people are not willing to "go the distance" with God.  Are you willing to be like Mary?  Are you willing to "go the distance"?  If you will, you'll be one of the heroes of the faith!  No kidding!

Number Six; Mary Looked to Jesus Christ for Help.  Do you remember the first miracle Jesus performed?  It was the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana in John chapter two.  There was a real crisis at this wedding.  They were running out of wine.  Mary did not know what to do, so she turned to Jesus.  Then she told the servants in John 2:5, "...Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."  And the rest is history!  Need help?  Jesus is the answer.  I remember when I used to volunteer in the Health Room way back around 2000 I'd hear the Religion teacher Mrs. Cunis leading her classes in what she called, "The Miracle Prayer".  She taught them this prayer over and over.  Mrs. Cunis told her classes, "In life,  if you're ever in a crisis, pray this prayer."  Here is what she taught them to pray, "Jesus, I'm a sinner.  I can't save myself.  I need you, Jesus.  I need help Jesus.  I believe you died on the cross for me and I believe you rose from the dead.  I ask you to come into my heart.  I ask you to come into my life.  I ask you be be my Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Amen".    That's a great prayer.  If you pray that prayer, you'll be like Mary.  You'll ask Jesus for help.  I don't say that life will be easy.  It may be very hard.  But the Lord will be with you.  The Lord will help you, and the Lord will see you through.

Yes, if you'll truly follow the example Mary sets for us in the Bible, you'll be outstanding and godly men and women.  God bless you!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

"THANK YOU, JOHN McCAIN!"

"Render therefore to all their dues: ... honour to whom honour." (from Romans 13:7)

I've really debated within myself whether to write and post this piece.  Over the years I've written and posted some items online that I really believed had great significance and would have a great impact.  At least- that was my hope!  Shortly after Senator Edward Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer, I wrote an open letter to him online.  It was a pretty well-written piece.  I'm sure he never saw it; it got very few "hits", and it probably made no impact.  Earlier this year, I wrote an open letter to President Trump, and that one is pretty much in the same category.  Interestingly enough, I did once post an item on my blog that got over 5,000 "hits".  That was a piece stating my thoughts and opinions about Boston radio talk show host Jay Severin and his program.  Frankly, most of my posts never get 200 "hits" and may never get 75 "hits".

So, I really debated this one, wondering if even one hundred people would read it, wondering if anyone would "share" it on social media, wondering if anyone would forward the link to it to their friends, wondering frankly if anyone would even remotely care!

I decided that the words from Romans chapter 13 that I opened with indicate that I absolutely must write this piece and post it online!

It can be kind of embarrassing to be sort of obsessed with a celebrity.  I wouldn't want people to really think of me in that way; as the kind of guy waiting to get a celebrity's autograph, or the kind of guy who'd be blushing and spilling his glass of water while stuttering nervously and attempting to shake a celebrity's hand.  But today I'm admitting that's the way I feel about John McCain.  In answer to one of those questions asking what celebrity you'd like to go to dinner and a ball game with, for me, my number one choice is John McCain.  When Billy Graham was alive, he probably would have been my number one choice, and I don't know what some of you will be thinking after you read this, but my other choices are (in this order):  Robert Duvall, Jimmy Swaggart, Mike Pence, Rob Gronkowski, and lastly Dr. Phil Mcgraw.

I first became fascinated and obsessed with John McCain during his run for the 2000 Republican Presidential nomination.  The more I saw and learned about John McCain, the more impressed I was and the more fascinated I became.  Then, at some point, I watched a television drama about his early life, particularly his six-year imprisonment in Hanoi during the Vietnam conflict.  Many of my friends know I don't like to post about politics on social media.  That's why when Donald Trump said that John McCain was not a hero "because he was captured",  I merely wrote on Facebook that it made me "sad".  Today, I really regret downplaying that.  Now, I did (somewhat reluctantly) vote for Donald Trump for President in 2016 and I will probably vote for him again in 2020.  But that remark was so inappropriate and so insensitive that it still boggles my mind that it was said.  And, the comment from the Trump staffer this week to the effect that, "he's dying so what does it matter"... well that comment was perhaps even worse.  It was this week's comment that moved me to write this piece, even though I may look foolish to some people.  (Honestly, with all I've said and done in my life, I probably look foolish already, so I guess it won't hurt to write this!)

Can you guess I'm one of those preachers who can be known for giving long introductions in his sermons and for using lengthy illustrations in his sermons?!   So far, this is only the introduction!  Now I will attempt to get to what I really want to say.

I guess I will never meet John McCain.  I guess we will never have dinner together and go to a ball game or some other event.  That's too bad.  Maybe we'd have nothing in common.  I wouldn't have lasted twenty-four hours in that "Hanoi Hilton" before I would have been crying like a baby!  I would never have had the guts to do so much of what he did in life!  Listen, I know he has a number of personal failures in his life, too.  But John McCain is a great hero in my eyes.  The first thing I would have done is saluted him.  The second thing I would have done is shake his hand and tell him I'm very proud of him.  I would have told him I voted for him for President in the 2000 and 2008 Massachusetts Republican primaries, as well as in the November 2008 Presidential election.  I would have told him about my mother, the late Virginia M. Baril.  She was a lifelong Democrat.  In 2000, just a few months before her death, she changed her party status in Massachusetts from "Democrat" to "unenrolled" so she'd be able to vote for John McCain in the Republican primary.  And, I'd tell him my sister Dianne feels the same way and admires John McCain as much as I do - maybe more!   I'd probably have asked him questions about the current political scene and about his military service.  And, I'd probably just have asked some general questions about things he likes to do, places he's visited or would like to visit, favorite books and movies, and things like that.  Finally, I would have clearly talked about my personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and how it's God who is my purpose and reason for being "twenty-four/seven".

Will John McCain ever read this?  I don't know.

I've certainly prayed for him.  And, I've admired his daughter Meghan McCain and the strong stand she took on The View to defend Mike Pence and his faith.  I think in my last moment with John McCain at our "meeting" I'd have quickly (and a little nervously) said, "Can I just briefly pray for you?" and if he'd allow it, I'd have laid my hand on his shoulder and prayed a very heartfelt prayer.

If there's been some miracle, and he's reading this, I say "THANK YOU, JOHN McCAIN", and I add that a lot of people love you, respect you, and are praying for you.

Monday, April 30, 2018

THE STRANGE CASE OF PAUL RYAN & FR. PATRICK CONROY

"Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24)

I believe it was last Friday when I heard a very strange news story reported on television.  I honestly don't remember which national news broadcast I was tuned into at the time, but it was reported that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had fired the Chaplain of the House of Representatives!  It was also reported that in all the years they've had chaplains in the House, none of them have ever been fired.  I must say the idea that the Chaplain of the House would be fired seemed most bizarre!  Of course, I wondered what very serious offense could possibly have caused such an event to take place!

I'd honestly had no idea of the identity of the Chaplain of the House.  It was reported that the person who'd been forced to resign was a Roman Catholic priest.  His name is Father Patrick Conroy.  Conroy states that after a pleasant seven years of serving in that position, a public prayer he prayed last autumn stirred things up quite a bit.  If you do an on-line search, you can easily find more details about this, and you can read the exact words of the prayer, as well.  The gist of the prayer is that Fr. Conroy hoped that whatever the results of pending legislation there would be only winners and no losers among the poor.  The priest says he was confronted by the Speaker shortly after he uttered that prayer and was told that there had been complaints that his prayer was "too partisan".  He believes that's the issue which led to his resignation being requested a couple of weeks ago.  Speaker Ryan has told reporters that wasn't the case at all; that the real issue was that Fr. Conroy was not providing effective pastoral care to the members of the House.

During the first twenty-four hours after I heard this story reported, there were a number of posts which popped up on Facebook.  Most were from Facebook friends of mine that tend to be "progressive" in their political and social views and tend to vote for Democrats.  Father Conroy was portrayed as the epitome of a totally selfless man who'd lay down his life for the poor, while Speaker Ryan was portrayed as, well, at best Eddie Munster and at worst, Satan.

Now, don't get me wrong here!  I had no problem with the words of Fr. Conroy's prayer.  And, just to make sure I wasn't missing something, I "ran this by" a couple of my evangelical Protestant friends who also had no problem with the words of Fr. Conroy's prayer.  I had strongly considered posting something very critical of Speaker Ryan, myself.  I mean, we evangelicals (and Ryan's a Catholic, incidentally) are constantly saying we want more prayer, more Bible reading, more acknowledgement of God in public life, etc.  So, even if Fr. Conroy is a liberal and had a political agenda in praying that prayer (and we don't know if that's the case) it would seem foolhardy to fire a chaplain for something like that, whether he's a priest, or a rabbi, or a Unitarian-Universalist minister, or whomever he or she is!

But...
After thinking about it for a few days, I will admit that Speaker Ryan's stated reason for asking for the Chaplain's resignation seems very, very weak, but I really don't know the facts, and I doubt that the people posting about it on Facebook do either!

I guess what strikes me as ironic is that so many (but not all) of the people who came to the priest's defense were those who usually won't come to any clergyperson's defense!  Somebody did post that James Madison back in the day very much did not want chaplains in Congress and that maybe this is proof that Madison was right.  Maybe.  Or maybe it's making some folks see that clergy who speak and pray with a prophetic voice- whether they're registered Republicans or Democrats, and whether they're liberals or conservatives - bring something very positive and very important "to the table" in a society where that moral and spiritual voice is typically not welcome.

Yes, the case of Paul Ryan and Fr. Patrick Conroy is indeed strange and it will be interesting to see who replaces the priest in the House, and whether the position of Chaplain comes to be considered of more significance and importance than has previously been the case!


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

JENNIFER B. ASKS THE $64,000 QUESTION

"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God:  for they are foolishness unto him:  neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."  (I Corinthians 2:14)

This morning I noticed an interesting question which had been posted on Facebook by one of my Facebook friends.  I'm not sure if she'd want me using her whole name or not, so I'll call just use her last name's initial and call her "Jennifer B."  I have something like two hundred and fifty Facebook friends.  There are probably not many more than twenty that I'd consider fairly close friends, although I have met Jennifer B. one time a few years ago.  It was at a venue where I was the guest speaker.  Here's her question, exactly as she worded it:

"Why do people find God so offensive!?  I don't believe in lots of things or behaviors so I go on with my life.  Why can't OTHER PEOPLE do the same when it comes to God?"

My sister has asked me a similar question at times, although my sister's "question" is more of a statement.  She often says, "I can't understand why so many people want nothing to do with God.  I just don't get it!"

I know my Adult Sunday School class is far away for many of you.  (It is at Bread of Life Church in Westminster, MA)  Ironically, during last Sunday's class we discussed something along the line of why people just ignore God, don't take Him seriously, and don't want anything to do with Him.  (The class right now is on Ezekiel, which is kind of a tough book, and the lesson was on God's judgment falling.  Yeah, a tough topic, but we actually got into a really interesting discussion!)  Jennifer B. got thirty-one "likes" for her post, and if my count was correct, she got sixteen comments.  I was one of the people who commented.  I wrote that many people want to be totally free and independent.  The idea of a Supreme Being to whom they're supposed to be accountable makes them very uncomfortable and they recoil at such a thought.  Many also see "religious" people as "repressive" and "trying to ruin their lives" etc.  I closed my comment by saying they fail to understand John 3:16!

If you want to understand what I mean about John 3:16 I recommend you go to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's website (you can find it pretty easily with any online search) and watch any one of Billy Graham's sermons.  They all pretty much have the same theme:  That God is actually not some horrible cosmic jerk.  Rather God is love.  He loved us so much that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins and purchase our eternal salvation.  I know.  Most modern sophisticated Americans and Europeans don't want to hear that message.  They tend to recoil at the idea of a bloody dead Savior dying on a cross as, (to use a word that the late Senator Robert Byrd made famous in a Senate speech) "barbaric!".  In fact, as one song puts it, "There is No Greater Love".

I know that born-again Christians sometimes do "turn people off".  Sometimes Christians can be loud, obnoxious, negative, and condemning.  They mean well, but I know it can be hard to take.  Honestly, I've been a born-again Christian for over forty-seven years, and I probably spent almost twenty of those years as a hand wagging, condemning legalistic Christian.  I'm so sorry for that!  I meant well, but I forgot about God's love and focused on sinners being punished, etc.  Ironically, a fellow Assemblies of God minister had a little talk with me one evening about my legalistic ways somewhere around 1991, and that little talk caused me to "do a one-eighty" in how I approached "unbelievers"! 

It's not at all my purpose to make this a long boring lecture, so I'm about to wrap it up.  But Jennifer B.'s question really resonated with me today.  Those who have received Jesus Christ as their Personal Savior and Lord and who have had their lives transformed by Him are so eternally grateful!  Sometimes, we just have a very hard time understanding those who frankly don't seem to care about God's love or their eternal destiny.  So, I decided to write about that today.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

BRENDAN SEITZ (Marian High) "REACHES FOR THE STARS"!

"...The things which are impossible with man are possible with God." (from Luke 18:27)

For friends, family, students, parents, and alumni of Marian High School of Framingham, Massachusetts, to borrow from the words of F.D.R.:  Yesterday, April 3, 2018, was a day which shall live in infamy!  Yesterday, the President and official board of Marian High School announced that the school is closing at the end of this school year.  The news was sad and shocking.  My wife, Mary Ann, has been the Administrative Assistant at Marian for well over ten years.  We joke that she, "makes Marian run"!  I hope no one at the school is offended by my saying that, but she really does!  All three of my now grown children graduated from Marian.  During the past (at least) nineteen years, I've been very close to the school in many ways.

I never thought I'd be so involved with a Roman Catholic high school, or that my wife would become a long time employee of the school.  I'm an Assemblies of God minister, and I pastored a small AG church in Framingham for many years.  Much to my parents' dismay, I parted ways with the Catholic Church as a very young man.  I'd become a "born again Christian" as a teenager, and just felt much more at home attending Baptist or Assemblies of God churches.  Mary Ann was raised attending a Baptist church.  Especially as a younger man, I was quick to argue against "praying to Mary" or "Purgatory" or "salvation by keeping the sacraments".  I recall that one September day around thirty years ago, the Assemblies of God had asked its ministers to drive onto their local high school campuses and just spend a few minutes praying for the schools.  I went to a few local high schools.  I still remember feeling kind of foolish praying there in the Marian parking lot!  God must have been laughing, because as I drove away I felt no connection to the place, but He knew what the future held for our family!

During the early 1990s, several teens from our church attended Marian.  At first, I asked their parents, "Don't you have to be Catholic to go to Marian?" I was surprised to learn that was not the case.  I also found that the kids who attended Marian were frankly "a cut above" their peers in every way.  That's the biggest reason we sent our kids to Marian and we weren't sorry we did!  I could get very teary as I talk about the wonderful teachers they had, the friendships they made, and the wonderful activities they enjoyed at the school.  I can't say enough good things about Marian's outstanding Drama and English teacher, Mr. Stephen Flynn.  He's a "class act" and a total professional!  My kids loved the Marian Mainstagers!  Rachel '05 went on to major in Theater at Westfield State and she's come back to help Mr. Flynn with some of the productions.

I was at Marian High School on 9/11/2001.  In those days, because my kids were on financial aid, I volunteered in the Development Office on my day off.  What a day it was!  At that time, Father Sheridan of St. Cecelia's Church in Ashland was the school chaplain.  He came into the school and ran a last period assembly in the auditorium, leading us in prayer and reflection, and bringing comforting words to all.  I was so emotional and upset about 9/11 that I marveled at what a great job he did!  I later told him that and he said, "Well, coming from you I take that as quite a compliment!"  It kind of reminds me of a scene from Robert Duvall's 1997 film, The Apostle.  Robert Duvall's character, a charismatic minister, is traveling in the Louisiana bayou area and sees a Catholic priest blessing a fishing fleet in French.  Duvall's character enthusiastically and happily says, "You do it your way and I do it my way, but we get it done, don't we?  We get it done!"  Yeah, Father Sheridan "got it done" on 9/11 and I will never forget it!

I will also never forget how gracious Religion teacher Colm McGarry (a native of Northern Ireland) was to have me in many times as a guest speaker for his classes.  Sometimes I talked about "The Pentecostal Movement" and sometimes I talked about "The Apostle Paul".  McGarry just couldn't understand why I would have left Catholicism for Protestantism, but he loved me and I loved him.  It was also a pleasure for my daughter Amy and I and a bunch of kids to join Mr. McGarry one evening in serving a meal at Boston's Pine Street Inn.

There's a fairly new documentary called, "Big Sacrifice, Big Dreams" .It's about the important role of faith-based schools in America.  You can find it on Youtube.  If you do and then scroll to around Minute 17, there's roughly a five minute piece about Marian High.  I hope you'll watch it;  it's great!  And, incidentally, a number of famous people attended Marian, including Attorney Jay Carney (Whitey Bulger's lawyer!) and the late teacher/astronaut Christa Corrigan McAuliffe.

At Marian, kids are often told to, "Reach For the Stars"!  That's a direct quote from Christa McAuliffe!  They're also told to live out their faith in practical ways.  I learned last night that the President of this year's Junior Class at Marian, Brendan Seitz has started a "Go Fund Me" page to try to save the school.  You can read about that at:

http://framinghamsource.com/index.php/2018/04/03/marian-high-junior-launches-gofundme-to-save-framingham-school-sets-goal-of-5-million/

I know.  A lot of people will roll their eyes.  How likely is it that Brendan Seitz will be successful?  The odds are certainly heavily against him.  But his action touched me very deeply.  I can't imagine taking such a step of faith and leadership as a kid of sixteen or seventeen.  But, Brendan Seitz exemplifies exactly what Marian High School is all about!  He's Reaching For the Stars, and he's practicing his faith in a very practical way!   Godspeed, Brendan Seitz!  Godspeed, Marian High School!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

CRIMSON OR CLOVER?

"...be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."  (from Matthew 10:16)

You may think that the title, Crimson or Clover? has a typographical error, but it does not.  Yes, I really meant it to be Crimson or Clover and not Crimson and Clover.  Most Baby Boomers will probably remember that Crimson and Clover was a hit song in the late 1960s by Tommy James and the Shondells.  In fact, I was reading this week on line that Tommy James first wrote the title and then the lyrics of the song.  He chose that title because crimson was his favorite color and clover was his favorite flower.  But this piece has nothing to do with the song, although for those of you who know the song, it will probably be an "ear worm" in your head for the rest of the day!

No, I chose the title for a very definite reason which you'll come to understand as you read this piece.  I looked up the definitions of both "crimson" and "clover".  Crimson is (frankly) the color of blood. It's defined as a deep red color which includes a slight purplish hue.  Clover is a plant and flower in the pea family.  I didn't know it was in the pea family.  There are three leaf clovers and there are four leaf clovers.  I was surprised to find on line the reason four leaf clovers are considered "lucky".  It said that comes from an old Christian tradition which says the four leaf clover represents the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, along with luck.  That's interesting, but I really don't like the whole concept of "luck".  It would take a different posting to explain why I don't like "luck", but I guess I'd rather think of the four leaf clover as symbolizing faith, hope, and love (love is charity, in fact "love" is a better translation of the original Greek word agape than is "charity"), along with blessings.  (Yes, I like the idea of "blessings from God" much more than "luck"!)

Crimson or clover?  How can one person's "clover" possibly be another person's "crimson"?  How can one person's beautiful field of soft green clover, symbolizing faith, hope, love, and blessings possibly be viewed by another person as a horrible gash in one's flesh- the result of an act of hatred and violence- gushing crimson blood?  In fact, that dichotomy actually happens, more than we might like to admit!

I have a friend that I'll call Doug.  That's not his real name.  He was estranged from a couple of family members for quite a long time.  That estrangement was deeply distressing and painful for him.  Doug is a committed Christian.  He has prayed for the miraculous healing and reconciliation of his relationship to the family members again and again.  Just a few days ago, a miracle happened!  In fact, they met, they talked; each of them "let their guard down" and there was a wonderful, miraculous restoration and healing of the relationships!  Doug's a lot like me.  He's very sensitive and he's very emotional.  He "wears his feelings on his sleeve".  As such, he's tended to innocently, "set himself up" to be badly hurt, as have I.  What did Doug do after that miraculous reconciliation?  Well, of course, he posted it on Facebook!  I will have to change the names and particulars of the family members, but his posting went something like this:

"I want to praise God that He has miraculously restored my relationship, not only with my cousin Bill but also with my daughter Renee!  We'd been completely at odds over a financial matter for several years.  We had not spoken.  The situation was hopeless.  But God has totally taken care of the problem. We've talked, and our relationship is healed!  I love my daughter Renee more than life itself!  And my cousin Bill is like a brother to me!  Thank God that He answered my prayers and restored us!"

Wow.  To Doug, that was total clover!   It was heaps of faith, hope, love, blessings and all good things for Bill and Renee.  He meant every word of it.  Doug genuinely loves his daughter and his cousin Bill.   Doug couldn't wait to shout it from the rooftops how much he loves them and how much he loves God!  Less than twenty-four hours later, I received a phone call from Doug.  He was stunned and devastated.  He'd heard from both Renee and Bill.  They were livid!  They viewed his posting as a selfish and mean betrayal!  To them, Doug had spat in their faces; he'd slashed their throats, leaving crimson blood spewing out, and mocking them before the entire world!

I had a heartfelt talk with Doug.  I asked if writing and posting that item on Facebook made him feel wonderful and happy inside.  It did!  I asked about his motives.  They were pure.  He couldn't in a million years have expected the response of Renee and Bill.  Doug was experiencing a crushing hurt that's difficult for me to explain, but I told Doug, I do understand!  Then I told him a story from my past.

You see, I'm also a guy who thinks and feels clover and not crimson!  In telling this story from my past I am also going to have to change some names and some details.  I had a friend I will call Vic.  Vic died four years ago.  Vic had quite a complicated life!  As a young man, he was extraordinarily successful.  He was a highly committed evangelical Christian.  He was very, very successful in his career.  He had quite a charismatic personality.  He had success seemingly just flowing from him!  People admired and loved him in the Boston suburb where he lived.  This was all during the 1980s when he was in his forties.  Later, Vic walked away from God.  Vic divorced his wife and remarried a much younger woman.  Vic moved to another state.  Vic committed a serious federal crime, and spent several years in a federal prison.  Vic later got out of prison and divorced his second wife.  Around the year 2000, Vic "came back to the Lord" as we born-again Christians like to put it.  He worked a humble job until his health failed.  He lived in an elderly housing facility in a blue-collar Boston suburb.  It would take a thousand words to tell of all the particulars, but around that time Vic became close to me.  I went through my own serious life crises around 2010.  That's when the church I'd pastored for years was closed and I nearly had a complete nervous breakdown.  I was in a bad way.  I will never forget, during that time, the day Vic called me.  I was totally distraught.  He spent a long time on the phone with me, just reassuring me and extending to me the love of Christ.  He promised to be there for me no matter what time, day or night.  He encouraged me that I could look to a brighter future and did not have to be despondent.  Even as I write these words, I'm almost in tears.  I can't begin to tell you how much Vic came to mean to me.

In early 2014, Vic died.  He was a very controversial person.  I knew that many people absolutely loved him and that many other people absolutely despised him!  It really bothered me that so many people despised Vic- that so many did not believe he'd really come back to God and died as a kind and wonderful Christian man.  I paid what I believed would be the finest tribute I could give to him.  I wrote a piece on my blog on the day he died- just like I'm doing right now.  I very bluntly stated who Vic was and what he'd done, good and bad.  I wrapped it up talking about what a wonderful friend Vic had been to me.  I consider that the day he spent the hour on the phone counseling me, he saved my life!  I ended by writing, "Vic, I love you!"

I must admit, I was so proud of that piece!  It was one of the finest things I'd ever written!  I was so glad to get the definitive word about Vic out in public!  And, once I put it out on my blog, I did get a lot of feedback.  A number of folks contacted me. They told me how much that piece had meant to them and how positive it made them feel about Vic.  So many were so happy to learn that despite his failures, Vic had died as a wonderful committed Christian and a wonderful friend.

I fully expected to hear from Vic's family- from either his first wife or one of his grown children.  Of course, they'd love what I'd written!  I wondered which part of my post they'd appreciate the best.  I knew I'd probably be asked to say a few words during Vic's funeral service.  Maybe I'd even be asked to read my blog posting at the funeral!  The next day, I received a phone call from Vic's oldest son, Andy.  Boy, was I excited to hear from him!  It did surprise me, though, that Andy didn't sound very happy.  In fact, he was very matter-of-fact.  It was almost like talking to Jack Webb from the old Dragnet television show.  Andy, Vic's son, told me he and his siblings were very unhappy with what I'd put out on the internet.  He said they were getting calls from many of their friends who had no idea their father had committed a crime and gone to prison.  They were really upset.  Firmly, Andy told me to take my post down.

I was crushed.  Despite all I'd been through over several years, nothing had crushed me like Vic's son Andy's phone call.  Honestly, over the past decade, nothing before or since has crushed me like that!  I took the post down.  I seriously thought about making a copy of it to hold onto.  But I didn't.  I did go to the funeral, but I was embarrassed and uncomfortable.  You see, to me, that tribute piece to Vic was clover all the way.  It was faith, and hope, and love, and blessings.  But to Vic's grown kids, I'd just hacked them apart with a machete and spilled their blood all over the Boston suburbs!

This is very unscientific, but I'd guess around 95% of people are more like those who have a crimson outlook in matters such as I've described here and maybe 5% are the clover folks.  Are the crimson and the clover like oil and water?  Can they ever come together?  Can they ever understand and appreciate each other?

I think so.  At least, I hope so!  I do have some thoughts for each.  If you're a crimson, like most people, please try to understand we clovers!  It's O.K. to tell us it was embarrassing and hurtful that we said or wrote something that you found appalling, but please try to do it in an attitude of love and pleasantness and not with anger and hostility.  Please...?  It's O.K. to tell us, and we need to learn from it, but there's a right way and a wrong way to tell us, believe me!  And, if you're a clover like me and like Doug, you've got to pay attention to that Bible verse I opened with.  You know, if Doug's posting had been something like this:

"I'm so thankful for the immediate family and the extended family God has given me!  I love them and I love God for giving them to me!"

I think it would have accomplished what he wanted to accomplish without the hostile reaction that followed.  And if I had used Vic's initials in my piece instead of his full first and last name, or if I'd have given him a fictitious name, but it would have been pretty obvious to anyone who'd known the whole story of Vic that I was talking about him, it probably wouldn't have set off the friends of Vic's children, and I probably would have gotten away with writing and posting it!

Frankly, there's a lot more I could write, but I think I'm going to leave it at that!  I do hope a lot of people read this and I do hope a lot of people will think about this!  I guess this is being very manipulative, but writing a piece such as this is gut wrenching!  And, there's only one thing worse than getting negative feedback about a piece such as this:  That's getting no feedback at all!  I am amazed when I write a heartfelt piece such as this that gets no comments at the blog site or on Facebook, and generates no "likes" or "shares" or personal e-mails to me!  I would love it if you'd comment or "like" or "share" or send me an e-mail or a message, or send the link to this post to friends of yours!  I can't tell you how much I'd appreciate it, and I hope you'll receive that as clover and not as crimson!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

THANKFUL FOR THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF BILLY GRAHAM!

"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise."  (Proverbs 11:30)

February 21, 2018.  On this date, the world lost a great "soul winner"- The Rev. Billy Graham!  I learned from one of my Facebook friends early this morning that Billy Graham had passed from this life into Heaven; and soon thereafter I posted something on my Facebook timeline about the powerful impact Billy Graham had on my life.  After several hours of reflecting about that, I felt I really needed to put something more detailed on my blog, so here it is!

I want to try to be careful as I do write this.  I believe I could very easily be misunderstood.  There is no doubt in my mind that Billy Graham would not want to be placed on a pedestal.  He was a fallible human being just like we are.  He was a sinner, just like all the rest of us, except the Lord Jesus Christ.  I'm sure he had plenty of quirks like most of us do.  Thus, I don't want anyone to think I'm calling for people to exalt Billy Graham; to put him on the level of "Saints" depicted on church stained glass windows; to be venerated as a prophet, or anything of the kind.  No, I'm not for that at all!  But Billy Graham is very important because despite his shortcomings, he humbly said "yes" to God and humbly preached the Gospel and served His Lord and Savior for many decades.  As one of my friends pointed out on Facebook, his personal morality was impeccable.  There were no scandals involving women or money which seem to follow the lives of so many televangelists.  His family and friends, and even many of his detractors confess that when it came to the whole thing of living for God and honoring God, he was the real deal!

I never met Billy Graham "up close and personal".  I did see him "live" at his crusade at Boston's Nickerson Field in 1982.  Mary Ann and I were engaged to be married in those days.  We each served as "Counselors" at that crusade (meaning we were available to pray with people who came forward for prayer and ministry following Mr. Graham's sermon).  I was privileged to attend the Billy Graham School of Evangelism just outside Montreal, Quebec in June of 1990.  Lest the name confuse you, it was really a conference for pastors and active Christian workers which infused attendees with a number of ideas about church growth and creative evangelism.  Billy Graham wasn't there, but a number of his closest associates were actively involved in this conference including Cliff Barrows.  It was a great time!

No, I never met Billy Graham "up close and personal" but he really did touch my life.  I first heard Billy preach on television in late 1969.  I was fifteen-years-old at the time.  Our family were active church-attending Roman Catholics.  I very firmly believed in God, but I honestly can't say I had any "Personal relationship with Jesus Christ".  Honestly, I had a mouth like a cesspool.  With my friends it was "F-this" and "F-that".  I thought abortion was a great idea.  Well, why should you have a kid you don't want?  I thought marijuana was just fine.  Listen, I never smoked it, only because my father would have killed me!  Lest you think I was a very "cool" kid- I wasn't!  I had absolutely no athletic ability at all.  Yes, I was one of those last three or four kids picked for teams in Phys. Ed class.  My father and brother were gifted mechanics- guys who could take any automobile engine all apart and put it back together.  I had absolutely no mechanical ability at all!  I was socially awkward.  My strict father wouldn't let his kids wear "cool" clothes, so I looked like a classic nerd!  I wasn't popular.  Truthfully, I didn't like myself very much!

I didn't meet Billy Graham in person, but boy, that night I felt like I'd really met Billy Graham and I also was introduced to a version of Jesus Christ who was much more than a swear word!  In Mark 1:22 it says the people were amazed at Jesus' teaching because He spoke as one with "authority" and "not as the scribes".  That's how it was for me that night.  I heard a man who preached the Bible with authority- "Thus saith the Lord!"  In all those years at the Catholic church, I'd never heard anything like it!

No, my life did not immediately change, but Billy Graham had given me a lot to think about.  Some months later I became friends with a kid named George.  He amazed me in that he didn't swear, he didn't tell dirty jokes, and he lived what seemed to be a very good life.  The kid turned out to be a born-again Christian.  I asked him scores of questions and he ended up asking his parents for a lot of the answers!  During the summer of 1970, Billy Graham was on television again with a crusade.  In those days, there was no toll free number to call.  If you wanted more information, you had to write to:  BILLY GRAHAM, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA.  I did!

On July 21, 1970, a letter arrived for me from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  It included several pamphlets telling the reader exactly how to repent of your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your Personal Savior and Lord.  I did exactly as the letter instructed!  I still have that letter!  I actually pull it out and re-read it every July!  The paper of that letter is starting to deteriorate a bit and show its age, but I read it each year to rejoice in my salvation and to marvel in what God has done!

In my early days of being a born-again Christian I used to devour the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's Decision magazine each month, I read a number of Mr. Graham's materials, and I listened faithfully to The Hour of Decision radio program every weekend.  One of my fellow pastors (Pastor Phil McCutchen) called Billy Graham his "hero" on Facebook today.  Well, he's been a "hero" to me, too!  I wish I had time and space to tell about how I eventually went to Bible College, became an Ordained minister, won souls to Jesus Christ, and all sorts of other things.

No, my life has not always been easy!  There have been some very low points, but I have never regretted that simple prayer I prayed on July 21, 1970 and I can say that the Lord Jesus Christ truly saved me and changed my life!

No, I don't want to turn Billy Graham into a god or into anything that he isn't!  I know he'd tell me (rightly) to look to God and worship Him, and that's exactly what I intend to keep doing.  I will say, I was very moved by a post placed on Facebook today by Billy Graham's daughter Anne Graham Lotz.  What a great piece she wrote about her dad, but she also challenged every pastor and Christian leader to "pick up the baton" and go out and minister for Christ with faith and enthusiasm just as her father did.  I want to do that!

Billy Graham was so humble and so obedient to God.  He wasn't some slick huckster.  He wasn't in love with himself, he was in love with the Lord!  He didn't stupidly waste time, he lived his life for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our country is in such a mess right now!  In my humble opinion, the last thing we need is more "in your face" demanding of our rights, whether we're on the political left or on the political right.  That's the last thing we need!  We need more men and women who'll give their hearts to Jesus Christ and live humbly for Him, just like Billy Graham did.

The church fellowship I belong to is the Assemblies of God.  We don't usually officially celebrate Lent as we're really not a "liturgical" church, but during some recent years I've tried to do "something special" for Lent, anyway.  It was one week ago today that Lent began, on Ash Wednesday, and we don't usually observe that, either!  But I prayed and asked God if He wanted me to do something special for Lent this year.  I prayed and I prayed, and I just didn't get any direction about it.  A couple of hours ago, I thought about Lent again, and I decided that from now until Easter Sunday, at the end of every personal e-mail that I write and at the end of every personal letter that I write, below my signature, I'm going to write, "Thankful for the Life and Ministry of Billy Graham!".  I'm honestly hoping some people ask me about it, and then maybe I'll get a chance to "witness for Christ" to them.  It's something I'm going to do, but maybe you'd like to try it, as well.  It's just a suggestion, but it might be a way for some of us to begin to fulfill Anne Graham Lotz's challenge!