Sunday, March 8, 2020

JANIS C. AND JENNIE M. AND THE VIRUS SCARE

"...I am the Lord that healeth thee."  (from Exodus 15:16)

I spent several days this past week being quite depressed- well, to be more accurate, I was a mixture of exasperated, stunned, discouraged, surprised, and deeply saddened.  I guess it's understandable that if you mix all five of those "ingredients" together, you'll get one outcome:  depressed!  My depression was about the coronavirus.  (I am not even sure if I spelled the name of the virus correctly!)  Please don't misunderstand me.  It's not that I was so fearful I would become sick from this virus that I became depressed.  Rather, it's that so many people around the world are so obsessed over the news of this virus.  There's talk of closing the schools, closing businesses and offices, and just having everybody sealed up in their residences in a state of panic while they listen for instructions from Big Brother!  Yes, it seems a lot more like the fictional 1984 of Orwell's book than like the United States of America in the early twenty-first century!

It all got "ramped up" really fast!

Even the "Super Tuesday" primary election day seems like it was maybe three months ago.  The media overall has not handled this well.  Sensible talk-show host Dan Rea on Nightside on Boston's WBZ radio a few days ago said he's disturbed to hear announcers on C.N.N.  gleefully announcing, "We have three more cases of the coronavirus in America!"  On the matter of this virus, Rea truly lived up to his reputation as "The Voice of Reason".

Online, clergy are being asked, "What changes do you plan to make at your church because of the coronavirus?"  Some people are recommending cancelling church services, or at least enacting strong restrictions such as no Communion services, no coffee hours, no "greet one another" opportunities during the service, and of course cleaning the church facility as if it's a typhoid ward!  It's gotten me thinking that as much as I miss pastoring, I'm glad I'm not a pastor right now- because, other than perhaps being a bit more careful about cleaning, I'd probably make no changes to how I'd normally conduct church services and activities!

I was so happy that I almost started crying when Associate Pastor Janis Collette at Bread of Life Church in Westminster this morning opened the service by saying, "I know this probably isn't politically correct but why don't you hug someone or shake someone's hand this morning!"  The funny part is, I've never been very much for hugging or even much of a hand-shaker, and I've been teased for years about being reserved, standoffish, and even unfriendly; but after all the gloom and doom talk in the media this week, I've actually been wanting to be hugged at church!

I'm hesitant to write this next part, because I could easily be misunderstood and severely criticized, but here goes:  Sometime around fifteen years ago, I visited an older woman in the hospital twice who was very sick.  I don't know exactly what her diagnosis was, but she had some very serious and contagious virus.  She was in an isolation room.  There was a sign literally listing warnings about being in the room, being exposed to her, touching her, etc.  I won't use her last name, but just about anybody who lived in the Framingham, Massachusetts area twenty or thirty years ago will know who I mean when I state that it was Jennie M. who was a very prominent social conservative.  She wrote regular columns in the local newspaper.  She was featured from time to time on Boston area radio talk shows.  She was a particularly active and vocal opponent of abortion.  She was controversial.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s she'd actively attended First Assembly of God of Framingham where I'd pastored.  She later left our church and joined her husband at a large Roman Catholic church in Framingham.  Jennie's husband was in recovery and was active in the Knights of Columbus.  She felt she should honor her husband and "go back to the Catholic church" of her youth.  By the time I was visiting her in the hospital, her husband had passed away.  She told me she became very disappointed in the Catholic church and left it.  She lamented that she felt she really had no church to go to, although she loved God.  Jennie M. was viewed by the MetroWest community as this politically and socially fierce and scary person!  In reality she had a public image and a private life.  In her private life she was a quiet, humble, and reserved woman.  Despite those warnings in the hospital room, I twice went in to see her, talked to her, and laid hands on her and prayed for her.  She cautioned me that I should not do that.  But I saw a frightened, fragile, sick, hurting, and needy person, and I was only too glad to visit her and pray for her.  I never told anybody about those visits until now.  I never told my wife or my kids.  I did not want them to worry.  I never got sick, and they never got sick.  I know why I did not get sick.  The answer is:  God.  Obviously He wanted me to minister to Jennie M. and pray for her.  (She passed away several years after that.)

Now, please don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying I'm invincible!  In 1991, our whole family got terribly sick with the flu!  That was the worst flu I've ever had in my life and I hope to never  be that sick again!  Recently, in December 2019 and January 2020, I became very sick with a terrible cold.  My daughter Rachel got the same bad cold at the same time.  During that illness Rachel proclaimed, "This ain't no cold!" and I heartily agreed.  I was convinced we each had the flu.  I did not miss any days of work at my secular job.  (I know, I know, you can all scream at me!)  I did skip church one Sunday as I was just so sick!  About three weeks ago, I had my annual physical examination with my primary care physician.  I talked to him about this recent sickness and told him I was convinced it was the flu.  He told me it was not the flu but that this winter a severe cold was going around that typically lasted three to five weeks and was very debilitating.  That's what Rachel and I had.  So, no I'm not invincible!

I can see being a bit more diligent about cleaning and disinfecting.  And, the advice about staying home if you're sick is wise; and again, it's true I wrongly went to work sick.  But I can't see shutting the country down and proclaiming a  George Orwell style 1984.  I'm going to be a little cautious and that's it.  A little cautious.  Those who get the coronavirus have at least a ninety-five percent chance of making a full recovery from it.  If  I get sick from it, I expect to make a full recovery.  But frankly, if I don't, I'm not all that worried about it.  I'm sixty-five-years old.  I've struggled financially for most of my life, including now, but I've known the Lord Jesus Christ as my Personal Savior and Lord for almost fifty years, and have been privileged  to serve as a Minister of the Gospel!  My friend Pastor John S. went home to be with the Lord a week ago.  If  I get that virus and die, then I'm going to be with the Lord in Heaven and I'll be more than fine.

To anyone who will listen I say:  Sure, use the disinfectants, and be a little more cautious than you'd normally be, but please don't go crazy over this coronavirus, and for Heaven's sake, don't stop having church services!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

RAUL RODRIGUEZ'S REVOLTING REALITY

"Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy."  (Proverbs 31:8-9 New King James Version)

Exactly one week ago today, I heard a true story on a radio broadcast that upset me to the core of my being.  I have no words to express the sadness and bewilderment I felt after hearing of Raul Rodriguez's plight.  His "revolting reality" (my words) has been going on for almost two years.  I am very surprised I knew nothing of it until February 15, 2020.

I will write the details below, but for better or for worse, I felt I needed to begin with what could be called a "Disclaimer".  Frankly, in this hostile and supercharged political environment, I'm writing this piece with fear and trembling.  I have many friends on the political left- some of them way over on the left.  And I have many friends on the political right- some of them way over on the right.  Many of you know I'm a registered Republican and generally I tend to flow much more right than left; but I refuse to live my life in isolation from those with whom I disagree with most of the time.  On the one hand, I voted for Donald Trump, and I expect to do so again in November.  On the other hand, I sometimes disagree with President Trump, and I listen to a lot of broadcasts on Public Radio.  Yes, most of what you'll hear on Public Radio has a definite liberal/progressive bias.  However, there are some really good programs on Public Radio, especially the storytelling programs.  And, some of you may know I've been a featured speaker on Public Radio's The Moth Radio Hour.  I don't consider Mr. Raul Rodriguez's story and problem a conservative issue or a liberal/progressive issue or a pro-Trump issue or an anti-Trump issue.  So, bluntly, I ask those of you who may become very upset at me for what I write here, please don't bother with hostile or condescending comments or emails because I won't pay any attention to them.

Public Radio's This American Life on the weekend of February 15-16 featured as its "Act 2" presentation the story of Raul Rodriguez which they entitled, "Nowhere Man".

Raul Rodriguez is of Mexican heritage.  He lives in south Texas, not far from the border.  He was raised by an Aunt in south Texas.  His parents live in Mexico.  As a child, he'd always hated living away from his parents, but it was explained to him that his mother had slipped into America to give birth to Raul so he could grow up as an American citizen and have a better life than she and her husband had.  He's in his early fifties.  He's a U.S. Navy veteran.  Mr. Rodriguez worked for many years as an Officer with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.  He had an exemplary record, both in the Navy and with Customs and Border Patrol.  Rodriguez actually was sent to Washington, DC at one point to be specially honored for exemplary service.  He was known as "strictly by the book" regarding those crossing the border and residing in the States illegally.  He even turned in a friend at one point.  I don't use profanity, so I won't write words most of his friends and coworkers would use to describe him, but he was very tough and didn't let anybody get away with anything.

One day in the Spring of 2018, a couple of V.I.P.s from Customs and Border Patrol showed up at the local office where he worked.  He was asked to come in and meet with them.  To his shock, he was asked to surrender his gun and badge and was walked out the door.  He could not understand what he could possibly have done to cause this to happen!  A couple of weeks later, he was called in to a special meeting with some men from the Customs and Border Patrol hierarchy.  They produced a Mexican birth certificate and stated it was Raul's birth certificate!  The date and year of birth was different from the date Raul had always known as his birthday.  But the paper contained his name and his parents' names.  Mr. Rodriguez had a proper U.S. birth certificate which said he was born in Brownsville, Texas.  He'd had that birth certificate for probably forty years or more.  There had to be some mistake.  Arrangements were made for Raul's father to be brought in from Mexico to explain what was going on.  Tearfully,  his father said the Mexican birth certificate was valid.  His Dad explained the whole story of Raul being born in America was false; that he and his wife had cooked the whole thing up to give Raul a better life.  Raul Rodriguez was shocked, devastated, confused, and deeply hurt.

His wife Anita is an American citizen.  Raul felt he could at least apply for a green card to become a legal alien.  That process took over a year for him, and he was turned down.  He has an attorney and his situation is going through the appeals process, but it's very possible this U.S. Navy veteran; this exemplary U.S. Border Patrol agent, will eventually be deported to Mexico.  Of course, Mexican drug cartel folks would just love to have the opportunity to kill a former U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer- so deporting him could actually be very dangerous and even fatal.

Raul Rodriguez is literally a man without a country.

I've asked myself why I identify so much with Raul Rodriguez.  Why my heart aches for him?  Ten years ago this month, I was informed by my superiors that the little struggling church I was pastoring was closing and that I needed to step out of the ministry because I was emotionally and spiritually unhealthy.  (They weren't wrong.  I was emotionally and spiritually unhealthy.  The church had declined to the point that by early 2010 only about fifteen were showing up on Sunday mornings and some weeks it wasn't even that many.)   I was pretty well-known and pretty well thought of by a lot of people in Framingham, Massachusetts where I pastored.  I wrote guest columns for the local newspaper.  Twenty years ago, I was prominently featured on the local Christian radio station.  Suddenly, everything fell apart.  It's all way too personal to write about.  There are family members and friends who'd be upset if I wrote any more than that- so I won't.  I haven't pastored since them.  I've worked frustrating low paying jobs.  In the early days of my own "revolting reality" I was suicidal and under a psychiatrist's care.  Thank God, today I'm much happier and much healthier than I was in 2010.  I teach an Adult class at Bread of Life Church where Mary Ann and I worship.  I have a lot of good friends, and I feel in my own way, I contribute much to the cause of the Kingdom of God.  But that pain and loss experience never really goes away.  It's made me hyper-sensitive to a guy like Raul Rodriguez.  Twenty years ago, his story might have made no impact on me at all.  For the past week, I've thought about it constantly.

I don't know what can be done to help Raul Rodriguez.  But I will say bluntly that what he's going through is not right and something's got to be done!

I'm asking you to post the link to this blog post on your own social media and perhaps to even email the link to some close friends.  I believe that if a lot of us do that, eventually someone who can genuinely help Raul Rodriguez will step up and become involved.

To read about Raul Rodriguez's situation in The Atlantic Monthly magazine, go to the link below:
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/02/a-former-border-agent-at-risk-of-deportation/606418

To hear the podcast on This American Life, go to the link below:
https://www.thisamericanlife.org/694/get-back-to-where-you-once-belonged/act-two-3

Sunday, February 9, 2020

SHOULD RUSH LIMBAUGH HAVE RECEIVED THAT PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL?

"Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the Lord understand all."  (Proverbs 28:5 New King James Version)

Last Monday afternoon (February 3, 2020) I saw a post that a Facebook friend had shared;  it indicated that Rush Limbaugh announced he has Stage 4 lung cancer.  That news stunned and saddened me.  A couple of hours later I saw a post on Facebook from Franklin Graham saying he'd be praying for Rush and inviting people to post comments.  Thousands of comments had already been posted.  I posted one quick comment:  "Praying for Rush".

The news of Rush Limbaugh's cancer brought back a flood of memories.  Although his national radio program began in August of 1988 I believe it began to be broadcast in the Boston area somewhere around 1990 or 1991.  His radio program in those days (in my opinion) was much better than it is today.  It was different.  It was entertaining.  It was funny.  And it was addictive.  I'd never heard of a radio talk show that played music until I listened to Rush.  There were a bunch of "update theme songs".  There was the "Animal Rights Update - Born Free";  there was the "Condom Update - Up, Up, and Away";  there was the "Peace Update - Una Paloma Blanca";  and there was the "Homeless Update - Ain't Got No Home"Ain't Got No Home was done by Clarence "Frogman" Henry.  My kids were little in those days, and they loved "Ain't Got No Home" and would happily sing along. They also got excited (as did I) when we heard the sound of The Pretenders' My City Was Gone which was the opening music of the show each day.  I know this will sound "off the wall" to a lot of you, but those days of the early 1990s were, to borrow a line from Charles Dickens, "The best of times and the worst of times."  I cherish those days when my kids were all well under age 12 - cute little kids who liked to have fun.  I also cringe when I think of how bad things were financially for us in those days.  In the pre-1994 years, we were a one car family.  Our family finances were, well, terrible!  I remember the constant financial struggles and a lot of fear and depression, honestly.  Yes, we were Christians.  Yes, we did pray.  Yes, we did read the Bible. And, yes, the Lord saw us through those days, but they were extremely difficult!  I am a huge radio listener, and I'll tell you frankly that Rush Limbaugh in the afternoon and Larry Glick late at night over the airwaves put smiles on my face and comfort in my heart on many days that I was sad and scared.

Last Monday night, WBZ's Dan Rea on his Nightside program said he was sad that so many folks had already posted very hateful and cruel things about Rush Limbaugh and his diagnosis on social media.  I hadn't seen any of it at that point, but I sure did see a lot of negative posts over the next few days.  One post included probably about fifteen audio and visual clips of Rush Limbaugh through the years saying some very controversial, and in some cases, very cruel and inappropriate things.  Honestly, some of 'em weren't really too bad, but some of 'em were!  And there were written quotes.  One written quote had him saying something to the effect that there is absolutely no evidence smoking causes lung cancer.  And, there was a lot of cruel hatred in the responses to that one.

Wow.

Now, here's how I see that stuff.  Rush has been doing the national show since 1988.  He is bombastic.  He can be controversial.  He likes to get things stirred up.  And in doing so, did he say some things he probably shouldn't have?  Yeah.  But here's where I relate.  During my years of pastoring I preached hundreds of sermons, almost all of which were taped.  (Most of them are on cassette tapes, but if you can get hold of a cassette player you can still listen.)  And, I wrote a number of  Letters to the Editor to a few newspapers and wrote a number of guest columns for the MetroWest Daily News.  And I've been writing this blog since 2006.  Have I ever said anything during a sermon which was inappropriate and could even be considered hateful, insensitive or improper?  Yes.  And what about similar things in my writing to the newspapers and on the blog?  Yes.  Frankly, would I want some enemies parading all that stuff around in an arrogant manner and claiming this is who and what Bob Baril is all about?  I absolutely would not want that, nor do I think it would be fair or reasonable.

It's easy to kick someone when they're down!  Many of you know I pastored a church which closed ten years ago, and that I nearly had a complete mental breakdown and was under a psychiatrist's care.  I had to take low paying jobs which a lot of people probably would have said were "beneath" me.  I remember one day around 2011 or 2012 that I was handing out leaflets near the entrance of a big box store in Framingham. (The flyers were for the store's Optical Dept.)  One well known very liberal female political activist in the community confronted me and verbally let me have it.  She told me I had lost that pastorate and my stature in the community and was reduced to handing out flyers in a big box store because it just proved what a bad and pathetic excuse for a human being I was.  Can you imagine how I felt after that?  Well, it stays with you and you don't ever want to kick someone when they're down.

There's so much more I could say about Rush.  When he was a very young man, he experienced a number of personal failures.  Yet, he became very famous and a millionaire several times over.  He became an inspiration to a number of marginalized people, including me.  And, he became an inspiration to a number of people in "blue states" who are often the only conservative on their job or in their family or in their social group.  He made those people feel like they weren't jerks, nor were they bad and pathetic excuses for human beings, but that they mattered and their opinions mattered.  My father-in-law and I are very different people and don't have much in common.  But we finally bonded many years ago over (you guessed it) Rush Limbaugh!  Just the fact that it brought me closer to my father-in-law "Don" meant a lot to him and to me.

Now, I know there have been some great humanitarians and real "heavy hitters" who have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the past.  Is Rush Limbaugh on their level?  I don't know.  But I do know President Trump thinks he is and wanted to honor Rush.  I know many people will not agree with me, but Trump's reasoning is good enough for me.

The New Testament teaches we are to love our enemies and pray for them.  Check it out.  It does.  Now, I suppose a lot of you will say, "Well, Rush didn't love his enemies and he didn't pray for his enemies so why should I do that for him?!"  The answer is that number one, you really don't know if Rush did or didn't love and pray for his enemies.  But, number two, even if he didn't, you're still to do it because Jesus said to do it!  And even if Rush didn't deserve that award and even if he's a so-in-so (I don't think he is, but even if I'm wrong) there's no doubt Rush was touched and moved by receiving that medal and touched and moved by the fact that he has cancer and may not make it.  I hope and pray he does live but he may not.  But I believe Rush will think about all this stuff, and will go on to be an even better person.

I didn't like losing my position, and being disgraced.  I hated passing out leaflets and being told what a failure and a nothing I was.  But all of that stuff (and I hate to admit this) made me a better person.

You disagree?  Well read that verse from Proverbs 28 that I quoted above- read it again - and think about it.  Amen.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

DON IMUS' DEATH - "AWFUL NEWS"

"A time to be born, and a time to die; ..."  (from Ecclesiastes 3:2)

I heard the news last night (December 27, 2019) that retired radio personality Don Imus had died at a College Station, Texas hospital earlier in the day.  I may be taking a risk in admitting this, but I was a regular listener to the Imus in the Morning radio show for many years and a fan of Don Imus and his cast of characters who joined him every weekday morning.  I remember the first time I listened to Imus in the Morning.  It was in the late summer of 1999.  Boston's "Smooth Jazz 96.9" at that time was in the transitional phase of completely changing its format and call letters to becoming a 24/7 FM Talk station.  (And, seven years ago, they changed formats again, this time becoming a music station that caters to the taste of young adults.)  The very first talk program 96.9 introduced was Imus in the Morning (which originated at WFAN in New York City and was syndicated to stations all over the country).  On that late summer day, I was driving my daughter Amy to a medical procedure at Faulker Hospital in Boston's Jamaica Plain section.  I'm not sure why I turned it on, but I became a pretty regular listener over the next eight years.

Don Imus, like many radio personalities had a certain schtick.  He usually dressed like a cowboy.  (I know that because the show could also be watched on C-SPAN television.)  He was surly and rude; always sounding annoyed and irritated.  There was a lot of banter with several other guys on the program.  You couldn't listen to Imus without hearing the word "awful" used by him (and by his colleagues) a couple dozen times each morning.  That new restaurant Imus tried was "awful".  That Giants football game was "awful".  The State of the Union address was "awful".  A popular Top 40 hit song was "awful".  You get the point.  Another word commonly used by the Imus gang, and always stated slowly, was "Nobody".  Who liked that concert last night?  "Nobody".  Who liked the front page story in the New York News?  "Nobody".  Who watches Public Television?  "Nobody".  Again, you get the point.  So, why did so many people listen, and why was Imus in the Morning almost addictive?

One reason is: Variety.  It wasn't just a group of macho middle-aged (and old) men chatting and fooling around and acting like a bunch of kids in a Junior High cafeteria.  There were great guest interviews.  Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was a regular on the program, and her interviews were actually quite "highbrow" and cerebral at times.  During such interviews, it was obvious that Don Imus was really very intelligent and well-read.  Senator John McCain was also a regular guest on Imus in the Morning, and his interviews were as good as anything you'd see on 60 Minutes.  I've even heard former President George H.W. Bush on the show!  Don Imus loved country music and played quite a bit of country music on the program.  I was introduced to a number of country artists and groups and their songs, and to my surprise, I started liking and listening to a lot of that music!  Don Imus had causes he cared about.  He was very passionate about helping kids with cancer and their families as well as helping families who'd gone through the horror of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

I enjoyed Charles McCord, the newsman on the show.  Charles is a born-again Christian, and is originally from Springfield, Missouri.  Many of you know I went to Bible College in Springfield, Missouri and my daughter Amy not only graduated from Evangel University there, but she and my son-in-law David and their kids lived there for a number of years.  So, I always felt I had a lot in common with Charles.  He took a lot of teasing and comments about his Christian faith, Bible study, etc.  But Charles, for better or for worse, did not "turn the other cheek".  They really razzed him on occasions, and he gave it right back to them!  As crazy as this may sound, I think Charles may have unwittingly been an inspiration and encouragement to a lot of Christian men who listened.  They were often going into work environments where loving and serving Jesus Christ and reading your Bible were considered foolish, not manly, and something to be ridiculed.  I suspect there were guys who gained courage to stand up for Christ in their work environment by listening to Charles McCord on Imus in the Morning.

Don Imus and Imus in the Morning went through quite a crisis in 2007.  Imus was fired for making horribly racist comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.  In fact, sidekick Bernie had made the remarks, but Imus enthusiastically laughed and repeated his words.  I was listening at the time, and I immediately turned the radio off!  It was disgusting.  I was not surprised he was fired.  But about nine months later, as I recall, the show returned, this time originating from New York's WABC and featured on a smaller network of stations around the country.  Locally at that time it was on AM 790 from Rhode Island.  The audio reception wasn't quite as good but I'd still tune in from time-to-time.

Don Imus was truly an enigma.  It may well shock you that one of his favorite people in all the world was Evangelist Billy Graham!  He often mentioned Billy Graham and always spoke well of him.  Shortly after Billy Graham's death in February 2018, Don Imus devoted a whole broadcast to memorializing him.

Don Imus had a brother Fred Imus who passed away a number of years ago.  In my early days of listening, Fred would call the show and he and Don would chat.  I have often told this joke that Fred told Don one morning:  A pair of jumper cables walked into a bar and sat down.  The bartender said to the jumper cables, "I don't mind you being in here, but just don't try to start something!"

I hope nobody thinks I'm "trying to start something" here.  I just wanted to share these thoughts about Don Imus and Imus in the Morning,  and I offer my condolences to Don's widow Deidre, his family, and all his friends.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

WALKING IN GOD'S WISDOM

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."  (James 3:17)

Early on this cold Saturday morning,  I sat at a small window table at Panera Bread in Walpole, Massachusetts; enjoyed a tasty breakfast, and spent a truly rich time reading Proverbs chapter eight and thinking about it.  Proverbs chapter eight is all about God's wisdom.  I've read Proverbs chapter eight a number of times before, but when you allow yourself to really "soak" in it and to think deeply about it, it's definitely profound and important stuff!  

There's a couple named Steve and Nancy who began attending Bread of Life Church in Westminster (where my wife and I fellowship) just a few months ago.  They've taken quite a liking to me.  I must say, though, I was very humbled when Steve told me he and his wife were coming to my Adult Sunday School Class because (as Steve put it), "I really sense you have a lot of wisdom."  Wow.  I was humbled because throughout my life and ministry "having a lot of wisdom" is something I have not been known for.  In fact, it's been just the opposite!  My late father loved me, but I know at times he thought I was very idealistic, very naive, and very foolish.  I've had colleagues and superiors in ministry, as well as members of the churches where I served, who would have heartily agreed with my father.  And, most of the time, they weren't wrong!  My nature is to be very emotional, very opinionated, very outspoken even to the point of sometimes lacking a filter, and yes having a tendency to be idealistic and naive.  Thus, I pondered Steve's assessment of me.  It made me feel really sober and accountable to God as I taught Sunday School this fall- wanting to genuinely "get it right"- wanting to honor God and make sure I was not just grandstanding.  I hope this isn't egotistical, but I absolutely believe I did get it right.

I began writing this blog in 2006.  If you go back and look at a lot of the posts from 2006 through maybe 2011 or 2012, many (but not all of them) do present a guy who is very emotional, very opinionated, very outspoken even to the point of sometimes lacking a filter, and yes having a tendency to be idealistic and naive.  I was devastated when the little church I'd pastored closed, and I was devastated that (frankly) a number of people didn't seem to think all that well of me at the time.  But as I read Proverbs eight today, I realized that what's come in my own life from over nine years of radical deprivation, change, and humility is (and I'm taking a deep breath as I write this) some godly wisdom.  Have I "arrived"?  Not at all.  Do I still "mess up"?  I absolutely do.  But I'm now at a vantage point where I can see some progress being made in my Christian life.  I struggle with "God, why didn't this happen twenty years ago?  I'm getting to be too old.  In less than five years I'll be seventy!"  But I also know I have to trust that God knows what He is doing.  Joseph was one of the wisest people in the Old Testament.  He became the number two man in all of Egypt- only Pharaoh was above him.  He also was the smart mouthed seventeen-year-old kid who bragged to his family that he had a dream that all of them were bowing down to him and that he was more important than all of them.  (Not a lot of wisdom, there, Joseph!)  And there's Moses- who became God's great leader in the Exodus.  Yeah, he's the hot-headed forty-year old who went out and murdered an Egyptian and thought everybody would rally and they'd have a revolution.  No, he didn't show a lot of wisdom there, either; but by the time God called him to paradise, he was a genuinely wise man.

I have greatly striven to not post "political stuff" online.  It's not that I don't have political thoughts or opinions.  I do.  But I'm genuinely so sad about the lack of God's wisdom in our country and our world today!  I voted for Donald Trump and unless he does get thrown out of that office, I will probably vote for him again next November.  I agree with about eighty percent of what he's doing as far as policies and philosophy.  But as far as wisdom?  I deeply appreciate his support for the state of Israel and for Jerusalem being the capital of Israel.  I deeply appreciate his support for religious liberty around the world.  But to have that conversation on a recorded line with the leader of Ukraine about Biden's son?  No wisdom there.  And for the Democrats to waste all kinds of precious time and energy with the committee hearings about a possible Impeachment which (as of this writing) looks as if it's going to happen in early 2020- what a colossal lack of wisdom.  There will be an election next November.  If Trump is really as bad as they say he is, he won't get reelected.  I must add how bad I feel when Facebook friends of mine post about what a "dupe" and stooge and fool they think Vice-President Mike Pence is.  Then, you have to think I'm also a "dupe", a stooge, and a fool.  I for one am so thankful to have one guy in there that I believe the overwhelming majority of the time is walking in godly wisdom!  Mike Pence is not flashy nor sensational.  I doubt Mike Pence could ever get elected President in his own right, and that's such a shame.

Now before my friends on the right and my friends on the left come unglued I'll say that if I do get "in your face" comments from you over the next couple of days, I'll definitely know you're not walking in godly wisdom.  Please don't take that as an insult.  Remember, I've admitted on this post that I have spent most of my Christian life and most of my ministry not walking in godly wisdom, and I know I'm not 100% there yet!

Just saying'

I'm sixty-five and I wish I "got this" a whole lot sooner - decades ago!

Most modern Americans have no time to read God's Word, nor study it, nor meditate upon it.  The result is we're certainly not practicing it!  What an indictment.  But if we would do just that, our country and our world would be changed for the better.

I challenge you, read Proverbs chapter eight.  And think about it.  And when you're through with that, maybe check out the Book of James in the New Testament!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

THE RULE IS: "NO CUSSING!"

"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man our of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil:  for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh."  (Luke 6:45)

In writing this piece, I'm aware that it may not make me very popular.  In fact, this piece could make me unpopular.  I'm aware it may cause people to think of me as very judgmental and as a "holier than thou" kind of person.  I'm really not at all "holier than thou"!  And, I am far from perfect.  I have a number of faults, and there are (frankly) a number of matters I struggle with in my Christian walk.  I implore my readers to understand I'm not trying to be judgmental or legalistic here.  But, this is something I've been "sitting on" for awhile, and I've reached the point that I think I need to just say it!

About eight years ago, my wife Mary Ann and I were sitting in the office of our pastor and his wife. His wife is an Ordained minister, as well, and serves as an associate pastor.  There were issues and problems being discussed which are way too personal to share publicly here.  But there's one thing I said during that meeting I do want to talk about here.  The pastor asked me how I was feeling and how things were going in my life.  I abruptly and firmly answered, "I feel like hell!"  In fact, I think I may have even made that statement twice during that meeting.  I was in "a bad place" at the time.  I felt my world had fallen apart and pretty much that everything and everyone was against me.  I still read my Bible and prayed and I believed in God, but my "Christian walk" was, to use an expression a friend of mine often uses, "shaky at best".  Not long after we left that meeting, Mary Ann let me know how upset and disappointed she was with what I'd said.  She was appalled that I could go into a meeting with a couple of pastors and just say right out loud with a rebellious tone, "I feel like hell!"  

Mary Ann was right!  She was absolutely right.

In the years that have passed since then, I've thought of that outburst and her reaction many times.  And she was right.  It was no way to answer my pastors, it was no way to speak in front of my wife, and it was no way to speak in front of God.  Seriously!  That's one of those events from my life that I'd love to do over!  I'm just so thankful that God is so loving and merciful that He forgave me for that.

I often listen to K-Love Christian radio in the morning.  It's been great that for the past couple of years, we've had it at 95.5 F.M. in eastern Massachusetts.  There's a contest they feature most mornings.  It's called You Got This!  They ask "five easy questions" - well they're not really that easy - and if you answer all of them correctly, you win a truly fabulous prize.  Each time they bring a contestant's call onto the air to play the game they ask that caller, "And, what's the rule?"  to which the caller immediately responds, "NO CUSSING!"

I "got saved" in mid-1970.  I was fifteen (almost sixteen) at the time.  I'm not proud of this, but as a thirteen through fifteen-year-old I "had a mouth like a cesspool".  I couldn't get through more than a couple of sentences with my friends without an F-Bomb, or saying "suck" or "sucks" or at least a few usages of "hell" or "damn" or even an occasional use of Jesus Christ's name in a very profane manner.  With my folks I toned it down, but there were still plenty of usages of "hell" and "damn".  One of the items my friend who'd "witnessed" to  me about faith in Christ had told me is that born-again Christians don't swear.  That did bother me.  I was really afraid it would be something I could never live up to!  I couldn't imagine going through a day without swearing, let alone a week, or a month, or the rest of my life!  But, after I received Jesus Christ as my Personal Lord and Savior in July of 1970, I must say, I really lost my desire for swearing.  Admittedly, the words still came into my mind, and after forty-nine years, they sometimes still come into my mind, and I will admit that does bother me a bit, but I just haven't had much heart to use them. I'm not sure I've verbally uttered profanities even more than fifteen times since I got saved in 1970 and that includes that one or two times in the pastor's office.  I just didn't want to dishonor the Lord nor did I want my fellow Christians to think I was some kind of a profane jerk.

Younger people may find this hard to believe, but back in the pre-1990 days, there wasn't a lot of swearing heard in born-again Christian circles.  I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I heard fellow evangelicals utter profanities in those days.  Sadly that's changed.  I've found in these days, it's pretty much impossible to get through a month without hearing maybe five or ten profanities from fellow evangelicals!  One thing that sort of "cracked the eggshell" on the whole swearing thing was the television show Kate & Allie featuring the word "sucks" used in an acceptable manner on their show.  That was in the late 1980s.  In society over the next few years, it became acceptable for politicians, teachers, motivational speakers, leaders, and even theologically conservative ministers to publicly say things like, "this sucks" ... "that sucks"..."this will really suck"... etc.  I have good friends, among evangelicals and non-evangelicals who use those phrases.  For me, I just could never get on board with that word; not even in my cynical, dark days such as when I was in the pastor's office earlier in this decade.  During the past fifteen years, profanity of all kinds has become acceptable everywhere, and even in very conservative, evangelical circles.  Some people ask, "How can evangelicals accept Donald Trump's swearing?"  If they heard many evangelical's speech patters, they wouldn't ask that question!  I don't want to turn this into a political post. I did vote for Donald Trump, but I don't like his swearing nor some of the inappropriate things he says.

There are all sorts of New Testament passages that warn God's children about the use of profanity.  James chapter 3 verse 10 says, "Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not so to be."  And, Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."  (Ephesians 4:29)

It may surprise you that I really believe that the most sinful words before God are not the F-Word or some other vulgar profanities.  I think the most sinful are words (used out of context) such as hell, damn, and g--damn.  I think it would have been better to drop an F-bomb when the pastor asked me how I felt, although of course that would have been wrong, inappropriate, and sinful, but it would not have been as bad as what I said!  Again, Mary Ann was right!  When we use hell, damn and similar words, we're actually mocking God!  We're thumbing our noses at Him!  We're dishonoring and disrespecting Him!  We're treating eternal damnation as a light thing.  We're treating God's love and Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins as a big joke!  Yeah, Mary Ann was right.  There are some churches and pastors who make a big deal about the specific words we speak and that tell us we must be very circumspect about what we confess.  Listen, I know the "faith and positive confession" movement is controversial, and I don't agree with everything the "faith and positive confession" pastors and churches teach, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, because when they say we must be very circumspect about what we confess- about the words that come out of our mouths, they're one hundred percent correct!  We're going to be held accountable for every word, folks; every word!

Some may think this is a little too far but even a lot of euphemisms such as heck, golly, gosh, darn, screwed, and so forth should probably be banished from our vocabularies.

I hope none of my readers feel like swearing after reading this piece, but I'm quite serious.  I've been thinking about this for a long time.  Before you react, would you pray about it?

As they say on K-Love:  "What's the rule?"  and then the response  "NO CUSSING!"

Sunday, September 15, 2019

JARRID WILSON: SOME THOUGHTS AND WISHES

"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia:  that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life."  (2 Corinthians 1:8 New King James Version)

It's all over the internet, especially if you're a seriously committed evangelical Christian or a pastor:  Jarrid Wilson, a pastoral staff member at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, and a tireless advocate for promoting Mental Health Awareness, and particularly for making it acceptable to talk about being suicidal in order that such a tragic death could be prevented, took his own life last Monday, September 9.  I must admit that until a few days ago, I had never heard of Jarrid Wilson;  I'd never listened to one of his sermons, nor read any material written by him.  The information that I've read since his death is that he was only thirty years of age, he was a truly wonderful person, he'd participated in a water baptism service just days before his death, and he had conducted the funeral service of a person who had committed suicide on the day of his own suicide.

It does leave a person, especially a committed Christian, and especially a pastor, with a horrible feeling- for so many reasons.  My heart goes out to the man who was his boss, the Lead Pastor of that church, Greg Laurie.  I have heard many sermons by Pastor Laurie and in my opinion, he's one of the finest men of God in America.  I hope to never be in the position of having to try to explain such a tragedy, when really, there's no good explanation.

Please don't misunderstand me.

I'm not offering condemnation nor judgment.  This piece has been difficult for me to write.  I'm writing it during a Patriots game on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Boston suburbs.  I argued within myself whether it would be wise to write and post this.  I have a friend from Tennessee who posted something a few days ago that was rather difficult for him to write.  He commented that it might cost him some friends.  In a sense, I fear this may cost me some friends; it may cost me the respect of some people, or both.  My friend the late David C. Milley used to admonish me that I posted personal details about myself on the internet that in his opinion I absolutely should not have posted.  "It's nobody's business!"  he sternly told me.  And, many years ago, my District Superintendent (like a Bishop in many denominations) told me firmly that I am "much too candid"!  Today, I have come to the conclusion that my piece would have the potential to stop a suicide, and it would have the potential to change people's attitudes about those who struggle with suicidal thoughts, encouraging them to reach out and help such people, rather than condemn them and push them away.

I have struggled with serious bouts of depression during a number of periods of my life.  The very first that I can remember was in 1962 when I was an eight year old child.  Of course, I did not know it was depression.  I did not know what was wrong with me except that I was very unhappy and felt hopeless and purposeless.  That was during a time my father was going through a terrible time on his job which had a very bad effect on our whole family financially, emotionally, and psychologically.  I received Jesus Christ as my Personal Lord and Savior during the summer of 1970.  I used to tell people during my early days of being a born-again Christian that the Lord had delivered me from depression.  In fact, for several years after my salvation, I experienced no depression at all.  But, down the road, I faced times of depression that I can only describe as a nightmare.  

The Bible verse I quoted above was written by the Apostle Paul.  We think of him as a dynamo; as a very powerful man of God, as a great leader, and as a hero of the faith.  In most of the New Testament he comes across as an amazingly positive man.  Yet, in the above passage, he writes that he went through a time that essentially was meaningless and debilitating and that made life seem not worth living.  Paul did come out of that, but it lets us know he went through it.  If Paul could be susceptible to such depression, then I guess we should not be shocked that all Christians can be susceptible to it.  Roughly eight or nine years ago, I went through the greatest time of depression of my life.  Yes, I had suicidal thoughts.  Yes, I seriously considered acting upon those thoughts.  The pain and deep despair seemed relentless.  It would go on day after day and week after week.  I would occasionally have one day that was pretty much O.K. and then I'd be plunged back into six or more weeks of despair.  It's all a very long story.  Thank God, He saw me through that awful time!  I can't say I'm totally free from such depression, but today it's rare.  These days, I might have one day every six to eight weeks in which I feel total despair, but it doesn't last.  When a day like that happens, I'll play Christian praise music, read Scripture, pray, and seek out the fellowship of other Christians.  Those remedies mostly did not work for me during that bad time eight to nine years ago, but they do work today.  I am, however, very sensitive to the issue of Christians facing despair and suicidal thoughts.  I never want to be anything but a caring friend to such a person.

I feel very bad about what happened to Jarrid Wilson.  May God bless, comfort, and help his family and friends as only God can.  I can't bring him back.  What I can do is to exhort my fellow Christians.  If a Christian you know or even a pastor you know shares that he or she is going through something horrific where that person is being plagued by suicidal thoughts, please do everything you can to love and support that person and to be an encouragement to him or her. And, if you're feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody.  If a person rejects you or condemns you when you talk to that person, then that person is a jerk.  Please just move on to someone else.  I don't care if it's ten people, somebody will listen to you and help you.

Earlier this month, I posted the following on Facebook.  I'm sharing it here hoping you'll act upon it:
THIS month I celebrate a rather significant birthday...well it used to be more significant 50 or more years ago.  I know a lot of folks do those birthday fundraisers, and you may recall in the past I've fundraised for the causes of suicide prevention and Alzheimer's research among other things.  During the past few days, I've thought about it and thought about those the Beatles in Eleanor Rigby called, "All the lonely people".  We're all so busy.  At times most of us neglect people.  I'm TRYING to do better.  I think especially of elderly or disabled or frankly poor people who rarely get an encouraging phone call or even more rarely a "thinking of you" card including an encouraging note.  I know...we don't have time for this stuff.  But when we DO make that call or write that note, we make such a difference!  My late father was very busy and sort of a "workaholic".  He was very macho.  But he was also a guy who'd pick up the phone to encourage a friend going through a rough time, or visit a friend in the hospital or a nursing home, or even write a letter to encourage somebody.  I don't care if you tell me you did it or not, but if I persuaded all of my Facebook friends to do something practical to encourage another person this month, I just think that would be so cool!