Saturday, November 10, 2018

"NEVER ASSUME!"

"For whosoever has, to him will be given, and he shall have more abundance:  but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."  (Matthew 13:12)

Recently, some of my Facebook friends shared on Facebook a short piece stating that Jesus would have heartily welcomed the "Caravan" of impoverished and troubled people that is currently slowly moving through Mexico toward the United States border.  I briefly read the piece.  I got the sense that it was meant as an "in your face" piece to hurt and discredit conservative white evangelicals, many of which support President Trump's position of seeing these people as "an invasion" to be kept out of the country.

Wow.

I'm reminded of a short phrase of my father's that often comes to my mind.  That phrase is "Never assume".  In my experience, the behavior of assuming we know exactly what Jesus Christ would or would not do about someone or something, and of knowing (to use a line from a Bob Dylan song) that "God's on our side" is very arrogant, and frankly usually quite flawed.

Honestly, I can't say for sure how Jesus in His first century ministry would have responded to the "Caravan", nor do I even want to posture an opinion as to right now how the Lord Jesus Christ in all His Heavenly Glory would respond to the "Caravan".   Stating exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ would think, say, or do is the height of arrogance whether it comes from the political left or from the political right.  Frankly, I can't imagine Jesus would endorse little children being taken away from their parents and detained in a holding facility, nor do I think He would endorse the idea of a far right-wing caller whom I heard on a radio program stating that the members of the "Caravan" should all be "shot down with machine guns".  On the other hand, the Bible (admittedly the Apostle Paul and not literally Jesus Christ) in the thirteenth chapter of the epistle of Romans strongly endorses a society characterized by "law and order"- and mind you, that chapter was essentially saying that the dictatorial regime of Ancient Rome, in keeping law and order, was perfectly O.K. in doing so!

Yes, this stuff gets very tough ethically and morally.  I know most of my friends on the left and on the right, and I have many friends of each political persuasion, will say that my piece here is very wishy washy and foolish, and that it's obvious what Jesus would say about the "Caravan" and it's obvious what America's response to it should be.  Well, remember the famous phrase of the late Eugene A. Baril, "Never assume!".

It's scary to truly speak for Jesus.

There is an idea that the first-century Jesus was a total pacifist; excessively loving and sweet, who would never raise His voice, and would never behave in any way other than totally friendly, loving, and completely passive.  Listen, that is just not true at all!  Jesus was nothing like that!  Nothing!

In Matthew 10:34, Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth:  I came not to send peace, but a sword."

I don't think you'll find that verse printed on too many Christmas cards!

And there are some passages in the Gospels that are quite troubling, even to many evangelicals!  I know that for years I avoided teaching or preaching from Luke 16:1-13, for instance.  That is what's known as "The Parable of the Unjust Steward".  In that story, a guy who is essentially an accountant and manager, working for a wealthy businessman, is dishonest, crooked, manipulative, selfish, shrewd, and worse.  The guy ends up getting fired, yet he still "finagles" things so that he comes out smelling like a rose to a number of people, and guarantees a secure future for himself.  And, the passage, spoken by Jesus Himself, praises the guy!

Another troubling passage is found in Mark 7:24-30 where Jesus and his disciples are visiting in Gentile territory northwest of Galilee.  There, a Gentile woman comes to Jesus asking Him to cast a demon out of her daughter.  He tells her He really came to minister to the Jews, and that He's not going to "take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs";  in other words, he makes a disparaging remark to her regarding her ethnicity and gives the impression He's not going to help her.

Still another is one my son Jon showed me when he was in elementary school.  He was pointing out that adults often tell children that they should have, "a Christlike attitude".  Yet, in John chapter 2, Jesus makes a whip, and pretty violently goes after the moneychangers in the Temple and throws them out.  Jon pointed out that most grown-ups would say Jesus did not "have a Christlike attitude" there!

Now, in all fairness, there are explanations for each of those passages.  Jesus really wasn't saying we should literally behave like the unjust steward.  He was pointing out that ironically people in the world often know how to use all sorts of things in their lives to their advantage, whereas many times God's children are naive and clueless and miss many wonderful opportunities that God hands to them, essentially on a silver platter.  Regarding the Gentile woman in Mark 7, Jesus did give her what she wanted- the demon was cast out of her daughter.  Some have said He may have been speaking to her sort of in a "tongue-in-cheek" manner.  And, regarding the John 2 "Cleansing of the Temple", I once heard someone say, "Jesus went into the Temple and acted like He owned the place!"  Well, considering (as Christian doctrine says) Jesus is God - He did "own the place"!

My point here is to say, whether on the political right or on the political left, maybe we should drop a lot of this "speaking for Jesus" stuff!  And, maybe we should all spend time reading the Gospels and asking the Holy Spirit to "open up" the meaning of what we're reading to us!  The final passage I will leave you to think about is Matthew 7:21-23.  In that passage, very religious and zealous people stand before Jesus in the afterlife boasting of all their great service to Him.  Jesus tells them to depart from Him, and says, "I never knew you".

I have a strange feeling that experience of being embarrassed before the Lord may be in the future for a number of zealous people on the political right and for a number of zealous people on the political left. 

Do you disagree?  Well remember, "Never assume!".

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A PLACE AT THE TABLE

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

Just when you think you've "heard it all" regarding "political correctness" and "progressive intolerance", well, that's when you realize you haven't; and that's when you get the news that the scales have tipped so far to an extreme that the Founding Fathers must surely be "turning over in their graves"!  Such was the case with me on Thursday night when I turned into Dan Rea's "Nightside" radio program on Boston's WBZ 1030 A.M. radio.

Dan's guest during the 10 p.m. hour was the Rev. Dr. John Tamilio.  Tamilio's been a guest several times on "Nightside".  He's a man of amazing talents and accomplishments; a Professor at Salem State University, an attorney, and he serves as Pastor of the Congregational Church of Canton.  A very intelligent man, as well as a fine speaker, Tamilio is always an interesting guest on the show.  The topic on Thursday night floored me- so much so that I called in and spoke to Tamilio and Rea on the air.  It seems the Rev. Tamilio offered the invocation at the Canton High graduation this past spring.  He read the actual words of his prayer on Thursday night's program.  It was a very generic and inclusive prayer, not mentioning Jesus or Christian doctrine.  The prayer focused on asking a blessing on the graduates and that they would go on to serve others.  In closing, Tamilio asked the audience for a "joyous Amen".  I chuckled in that he even referenced the CHS mascot (the Bulldog) in a humorous way as part of the prayer.  I'm a 1972 Canton High graduate and I loved it!

Not everyone loved Tamilio's prayer, however.  Someone contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Wisconsin who sent a letter to the Canton Superintendent of Schools demanding that all invocations, benedictions, prayers, and religious rituals be banned from any part of any school ceremonies.  The Canton Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller quickly "caved in" to this request and that was that.

Well, that was that, at least for now.

The Rev. Dr. Tamilio is a very likable and informative gentleman, but he's no marshmallow!  Tamilio intends to fight this.  Dan Rea's on his side, as am I.  An article in the October 11, 2018 Canton Citizen newspaper states that the Canton Public Schools are merely following the mandate of the United States Supreme Court regarding this matter.  Now, I admit, Dan Rea and John Tamilio are each attorneys but I'm no legal scholar.  However, even if the paper's reporting about the Supreme Court's mandate is accurate, and I'm not sure that it is, I'm frankly happy that we now have a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.  I say, "Let's fight this thing all the way to the Supreme Court!  Wouldn't it be great to get a ruling from the current Court in favor of allowing inclusive and positive invocations and benedictions at graduations and public school functions?"

I think the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Canton Public Schools have picked on the wrong guy in attacking the Rev. Tamilio's prayer!  This may well have national historic ramifications, for once in the right direction in more ways than one, and I couldn't be happier!

And as a P.S. I want to add that a community's churches and synagogues as well as their clergy, along with Islamic centers and Hindu temples, for that matter, are all a vital part of a community's life, and absolutely should have a place at the table!  Didn't a famous liberal Democrat remind us that it takes a village?  Well, we're part of the village, and we're not going away with our tails between our legs!

To the Rev. Dr. John Tamilio, I say, I'm with you, Sir, and Godspeed!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

SHORT AND SWEET REGARDING DOUG IN AYER

"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces."  (Matthew 7:6)

These days I don't find a lot of time to post on my blog.  It's been over a couple of months since I've posted anything here.  I don't get a lot of opportunity to sit and write at a desktop computer, and I really don't want to be writing and posting items for my blog on my smart phone.  This will be brief, but it's just something I felt I needed to write.

Disclaimer:  This may make some folks really angry.  I expect some to call me a hater or a bigot, and possibly some will "unfriend" me on Facebook.  So be it.  Jesus Christ did not make everyone happy.  His crucifixion is a testimony to that fact.

There's a late night (well technically, it's "early morning") radio program on WBZ Boston (1030 AM) hosted by a guy who calls himself "Bradley Jay".  Bradley Jay is one of those guys who is somewhat like the words of an old nursery rhyme, in that, when he's good, he's very, very good - and when he's bad, he's horrid.  A few programs ago, he was horrid.

I would have called in, but there I was, resting in bed, "half asleep".  I don't want to call in to a radio show in that "half asleep" condition, as you can put yourself in a very vulnerable and undesirable position by doing that!  There are a number of "regulars" who call Bradley Jay's program, including Doug from Ayer (a community in north central Massachusetts).  Doug would probably best be described as a "Fundamentalist".  I probably agree with about ninety percent of Doug's theology, but have problems with about ten percent of it.  Doug is a strong proponent of the "young Earth" theory, for instance.  He believes creation is only a few thousand years old, and I don't believe that.  However, Doug does have a very good handle on the message of the New Testament;  on why Jesus Christ came to this world, on how a person comes into right relationship with God, and so forth.  Bradley Jay likes to argue with Doug and with people like Doug.

Well, a few programs ago, Doug called in.  Bradley proceeded to lecture Doug that God would be much more pleased with Bradley than with Doug because Bradley does good works for the sake of doing good works but Doug serves God for fear of going to Hell.  Honestly, Doug did not handle himself well on that call!  He was no match for Bradley Jay.  Doug even told Bradley Jay that God does bad things but it's O.K because He's God and He does not have to follow the same rules that humanity has to follow.  That's absolutely WRONG!  I felt bad for Doug because Bradley Jay "walked all over him".  I don't know where Doug goes to church, but if I was Doug's pastor, I'd tell him to stop calling Bradley Jay's program.  I'd tell him to live for God and to share with his family and friends about how the Lord Jesus Christ has changed his life, but to not put himself in a position of being verbally torn apart over the airwaves by Bradley Jay.  The Scripture I base that on is the one I opened this blog post with!  Am I calling Bradley Jay "swine"?  Well, Jesus Christ died on the cross for Bradley Jay and Jesus Christ loves Bradley Jay, but in a sense, yes I am calling him that.  When a person runs roughshod over a sincere Believer that is obviously not up to his intellectual level; well what would you call that?!

And, what would I say to Bradley?  He and other callers went on to talk about their beliefs that "good" people go to Heaven.  This is the part that will make some people "unfriend" me.  It's not true that "good" people go to Heaven!  Nobody is good enough to go to Heaven!  Nobody!  Well, to be technical one is good enough to go to Heaven, and that's the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Bible says only perfect people go to Heaven.  That's found in Matthew 5:48 which is a very tough verse to accept!  I'm not perfect!  I've never lived a perfect life for even a day!  Neither have you!  Neither has Bradley Jay!  That's why we need the Lord Jesus Christ!  He is perfect!  He died on the cross, taking our place!  He paid the penalty for our sins!  When we receive Him (John 1:12) His righteousness is counted as our righteousness and because of Him, we are able to go to Heaven - if we receive Him.
That's the message of the Gospel.  It's largely a hated message.  It's hated because it means we have to admit that we don't measure up, and can never measure up.  We have to admit there's nothing in us deserving of Heaven.  No, Doug is not an intellectual giant, and no he didn't do so well on the air the other night, but yes, he has received Jesus Christ as his Personal Savior and Lord, and yes, for that reason Doug will be in Heaven.

That's my two cents on the subject and that's what I was too sleepy to call and tell Bradley Jay the other night (or is it "the other morning"?)!

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.