Saturday, August 20, 2016

SENDING A NOTE OF HOPE ON SEPTEMBER 19

August 20, 2016

From:  BOB BARIL

"...the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”  (from Acts 20:35)

Hello!

Recently, a church's outdoor sign caught my eye!  It proclaimed:

"WHERE THERE IS DESPAIR, BRING HOPE!"


I hope you'll seriously consider this "different" idea which COULD become a great blessing:


My 62nd birthday is Monday, September 19, 2016.

 
Two years ago, for my 60th birthday,  I THOUGHT I had a cool idea!  Since it was a "milestone" birthday, I e-mailed out a list of 5 ministries and charities to many of my family and friends.  I asked each to choose at least 1 of those ministries and charities and send a small donation to them; and then to let me know about it.  I envisioned at least 100 people doing this!  I thought it would be SUCH a wonderful thing to do on the occasion of my 60th birthday!

About 8 people participated. 

Frankly, I appreciated those 8; but I was disappointed with the response.

SO, it's with "fear and trembling" that I send THIS out; aware that perhaps nobody will act upon it!


I'm hoping the reaction to this request will be much better!


This year, on the occasion of my birthday, I thought it would be SO great if many, many OTHER people could receive special cards and encouraging notes during the week of September 19.  Yes, I KNOW people could send e-mails or text messages, but I'm asking that you not send the messages that way!  I'm asking you to send actual HARD COPY cards or notes!

Here's why:


-  There are many veterans out there who never receive an encouraging card or note from anyone.

-  There are many senior citizens (vets and non-vets alike) who never receive an encouraging card or note from anyone.

-  There are many people of all ages who are going through difficult crises, who never receive an encouraging card or note from anyone.

---  I'd love to see scores of them receive an encouraging card or note during the week of September 19!

If you THINK about it, you can come up with SOMEBODY worthy of receiving one of these cards or notes!  Yes, this COULD require an hour or so of your time and a few dollars to pick out a card, write a couple of encouraging sentences, put a stamp on the envelope, and mail off the card or letter.

That's not much! 

It's not much at all, but what an encouragement it would be!  If you also want to include a gift card to a coffee shop or a supermarket, that would be very nice, but you certainly don't HAVE to do that.

I think it would be so wonderful if you'd "get on board" with this;
and even pass this information on to a friend or two!


AND if you're on Facebook or another form of social media, please copy and paste the link (URL address) to this post on your Facebook (or other) page and add a comment saying something like, "I'm sending a note of hope on 9/19!"


Imagine what could happen if most of my friends (and most of their friends) DID "get on board" with this!

"WHERE THERE IS DESPAIR, BRING HOPE!"


Thank you,

BOB BARIL


Monday, July 4, 2016

"PLUS ONE"


"Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24)
 
To any and all who watched, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" on mostly ABC television stations today, July 4, 2016, (or on October 12, 2015, when that episode first aired) I'm sure you probably have thoughts on what you'd have done were you the contestant or the "Plus One".
 
You may or may not believe this, but things are so different when you're actually on television.  I stood there with my son Jon, looking at the very bright lights in front of us, and the entire experience seemed surreal.   In thinking back upon it, it all seems like a dream.  I was so proud of Jon when he was selected to be on the show.  I was surprised and pleased when he asked me to be his "Plus One".  I will admit that the thought of being Jon's "Plus One" was a bit intimidating.  Jon has a very high I.Q. I wondered what I would possibly know that Jon wouldn't know, unless it was 1960s pop culture or automobiles of the '50s and '60s or something like that. 
 
I was elated to watch Jon just whip through most of the first few questions!  I was also elated that within just a few minutes, he'd amassed a "bank" of $30,000!  Upon being asked to join him for that difficult $50,000 question, I did not know the answer, but in that moment, my entire focus was the importance of Jon winning the $50,000.  My focus was not at all the fact that Jon had $30,000 and that he could opt to just walk away with that money.  I've seen many contestants on that show look at the correct answer to a question and say, "Well, I know that can't be the correct answer!"  I've shaken my head and commented, "How stupid can you be?" on many occasions when I've watched that and other game shows.  Never did I think I'd make the very same type of mistake!  I remember being just fixated in my opinion that "it just can't be 'those who smoke marijuana'!" 
 
People in my age group will remember the old opening sequence of "ABC'S Wide World of Sports"  which included a skier completely 
"wiping out"- and the audio track in that moment announcing the line, "...the agony of defeat."   That's exactly what I felt the moment Jon uttered the incorrect answer that I strongly encouraged him to utter- and instantly observed his cash prize shrink to $5000.   A few minutes later we were being escorted into the studio's parking lot.  We were pretty quiet, and I felt absolutely numb.  Most of you probably realize the show was pre-recorded. It was taped a year ago, in late July of 2015.  I actually went through a difficult time for the first twenty-four hours after we walked out of that studio!  It's a long story, but as a young man, I made a foolish remark that led to my brother Eddie's photograph never being taken for his graduation high school yearbook photo.  It's been over forty years, but that still haunts me.  At the time of Eddie's death in 1983, I thought of his classmates who'd be looking for his photo in their yearbooks, only to find Edward Stephen Baril in the "Photos Not Available" category.  In my heart, I felt I'd done the same kind of thing to my son Jon.  I felt that in giving Jon very bad advice on national television, I'd taken away $25,000 that he'd won, and I felt horrible about it.  I felt I was not only a terrible brother but a terrible father, as well.  I honestly identified with Bill Buckner letting that ball go through his legs in Game Six of the 1986 World Series!  On the drive home, I began telling Jon how sorry I was.  He corrected me and told me it was not my fault- that it was a game, and that he was free to take or leave my advice.  Jon said he gave the famous "final answer" so the blame (if we want to use that word) is his.  Jon also reminded me he was still going to receive the largest check he'd ever received in his life, so it really wasn't such a bad thing!  Jon also told me his initial gut-level instinct was that "those who smoke marijuana" was the correct answer, but ultimately he was not sure.  Jon's words helped a little bit, but it took a lot of prayer and soul-searching over the next couple of days for me to come to terms with the experience.
 
I don't mean to sound melodramatic and fatalistic!  In fact, I had a "blast" visiting "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"!  The people who work on the show behind the scenes are very nice.  We got to meet several other contestants and their "Plus Ones" during the couple of days we were there in the New York City area.  (For any of you who watched the contestant "Mike" from Cheshire, CT on Friday's show- he's almost seven feet tall- we met and talked with him, for instance.) It was a great experience which I will cherish for the rest of my life!  And, I'm indeed glad Jon chose me to be his "Plus One"!  That twenty-four hours immediately following our appearance was stressful and painful for me, but thank God, I did totally get over those negative and self-condemning feelings!  I wasn't sure how I'd feel about watching and re-living that moment of leading Jon to give an incorrect answer,  but in fact I enjoyed watching us on the show, first on October 12, and then today.  Jon really did such a good job getting to the $50,000 question and was so personable and animated that it was a real joy to watch (without the stress of having to be called up and help answer a difficult question)!  I thought I looked a bit old and very nervous on television, but this was really Jon's moment and not mine;  and I'm fine with it, and again, very proud of him!
 
We've received mostly positive feedback since the program aired last October, and I also received positive feedback about it on social media today.  Listen, if you ever have the opportunity to try out to be a contestant on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", I hope you'll do exactly what Jon did and try out!  And, if a friend or relative invites you to be their "Plus One" on the show, I say, "Go for it!"

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

PAUL'S BRIDGE

[Note:  It should be obvious to all readers that the story in this posting is a complete work of fantasy!  Please use your imagination as you read it; but please don't receive its message lightly!  The story may be fantasy, but the message is one of utmost importance at this hour.]

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:" (2 Timothy 3:16)

The title I've chosen to both highlight and sum up the amazing experience of which I write has a double meaning.  For readers from around the Boston area, especially those familiar with Boston's Hyde Park and Readville neighborhoods, Paul's Bridge is a familiar landmark.  It's a very old stone bridge which spans the Neponset River between suburban Milton and the City of Boston's Readville neighborhood.  If you do an on-line search you can find more information about "Paul's Bridge".  The story here is not about the Boston landmark, though.  It's about the Apostle Paul (also commonly known as "Saint Paul") and an unforgettable visit I received from him!

One does not expect someone to just appear out of nothing and suddenly be sitting in your presence.  In fact, he not only appeared out of nothing, but the Hollywood director type chair in which he sat appeared out of nothing as well!  I'm not sure how I instantly knew this was Paul the Apostle, but I did.  He was sitting for the whole visit which lasted an hour or so.  He was short.  I'd guess he was maybe five feet five inches tall; perhaps less than that.  He was lighter complected than I'd have imagined.  His hair was part gray and part reddish brown; well, more brown than red.  He wore a full beard.  He wasn't completely bald.  There was a bit of hair on the top of his head, but he definitely was suffering from "male pattern baldness".  He greeted me loudly, crying out, "Paul, the Apostle, visiting twenty-first century Massachusetts!"

I marveled that he spoke English.  In fact, I marveled that he spoke English with what sounded like a Baltimore, Maryland accent.  I commented about that.

He laughed.  "Yes, this is what could be called a textbook Baltimore, Maryland accent," he proclaimed, followed by the exclamation, "Very good!"

I commented that I'd have expected him to be speaking in first-century Greek or Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) or even Hebrew.  He shook his head, stating that it was important I understood what he had to say.  I was also surprised that he was wearing blue jeans, a Promise Keepers tee-shirt, and a pair of sneakers.

"Well, I wanted to look as I would have looked in 2016!" he laughed. 

I spent the next fifteen minutes or so quizzing Paul.  I asked him what many of you would probably consider very silly questions, but hey, how often does the Apostle Paul show up in your home?!  This was my chance to fire away with questions!   Incidentally, he refused to tell me exact meaning of his "Thorn in the Flesh" (from 2 Corinthians 12) and I was kind of disappointed about that.

The conversation turned to much more serious and pertinent matters.  Paul soundly rebuked me; well not just me.  He soundly rebuked virtually all of today's American Christians.  He told me we were "very soft, very lazy, and very clueless" about the times in which we live and the manner in which we live.  I asked him who he'd be supporting for President of the United States this year.  This is almost word-for-word what Paul had to say:

"Well, if that isn't the stupidest question!  You and your fellow believers sound like the Israelites in the days of Samuel of old when they wanted a king.  They wanted to be like all the other nations.   They failed to understand that God was their king.  They failed to understand that all men and women are fallible.  God reluctantly gave them Saul, for whom I was named.  (Readers may know that he had two names all of his life:  Saul was his Jewish name, and Paul was his Roman name.)  But it was never to be so."

I asked if it was wrong to vote and to be interested in politics.

"No, of course it's not wrong," he admonished, "But the believers of today have everything backwards.  They fight and argue to 'defend the Constitution' but they fail to realize that the Bible is far, far more important.  They wonder why the current choices seem to be so poor and inadequate.  The fact is, they're not praying for their leaders, nor for the people who aspire to be their leaders.  And, they're not living and praying with an attitude of humility and repentance.  It's true that Peter and I did not always get along!  Boy, did we have our confrontations!  But, how many of you know what it says in First Peter chapter four verse seventeen?  Read it!  And, don't just read it.  Remember what my friend James said in James chapter one verse twenty-two?  Well, ninety percent of today's believers have no idea what it says, but it challenges God's children to not just read and hear what the Bible says, but to do what the Bible says, for Heaven sakes; and I mean it:  For Heaven sakes!" 

He was yelling when he said that.  The next part is embarrassing and difficult for me to write:

"You know, Bob, you're so soft, man.  Have you ever been beaten for being a follower of Jesus Christ?  I was beaten many times!  Have you ever been jailed?  Also, many times.  You guys and gals today get into fights about what worship music you like and what worship music you don't like!  Would you like to see me throw up?  Because that's what I feel like doing when I see and hear things like that!  Do you think anybody cared what "worship style" Silas and I were using when we sang the praises of God in the jail at Phillipi after we'd been beaten with rods?!"

He wasn't done.

"In fact I ended up being beheaded.  Yes, my head's on now; how'd you like to have met a headless Paul?!   Listen, were I ministering in America today I'd have little patience for people who can't make it out to church services, for people who can't make it out to prayer meetings, and for people who whine about the stupidest things!  Some say 'Church goes on too long';  have you ever read about the time I preached until Midnight and a young guy fell down from an upper story dead?!  And, I raised that young man from the dead!  You 'sweet little Christians' wouldn't have been able to do that; why?  Because you don't pray consistently and you don't believe!"

I felt myself turning red, and I looked down at the hardwood floor.

Suddenly his voice got very soft.  It was so soft I could hardly hear him.  I looked up.  Tears were streaming down his face.  He began to sob.  I actually handed him a paper towel!  I know it may sound a bit unspiritual, but he blew his nose.  Then he said in that very soft voice,

"Bob,  will you just remember my visit?  Will you tell people about it?   Will you tell them what I had to say?  And will you please tell them to read their Bibles?  And will you please tell them to stop all the focus on carnal issues that really don't matter?!  You want to have any kind of victory and influence in these days, Bob?  Well, remember Daniel and his companions!  You gotta be a Daniel and that goes for your fellow believers, too."

Instantly he was gone.  His director's chair was gone.  The paper towel was not gone.  It had fallen to the floor. 

He kind of was a bridge through time and through eternity.

If you don't like this, I'm going to say what I'm sure Paul would say:  Don't take it up with me, take it up with God!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

LITERALLY THROWING MONEY AWAY

"The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty,
But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty."  (Proverbs 21:5 New King James Version)

The simple conversation quickly turned into an intense and shocking monologue.
It was at a laundromat, fairly early this morning.  One female customer began making small talk with the laundry attendant on duty who was also a woman.  It was the laundry attendant who launched into a disturbing rant.  

"A guy brought in a bunch of pennies and he wanted me to change them into quarters," she began. Quickly, she was yelling about her refusal to accept the pennies, but it didn't stop there.

"I hate pennies!" she went on, "No, I mean I really hate them!  I throw them away.  Anytime I have pennies, I throw them into the trash.  When I've found out my kids had any pennies, I've thrown them into the trash." 

It didn't stop there.  She continued on for at least a paragraph, laced with 'F-Bombs' and all sorts of blasphemies, profanity, and offensive language.  The level of hate she was manifested was amazing.  She mentioned that people have told her pennies are money and therefore should not be thrown away.  It was that objection which others have given to her regarding throwing pennies into the trash that made her the angriest of all.

I was so tempted to say something to her!  I wanted to tell her I'll give her a plastic container; that she can just deposit any pennies into it and once a month or so, I'll take them from her!  I also wanted to tell her that I understand that pennies can be an inconvenience, but that people who save them and bring them to the bank sometimes end up leaving the bank with tens of dollars, and occasionally even hundreds of dollars.

In the Assemblies of God, children bring in little plastic barrels filled with change once a month.  (That program is called "B.G.M.C.", which stands for "Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge".)  The money goes to missionary projects all over the world.  A number of years ago, my wife led the little church we pastored in a B.G.M.C. project to bring in pennies for a "penny weigh".  As I recall, it was boys against girls, and the side who brought the most pennies won.  I forget what they won and I forget who won, but I do remember that on the following day, Mary Ann and I wheeled an old-fashioned children's "red wagon" into the lobby of the (then) Shawmut Bank on Union Avenue in Framingham, Massachusetts.  The employees were very cooperative in helping us make the deposit.  As I recall, it was over $600. and that was from a very small church of under fifty in total attendance.

The attitude of that laundry attendant spoke volumes today.  To Mary Ann back in the late 1980s, the pennies were a wonderful tool to help the missionaries.  Eternity will reveal the many blessings that came from the large pile of copper coins.  To the laundry attendant, pennies (i.e. legal tender) are simply something to be thrown away.

This is really the classic example of:  One person's trash is another person's treasure!

What do you think?  Shall I print this out and bring it in to that laundry employee along with a shiny copper penny?  Do you think she'd just throw my article and penny away?

Please leave a comment or e-mail me!  I'm really interested in your feedback!  And if you want to give some pennies to your church for missions, I don't think your pastor will refuse that donation!




Saturday, May 7, 2016

"BROKEN HALLELUJAHS" BY BETH SLEVCOVE - WOW!

"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all."  (I Thessalonians 5:14 New King James Version)

I just finished reading "Broken Hallelujahs" by Beth Allen Slevcove.  It's a brand new book (copyright 2016) published by InterVarsity Press. 

Wow.

It's a paperback of around two hundred pages and in many respects an "easy read".  Yet, it's the kind of book that (in a good way) can "rock your world".  I was unfamiliar with Beth Allen Slevcove, a Spiritual Director and a Lutheran from San Deigo, California.  I'm one of those former Roman Catholics who couldn't get far enough away from liturgical churches and traditions once I "got saved" over forty years ago.  And, after having spent many years in evangelical and classical Pentecostal circles, I'm one of those who is very comfortable with certain spiritual and secular practices and very uncomfortable with certain others.  Lutheran Beth Slevcove is one for whom liturgical services and practices are very imporant and very much part of her world.  In the book, she also speaks positively about the practice of "running with the bulls" in Pamplona, Spain, getting a tattoo, and a few other such practices.  Ordinarily, speaking positively of such matters would make most Assemblies of God ministers and churchgoers over the age of fifty want to run, not with the bulls, but as far away from these topics as possible!   Although, I went back to the practice of observing Advent about twenty years ago and back to the practice of observing Lent about ten years ago,  much about "liturgical worship" and about earthy and funky practices makes me want to say, "thanks but no thanks" and to safely retreat into my own private world.  But God has been stretching me over the past several years in ways I'd never have imagined or chosen.  I often do say I'm a person who is both unconventional and eccentric.  My sense is that Beth Slevcove is unconventional and eccentric, as well.  I'm glad I didn't put her book down when parts of it felt uncomfortable or weird.  I'm glad I read the whole book.  I suspect it's one of those kind of books that I'll read again and again and again over the next few years, and I'll probably get something new and different out of "Broken Hallelujahs" each time I do.

I wish this book was available for me to read six years ago.  It's mainly about the losses we experience in life that often create doubt, anger with God, and loss of faith.  It's about the whole process of trying to cope with disappointment with God and horrific and unfair circumstances.  It's about the ugly pain of grief that well meaning friends often make much worse by some of the inappropriate things they say.  She has real trouble with the Christian phrase, "Let go and let God".  I'll save what she says about it for when you read the book!  I actually don't have any problems with, "Let go and let God" but there are a number of phrases that nearly sent me over the edge after the small church I pastored was closed and I found myself out of the ministry, working a low-paying secular job and feeling very much lost and displaced.  I recoiled at statements such as, "Move on"..."Get over it"..."I did it, why can't you?"... and so many others.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I do understand that friends, relatives, and colleagues who said these things honestly meant well.  I'm ashamed of the fact that in my early days of ministry, I sometimes said very stupid and insensitive things to people who were grieving.  I did receive a "crash course" in how difficult grief is when my brother died unexpectedly in 1983.  Six months later, I went through a terrible depression.  The Lord revealed to me it was grief, and it was normal, and it was something I'd have to walk through. 

Ironically, Beth Slevcove also walked through the death of her brother, which was an enormous loss for her.  I won't spoil the book for you, I'll let you read it.  She shares a lot of her own disappointments, pain, and losses.  She shares what she learned, what worked to get her through the difficult and dark times and what didn't work.  The book is made up of twenty-six mostly short chapters.  At the end of each chapter is homework for you to do, if you like, but she makes it clear early in the book that if you don't care for that sort of thing and want to skip the exercises at the end of the chapters, that's fine.  She admitted that when she reads books with homework at the end of the chapters, she usually skips it and doesn't find it helpful.  Boy, did I like her honesty!


Yes, it's a book about grief and loss, but some of what she writes is very funny!  At times, I was just cracking up laughing!  At other times, I was just very quiet and reflective.  For me, the best parts of "Broken Hallelujahs" were the first few chapters and the last few chapters.  I found the middle difficult and more challenging.  Yet, that even fits something she wrote about "the U-bend of life" and I won't spoil that, either; I'll let you read it.

Listen, this book cost me around fifteen bucks and it was well worth it.  Pastors, it's well worth the read, and it's the kind of book you'd want to give to someone going through a difficult time with grief and loss.  I can't stress enough, get "Broken Hallelujahs" and read it!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A TOTALLY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ABOUT THE BOOK OF REVELATION

"Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;"  (Revelation 1:19)

I wonder as I write this piece if I'm like "Father McKenzie" in The Beatles' song Eleanor Rigby :
"Writing the words of a sermon that on one will hear" ?  I suppose the content might be "a snooze" to some folks, but I hope there will be a few "brave souls" who will stick with this!  It just might give you a totally different perspective about the Book of Revelation; specifically about the writer of the Book of Revelation that you probably never thought about before!

My personal Bible devotional reading for today was Revelation chapter one.  I've read the Book of Revelation many times.  I've taught classes from the Book of Revelation.  During the first few months of 2000 (since we thought of that as such a significant year at the time) I preached a series of sermons from the Book of Revelation on Sunday mornings.  Today, I have no new theological view of the Book of Revelation, nor do I have some great end times message which will send chills up readers' spines.  I do have a new perspective to report!  I thought about something I'd never thought about before as I read and pondered the words of the first chapter of Revelation:  I thought about the author and what he had to be feeling and going through just prior to experiencing the spectacular Revelation of Jesus Christ that he received.

John was an old man at the time.  Tradition says he was a really old man at the time.  In fact, John was often called "The Elder".  He used that name in two of his epistles.  I want to make it clear that this guy was not "John the Baptist".  This was the man who is called "St. John the Evangelist" by Roman Catholics.  He and his brother James were among the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ.  This is the John who wrote The Gospel of John.  Scripture tells us that when James and John were young and actively following Jesus they were called the Sons of Thunder.  They literally hoped judgment would soon fall on their enemies.  James was martyred decades before John experienced what he described in the Book of Revelation.  And, John, who'd been a rather hot-headed young guy had become known as the "apostle of love" as an old man.  My, what a difference the years of walking with God in humble service and obedience had made in John's life!

John may have been as old as ninety when he wrote the Book of Revelation.  He'd been exiled to the island of Patmos.  (It's a barren island about twenty-four miles off the coast of Turkey.)  I was reading this morning that John was exiled to Patmos by the Emperor Domitian.  The exile lasted for about eighteen months, and then tradition says John went to live out his final days in Ephesus.  I was always taught that Patmos was totally barren; that on one lived there.  It was surprising to learn today that there was a Roman administrative center on the island in the first century, so John was certainly not "all alone" on the island as we've sometimes believed.  It's likely he was not held in a dungeon or anything like that.  Domitian probably just wanted him stuck on that island so his influence on others could be very limited.

I spent some time this morning thinking about what it must have felt like to be elderly John on the island of Patmos.  Boy, I'd love to have been able to go back in time, speak his language, and interview him.  Was he depressed?  Was he bored?  Was he hopeless?  I imagine he must have been tired.  He'd lived quite a full and meaningful life, but it certainly would not have been an easy life.  Was his wife still living?  Did he have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren?  If so, where were they?  Was he lonely?  I'd guess he must have been lonely.  The big questions I wanted to ask John were:  Did you feel like your life was over?  Did you feel like your ministry was over?  Did you feel like your best days were all behind you?  Did you feel like you had nothing particularly to look forward to in this life?  Did you feel like you'd accomplished pretty much all you were going to accomplish, and that now you were just waiting to die?

I can't prove it, but I suspect he may have felt some or all of those things. 

At Christmas time, we hear a lot about the whole "Elf on a Shelf" thing.  (I won't address that now; I really don't like that whole idea!)  I certainly can't relate to being an "Elf on a Shelf" but I can relate to feeling like my own life has been "on a shelf", and that my best days and most important and significant days are behind me.  (I could write pages about that, but I will not.)  No, I'm not ninety, and I've got a long way to go till ninety, but that feeling of being bored and "all washed up", well, let's say "it's pretty lousy!"

I thought about John, and all of a sudden I liked what I was reading!  I got so blessed by reading Revelation chapter one today!  I'm a very verbal guy, but I'm at a loss for words to tell you how excited, and happy, and hopeful, and (yes) blessed I felt as I read it!  Here was an old guy on an island pretty much thinking not much was left for him in this life and "POW!"  What a Sunday that must have been for John!  Yeah, it was a Sunday; check that out!  I wanted to ask John, "Which Sunday was more exciting for you- that first Easter Sunday we just celebrated a few days ago, or was it this one?!"  I know you probably think it had to be the day Jesus rose from the dead, but don't be too sure about that!  I suspect it was this one!

I wonder how long the Revelation experience was for John?  Three hours?  Four hours?  Five hours?  More?  And, when he wrote the Book- where'd he get the scroll and the pen and ink?  Did he write the Book of Revelation from Patmos itself, or was it later from Ephesus?   What a project it must have been to write it!  Think of it- no computers, no typewriters, no copy machines, no printing presses.  It was a labor of love.  Later, others- scribes- have to have handwritten out copies of it for distribution to the believers of that day.

It's 2016.  And, I'm reading that Book.  And, all over the world, people are still reading it, and still studying it, and talking about it, and arguing about it.  But think of it!  God cared about an old guy on an island who was lonely and who probably thought there was nothing more (in this life) for him!  And God gave him that great revelation and that great assignment and responsibility!  I've often said that someday in heaven, I want to "look up" Gideon from the Book of Judges and Joseph from the Book of Genesis and just talk to them- interview them- hear their personal stories.  Well, I've got to add John to the list.  You may be surprised that it's not about his years walking with Jesus as a young man that I want to talk about- I want to talk about when he got that "Revelation of Jesus Christ"!

Yes, this really touched me and did something for me today!  And, for those of you who didn't get "scared off" at the beginning of this piece, I hope these words have touched and blessed you today, too!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

REAL CHURCH SEEKS UNREAL MINISTER?!

"This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work."  (I Timothy 3:1)
(Many Bible scholars would say it's permissible to substitute the words "elder" or "overseer" or even "pastor" for "bishop" in I Timothy 3:1.  If you read it as "pastor" it's quite fitting with this piece.) 

Most of my close friends and relatives who are reading this are well aware of my life story over the past few decades, and also know about my present life circumstances.  For the sake of readers who don't know that information, I want to briefly state that I'm an Ordained Assemblies of God minister.  I pastored a small church in Framingham, Massachusetts from 1987 to 2010.  That small church was closed in 2010.  I began a secular job in March of 2010 that I was released from just a few weeks ago.  I'm now in the process of trying to find a new secular job at the jolly age of sixty-one!  I've been spending quite a bit of time in the past few weeks pouring over job postings on-line at some of the most popular job seeking sites. Although I'm looking for a secular position, just a few days ago, I thought it might be fun to check and see if there were any "pastor" positions that had been posted.

As you might guess, there were not many "pastor" or "clergy" positions that I found.  Sometimes there are "chaplain" positions available.  They usually require a minimum of an M.Div. degree and pretty extensive experience in a healthcare or educational setting, along with graduate credits in some very specific areas.  It's very rare to find a "pastor" or "associate pastor" job position posted on a major internet job seeking site, but (amazingly) I did find an associate pastor position posted, and it was at a church in one of Boston's suburbs.
 
I'm very familiar with the church.  It's what I'd call a "mainstream evangelical" church;  definitely "theologically conservative/Bible based" but not particularly "Pentecostal" or "charismatic".  I've got some good friends who attend this church, and I've attended some special events at their large and attractive church facility.  They're a very good church with a lot of good ministries offered, and some excellent and highly gifted people on their staff.  That church is specifically seeking an "Outreach Pastor".  The job description was quite long, quite detailed, and rather complicated.  As I read and tried to mentally digest the job description, bluntly speaking, what I was reading just about blew my mind!  What "freaked me out" about it is that the man (or woman) this church is planning to hire could not possibly exist!  I can't imagine (were he alive, healthy, and able to speak English) that even the Apostle Paul would have a remote shot at being hired!
 
The job's educational requirement is actually quite simple:  It requires only a Bachelor's degree.  That surprised me.  I'd say over half of pastors at Pentecostal and charismatic churches hold only Bachelor's degrees (I have only a Bachelor's); but usually an M.Div. is the minimum allowed at mainline evangelical congregations, with a preference for D.Min. holders.  Yes, the education required is not a big deal, but after that, we get into the "unlikely" and perhaps even "impossible" qualifications!  There's a list of twenty-one "Responsibilities" the Outreach Pastor will be expected to fulfill.  I won't list all of them, but the following is a list of less than half of them:
 
  • Determine the critical impact project(s) to engage the congregational for community transformation
  • Advocate, recruit, train and deploy ministry partners for service;
  • Evaluate the process and potential for continuing missional activity in the particular area;
  • Imbed missional activity and identity into the DNA of the congregation.
  • Church Growth
  • Oversee and have principle* responsibility for the process of developing guests into regular attendees who are involved in Faith Groups.
  • Leadership with Outreach Partners
  • Form an outreach team;
  • Connect church ministry partners with outreach partner ministries based on passion and gifts.
  • Work with the Executive Pastor toward creating missional multisite churches.
 
*I (Bob Baril) think they've spelled that word wrong and that they probably meant "principal".
 
The Outreach Pastor is also expected to:
 
"Serve as an active member of the Executive Ministry Council representing Outreach, giving direction to the strategic development of the church’s ministries, with an understanding of the interdependence of the represented ministries. Build a global outreach perspective in staff and church leaders; continually educate church leaders and the congregation regarding the biblical foundation and imperative for outreach."
 
Again, keep in mind I've exactly quoted well under half of their entire job description here!
 
We evangelicals are often (rightly) criticized for using our own jargon in such a way that ordinary people in our modern North American society (frankly) can't even understand what we're talking about.  We talk about "witnessing" and "testimonies" and "mass evangelism" and "V.B.S." and "contemporary Christian music".  Yet, you've got to admit those terms are "small potatoes" compared to the "state-of-the-art" and "cutting edge" elite Christian-ese presented in that church's job description!
 
I understood probably seventy percent of the job description.  The "multisite" thing, for instance, is a trend that's been going on during the past fifteen years or so, in which larger churches that draw from a broad geographic area establish new "sites" in their region.  This isn't really old-fashioned "church planting".  It does have elements of that, but it's a church establishing a "campus" on a new "site" that still maintains a very strong identity with the original church.  Sunday morning sermons may be simulcast on video from the main campus to four or five (or more) satellite locations; yet there's also interaction, prayer, Bible study, pot luck dinners and all sorts of other offerings at each satellite location.  There are pros and cons to the satellite location model, but the biggest pro is that it absolutely reaches more people for Christ and makes a far more powerful impact on a whole metropolitan area than any large and successful church in one location ever could hope to.  The term "missional" means more than "being a missionary".  The idea is that it's a whole "outreach/evangelism" mentality that has the potential to absolutely permeate a society with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I'm not sure that we really needed a new word for that.  The New Testament itself is "missional" and every Christian and church is supposed to be "missional" although the word "missional" is now the new and cool word and philosophy that's being bandied about in evangelical circles.
 
I would never qualify for that "Outreach Pastor" position!  I have many, many minister friends.  They're mostly men but several are women.  Many are Assemblies of God ministers, and many are Baptist, some Nazarene, some Congregational, some Lutheran, and some with the Evangelical Free Church.   I would guess that about a fourth of my minister friends could perhaps qualify for about half of what that large Boston-area church is looking for in an "Outreach Pastor" but no one could possibly meet all the requirements nor fulfill all the expectations!
 
I must admit, I shared the list of requirements for that "Outreach Pastor" position with a couple of friends of mine who are laypeople.  In fact, one of those laypeople attends that very church!  The first person's reaction was, "That church is expecting the moon when it comes to hiring an outreach pastor!"  The other (the one who actually attends that church) said, "I don't have the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues so I can't understand what the job posting is even saying."  That person then added with obvious concern, "God help us."
 
I stated previously that this church is really quite a good one.  Most of the pastors that I'm acquainted with would be thoroughly delighted if the churches they pastored were drawing one-third the number of people that this church is drawing and if their churches were offering one-third the number of ministries this church is running.  Most of my pastor friends would be thrilled to have the use of a church building and property such as that congregation owns, along with the resources they have.  I almost wonder if this church even needs an "Outreach pastor".  It's possible that the present pastoral staff could connect with churches around the country which have successfully grown and established multisite ministries and "pick the brains" of the leadership of those churches.  If the present church is finding itself in a rut or lacking vision (and that certainly can happen), perhaps certain key ministry people could be brought in to address that issue and to motivate the congregation on certain Sundays of the year.  Perhaps each staff person and key lay leader could take just a piece of that "perfect and ideal" job description and "own" it.  With faith and trust in God, and obedience to God's Word and to the Holy Spirit, it's possible they would accomplish much more in that way as a group than the church's present leaders are hoping to accomplish by hiring an individual Outreach Pastor.  Back in the early 1980s, when I was in my beginning days of ministry, the senior pastor I served under taught a series of classes on "Making Disciples" to the lay leaders of the church.  He stressed many key points, but one that stands out in my momory is, "Learning to walk in the truth that we already know".  He pointed out that we really do study and learn and know so much about discipleship, outreach, and evangelism, but the key thing is, we just have to start living it and doing it!  In addition, I think there's no substitute for that church's present pastoral staff and key lay leaders to each develop mentoring relationships with people in the church and "pour themselves" into those people.  When a "good sized chunk" of the laity get "plugged in" it's truly miraculous what can be accomplished!  And, I know this is going to sound very "Pentecostal" of me, but along with all that, how about some "old-fashioned altar services" and some "old-fashioned prayer meetings"?!  I know mainstream evangelical people can get very uncomfortable with those practices, and sometimes Pentecostals and charismatics have gone "overboard" with hype and emotionalism.  But, to my mainstream evangelical brothers and sisters, I say, "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater!  You may not need to hire a person who doesn't exist, after all!  (Listen, no matter who you hypothetically would hire as an Outreach Pastor, that person will never really fulfill what you're asking them to in your job description, no matter what he or she may promise you!)   You may just need to focus as never before on loving God, loving people, and changing your way of thinking!" 

This piece is not meant to offend anyone; it's a word from my heart, but to quote from the Apostle Paul, in writing it, "I think also that I have the Spirit of God".