Wednesday, June 14, 2017

SUDDENLY IT'S 1960!

"But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing."  (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

"Suddenly It's 1960!" was the advertising slogan Chrysler Corporation used to enthusiastically promote its 1957 Plymouth automobile models.  (Considering Chrysler hasn't even built Plymouth cars since 2001, I guess I need to mention that back in the late '50s, they marketed Plymouth cars to directly compete against Ford and Chevrolet cars.)  In the late fifties, every auto manufacturer was trying to build cars that were longer, lower, wider, and bigger than their previous models and which gave the impression of being "ahead of their time".  Thus, "Suddenly It's 1960!" was a brilliant slogan.

This piece is not about cars nor is it about marketing, however.  It is about the year 1960.  Recently, the "Memorable Entertainment Television" network (known as "ME TV") began showing reruns of the earliest episodes of the Fred MacMurray classic sitcom known as, "My Three Sons".  Most of us have seen the "later" episodes from around 1970 which are in color and which feature the three sons as Robbie, Chip, and Ernie, with "Uncle Charlie", a crusty older guy with (what I think is) a weird hairstyle, serving as the housekeeper.  The original black & white episodes of, "My Three Sons", however, have the kids as, "Mike, Robbie, and Chip", and the housekeeper as "Bub", played by (of all people) William Frawley who was Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy".

I've caught a few of these very early episodes of  "My Three Sons" from the 1960-1961 television season recently.  One thing that brought back memories from way back when I was a six-year-old is that when they roll the credits at the end of the show, they feature a 1961 Chevrolet Impala and a 1961 Corvair driving on a highway.  I hadn't seen or thought about that in well over fifty years, but as soon as those Chevys appeared on the screen I felt a little teary eyed as I remembered seeing those "new" cars when those shows were first shown.  I guess "My Three Sons" must have been sponsored by Chevrolet in the show's early days.

That's not all that has struck me about the very early episodes of "My Three Sons."  A couple of weeks ago, ME TV ran the Thanksgiving 1960 episode.  Wow.  If you don't think America has changed since 1960 and if you don't think America has (frankly) lost a lot of its character since 1960, watch that episode!  Now, granted, some of it was what I'd call, "a little hokey".  An American Indian friend of the family who insists he's a direct descendant of Squanto of the Wampanoag Indian Tribe (who befriended the Pilgrims in the 1620s) comes and spends Thanksgiving dinner with the Douglas family.  If he's really a Wampanoag, I don't know why he was dressed like a Plains Indian Chief!  On second thought, I think I do- because this was all "cooked up" (no pun intended on Thanksgiving dinner) by Hollywood.  And, the American Indian visitor spoke just like the Ameican Indians of the "westerns" of that period; you know, saying things like: "Heap big," and "Many moons ago".   Despite all of that (somewhat silly) stuff, this episode deeply moved me.

Why did it move me?

On that Thanksgiving episode, the family (including old William Frawley) all express their deep thankfulness and faith by singing, "We Gather Together".  I suspect that seventy-five percent of my readers who are under age forty won't even know what "We Gather Together" is!  It's a Thanksgiving hymn about God's faithful blessings despite the fact that the Pilgrims had been persecuted by, "the wicked oppressing..."

Listen, they sang the song, all verses included!

Can  you imagine any of today's network sitcoms featuring a scene such as that?!  The only situation comedy I can think of that might even remotely consider it is (a favorite of mine) ABC's "The Middle", but in this day and age, I very seriously doubt they'd do it.  If they did, Axl would probably refuse to sing it and would make fun of it and that would be that!

I'm sure many of my readers from the political left will want to take me to task for loving that world of 1960.  I'm sure they'd want to point out that women and minorities (especially groups such as African-Americans) were very badly and very disgracefully treated in those days.  Listen, it's true- they were.  I admit, as much as I'd take the world of 1960 or 1961 over the world of 2017 and I would, I would never want to see women and minorities discriminated against again as they were at that time.  But, remember that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who provided such desperately needed prophetic, practical, and selfless leadership in that era was not an atheist nor was he a secular humanist, nor was he a self-absorbed greedy materialist.  Not at all.  King was a devout Baptist Christian who lived his faith in ways that very few Christians have.  His speeches were laced with Bible verses and his actions were akin to men like Moses and John the Baptist.  Dr. King never acted ashamed of his faith.  He was not ashamed to pray.  He was not ashamed to quote Scripture.  He was not ashamed to stand against evil, even if it meant he'd lose his life, and of course, he did.  He rightly deserves a national holiday.

Too often in our day, men and women who stand for prayer and Scripture and God's way are mocked, ridiculed, and rejected.  How sad.

Did you ever watch the film, "Thirteen Days"?  That's such a powerful movie and well worth seeing. The world of October 1962 stood at the brink of an all-out nuclear war.  A brief but powerful scene in that film shows people lined up to get into a church building and (presumably) get right with God.  That was the world of the early 1960s.  The idea of going into a church and "getting right with God" was not seen as all that crazy.  In fact, I remember that in those early days of the Cold War, the United States Post Office routinely used a postmark which stamped the words, "Pray For Peace" on pieces of mail, directly over each stamp as it was postmarked.  Do you suppose we could have the U.S. Postal Service do that in our day?  Well, of course not!  It's not politically correct!  It's "too religious"!  It's "too offensive"!

See what I mean?

You may think the culture and values of America of 2017 are superior to the culture and values of America of the past, but I'm glad I can at least turn on my television set and once in awhile, "Suddenly It's 1960!"

Sunday, May 21, 2017

CONDOLENCES TO THE DOHERTY FAMILY OF FRANKLIN

"...weep with them that weep."  (from Romans 12:15)

I'm a very verbal person who can always seem to know just what to say in any and all occasions.  Well, so it seems, but in this situation, it's just not the case.
I don't live in Franklin, Mass. and I've never lived in Franklin, Mass.  And, I know only a handful of people who do live in Franklin, Mass.  I don't know the family of Michael Doherty, but my heart goes out to them. 

It's been all over the Boston-area media for a week.  Michael Doherty, age 20, had gone to a party, stayed late on Saturday night May 13, and then never showed up at home as expected.  For almost a week, the police and many volunteers were searching for him.  As of this writing (on Sunday afteroon, May 21), a body was found yesterday in a thickly wooded area near Interstate 495 which is presumbed to be the body of Michael.

I'm sure I'm writing the words of thousands and thousands of people from all over the New England area who've followed this story over the past few days:  I'm so sorry for the family's loss.

This horrible event at this time of year brings back a flood of memories.  Yes, I can relate in a number of ways to the Doherty family's terrible loss.  In late June of 1983, my brother Eddie, age 27 at the time, collapsed at his place of employment in Weymouth, Mass., was rushed to South Shore Hospital, spent about ten days on life supports, and died in early July of that year.  My wife was almost nine months pregnant with our first child.  He will be thirty-four in just a couple of months.  It was a bittersweet time.  The funeral home "visiting hours" was one of those situations of a long, long line with scores and scores of people filing by.  We, the family, were all in a state of shock and had no idea what to say.  The people going through the funeral line said things like, "I don't know what to say," and we completely understood.  Eddie's funeral was on a hot, humid day.  It was so hot that an altar boy fainted during the mass.

There's one line someone said during that those terrible days that I do remember.  It was said in private by my father to his wife and two remaining siblings.  Gene Baril was a tough and pragmatic guy, although this loss had reduced him to helpless tears.  But after he'd gone through a couple days of crying and mourning he bluntly said to his family, "Other families go through tragedies.  Why shouldn't our family experience a tragedy, too?"

I know that may seem like a strange thing for him to have said, but he'd been in law enforcement for decades and he'd watched a lot of people go through a lot of tragedies.  As crazy as it may sound, for me the statement was helpful.

Six months after my brother's death, I went through a severe depression.  I was truly frightened, because I had no idea why I was depressed.  This may sound foolish and "super spiritual" to some people, but God spoke to me and told me why I was depressed.   No, God did not tell me in an audible voice, but in a deep inner impression.  He showed me that I'd never truly grieved my brother's loss, and the severe depression was me doing exactly that.  There was no escaping it.  I would have to go through the time of severe depression, and then I'd be O.K.  And, I was.

My brother and I were not close.  He did not look like me at all.  He looked like the Scottish relatives on my mother's side and I look like the French-Canadian relatives on my father's side.  He was an outstanding mechanic and had the mind of a engineer.  I'm a typical "liberal arts" type- I love writing, and good literature, and history and culture but I wouldn't know a crescent wrench from a nail gun!  (Well, actually I do know a crescent wrench from a nail gun, but I liked the sentence!  But, I've never used a nail gun in my life, and only a handful of times have I ever used a crescent wrench!  I think you get what I mean.)  I'm a public speaker.  As an Assemblies of God pastor, I preached and taught in public hundreds and hundreds of times.  And, I'm a good speaker.  My brother would never have aspired to speak in public.  Never.  But if he tuned up your car it would run better than you could ever imagine.  Well, his loss, despite our being opposites, was not easy.  It was very hard.  I had a lot of "survivor's guilt".  I still experience bits of that at times.  Eddie, for instance, would love my son-in-law David who is also a mechanic, and my two little grandsons who love to help Daddy work on cars.  I think of that a lot.  My youngest grandson even reminds me of Eddie- but we all lost out on what Eddie would have done with his life had he lived.

My parents never got over the death of Eddie.  They sort of "put it in the the rear view mirror" and tried to move on, but they were never the same.  Something like Eddie's death at an early age-  you never forget that.

So, when I send my condolences to the Doherty family, I'm not speaking theoretically or hypothetically.  I have no answer to why God allowed this tragedy to happen.  During the years I pastored, situations such as this were the hardest to deal with.  There are no easy answers.  But I know that in the darkest night and the most horrific storms, if you turn to Him, God will come and comfort you, and enable you to "go through stuff" that you could never otherwise endure.  I know.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

THE RUSH TO BE LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night."  (Psalm 1:1-2)

I think I need to say right at the outset that this piece is not about politics, nor is it about talk radio.  I say that because I'm starting with a quote by Rush Limbaugh.  This is something I heard him say on his program yesterday during the first hour of the show.  I was on my lunch break at work, just sitting in my car listening to the radio and eating a sandwich.  I was so taken with something he said that I quickly grabbed a small piece of scrap paper and wrote it down word-for-word.  Here's the exact statement Limbaugh made that so powerfully impacted me:

"I summarily reject conventional wisdom.  I go a different way.  Conventional wisdom is 'group think'; it's not critical thinking."

There are so many areas of life to which that statement could be applied.  Yes, he was speaking of politics and modern American cultural behavior.  But it applies to much more than that.  It's something I wish could be "drilled into" the hearts and minds of every evangelical Christian in North America, and I include every pastor, every evangelist, every Christian author, every church board member, every denominational executive; all of them!  You see, the Lord intended us to be different from the rest of the world.  I don't think he wanted us to be a bunch of weirdos, so much; although I know we've all heard those sermons about Christians being called to be a (in King James language) "peculiar people".   No, not weirdos, but not exactly like the rest of the world, either.  We are not supposed to be the followers.  We are supposed to be the leaders!  People are supposed to look at us and find us so different that on the one hand we make them feel a bit guilty and uncomfortable, but on the other hand, they admire us and wish they could be more like us.  We are then supposed to befriend and love people "from the world" and show them the way.

That's not happening very much in our day at all!

I've been a "born-again Christian" since I was a teenager in the early 1970s.  At that time, Jack T. Chick put out his famous tract aimed at Christians, illustrating how carnal and worldly the Christians were.  Sadly, the Christians of the early 1970s in so many respects seem like spiritual giants in comparison to so many of the Christians of 2017!  It's my conviction that the evangelical church of North America of today is in a rush (and I did use that word as sort of a pun because of mentioning Rush Limbaugh) to look like and act like everybody else.  We're not the better for it!

Recently, (as an Ordained minister) I received an on-line survey to fill out from a highly respected Christian organization.  The e-mail said it was soliciting the opinions of pastors about what trends they see in the church today so that it would help them to effectively plan for and anticipate the future of the church.  I didn't fill it out.  Now, I didn't fill it out for two reasons.  One is that I'm not currently pastoring a church, and I think they mainly wanted to hear from people who are actively pastoring churches right now.  But the second reason is that I found the whole idea of such a survey very offensive and frankly at odds with true Biblical Christianity!  Even if I were pastoring, I don't think I'd have filled it out!  As a Bible College student in the late 1970s, I was involved in "nursing home ministry" at the Assemblies of God retirement complex (known as "Maranatha") in Springfield, Missouri.  It was my privilege to meet many of the great early pioneers of the Assemblies of God, including E.S. Williams and Frank Boyd.  I sat with them, talked with them, and heard wonderful stories from them.  I was about to write "I prayed with them",  but it would be far more accurate to say, "they prayed with me"!  So many of these men and woman literally walked by faith, worked miracles (by the power of God), and went into cities and countries and "turned them upside down" for Jesus.  They were humble.  In fact, it was surprising how simple and humble most of them were.  I think of "Brother Gowdy" who was a great missionary to Nigeria.  He'd be excitedly telling me how he'd witnessed to the UPS driver who came to make a delivery.  All that Brother and Sister Gowdy owned in all the world was in their room in that nursing home.  There was a desk and a bookcase and a few other things.  They'd given everything for Jesus, and they'd done a great work!  I can't imagine any of these folks sending out a survey to find out what the trends in the church are and how to anticipate the future of the church.  Instead they were just foolish enough to take the Bible very literally, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and humbly obey God, no matter what the cost.  I think of my first pastor in the Assemblies of God, the Rev. Lloyd A. Westover.  He'd probably be a hundred years old or more if he were still living.  He'd worked in the business world until he was well into his forties, then he'd taken the Berean School of the Bible correspondence courses, and moved from his home in Washington State to New England to plant churches and do a work for God.  Dr. Terry Lewis, a highly respected educator in the Assemblies of God, was his Assistant Pastor many, many years ago in Laconia, New Hampshire.  Lewis says of Westover, "he was the most godly man I ever knew".  I can imagine what Lloyd Westover's response to that survey would have been, and I don't think it would have been very positive.

Almost a decade ago, my daughter Amy was on the worship team of the church she attends in Missouri.  The church decided to have the worship team dress much more casual to be "more relevant."  When Amy told me about this, I was so proud of the question she told me she'd asked the church music director:  "Relevant to WHO?!"

Please don't misunderstand me!  I'm not saying we should "do church" the way they did it in 1855 with no electricity, no bathrooms, and no sound equipment!  Of course not!  I'm not even saying we should "do church" exactly as it was done in 1970.  There have been a number of positive changes and developments.  The use of PowerPoint in services has been mostly a good thing.  Instant communications have allowed a church in the midst of a missions convention to have a missionary up on the screen live on the internet giving a progress report.  Those kind of changes are great!  But there's such a rush today to look like everybody else, and to act like everybody else.

I'm so thankful I attend a church where we still have "old-fashioned" altar calls and where we still believe in and promote the Baptism in the Holy Spirit!  I'm so glad I have a pastor who is not quick to follow the crowd but who is quick to get a word from God and obey Him and deliver it!  Let's not be in a rush to be like everybody else.  Let's humble ourselves.  Let's get into God's Word.  Let's seek His face.  Let's forget the surveys.  Let's see what He will do! 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

WAS IT GOD'S WILL?

"And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done." (Acts 21:14)

It may surprise some of you that despite the fact that I'm (for the most part), "socially conservative" and despite the fact that I'm a registered Republican, and a very committed Bible-believing Christian, I enjoy listening to many of the programs on Public Radio.  Yes, there's a very liberal bias on most of Public Radio International's broadcasts.  I'd caution any of my Christian conservative friends that it's just something you've got to keep in mind when you listen.  However, there are some amazingly interesting programs on Public Radio.  One that I enjoy is, This American Life.  Incidentally, their website is at:
www.thisamericanlife.org

This weekend's episode of This American Life is one of the most powerful that I've ever heard.  It was actually a re-run from 2008, but I'd never heard it the first time.  The episode's title is, Switched At Birth.  The show presented the true story of two women who were born at the same hospital in a small Wisconsin town in 1951 and who somehow got "switched", well, shortly after they were born.  There were two women who gave birth that day.  One was Mrs. Miller.  She was the wife of a pretty strict evangelical minister.  They already had several other kids.  The other was Mrs. McDonald.  She had a son but very much wanted a daughter and was delighted to give birth to a baby girl.

Shortly after Mrs. Miller got home, she was very uneasy.  The weight of the baby girl she took home was quite a bit different from what she'd been told the baby weighed at the hospital right after birth.  The figures weren't close- they were way off.  Mrs. Miller had a strong gut feeling that this was not her baby girl- that somehow, a terrible mistake was made at the hospital.  She told her minister husband who didn't take her concerns very seriously.  He finally said  (I assume in a tongue-in-cheek fashion), "Well, we brought this little girl home and we're going to keep her!"

The Millers were very serious and mostly strict and disciplined people.  The little girl who grew up as her daughter Martha was nothing like them.  She didn't look at all like them, and she was a very humorous and fun-loving child.   Across town at the McDonald home, little Sue didn't look a thing like the rest of her family, either.  The McDonalds were people who didn't take life too seriously, approaching life in a light-hearted manner.  Sue loved her family, but always felt more serious than the rest of them.

It's all a very long story about how the story of the switch finally came out into the open, but it took nineteen years!  Well, to be fair, Mrs. McDonald was the last to know.  She didn't find out the truth until the early 1990s!   Both Sue and Martha were interviewed extensively on the program as were Mrs. McDonald and Mrs. Miller.  You can imagine how this whole "baby switch" thing has rocked the lives of each member of these families!  Mrs. Miller was frankly a bit weird; she actually tried to change the name of her daughter once the whole thing was brought out into the open!

Mrs. McDonald was particularly bothered by the actions of the Rev. Miller.  She said there were several times in which he spoke to her at length begging her forgiveness for what happened.  What really upset her is that he would quote many Bible verses to her and ultimately he told her that the switching of the babies was, "God's will".  She was furious.  In fact, she stated that what was God's will is that Mrs. Miller insist that the hospital be told way back in 1951, even if it meant losing her husband and her marriage.

I must admit that as a guy who spent over twenty years as a pastor, I was very sympathetic with the Rev. Miller "quoting Bible verses" and apologizing.  That's where serious evangelical Christians go for help- we go to the Bible.  We find comfort in the Scriptures.  Mrs. Miller said Martha had brough a light-heartedness and sense of fun into their family that they probably desperately needed.  And, several of the Miller kids told the girl raised as Sue McDonald that she "lucked out" by being raised in the fun-loving McDonald home!

What was God's will in all of this?  In retrospect, it does seem like Mrs. Miller should have really "pitched a fit" about this early-on and gone to the hospital authorities, even if it meant causing serious trouble in her marriage.  It does seem like it was wrong for these two girls (who are age sixty-five today) to be raised in the wrong homes.  Or was God (strangely) "in" this scenario happening exactly as it did?

I graduated from Central Bible College in 1979.  As a Bible school kid I "had all the answers".  Almost all Bible school kids, frankly, "have all the answers".  As a sixty-two year old who pastored for over twenty years and who has experienced some disappointments and hard knocks in life, I'm not so sure how to figure this one out.

What do you think?  Was it God's will?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

40, 30, 20, 15, Hike!

"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."  (Psalm 90:12)

No this is not about football, but you've got to admit Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would probably like the title!  Rather, it's about 2017 marking some important anniversaries and memories of my life.  When I was a kid, we would think of "the year 2000" as being so futuristic!  We'd imagine people routinely flying off to other planets, and self-driving cars.  (Well, wait a minute, now I'm told there are a few self-driving cars on our roadways!)  I mention that because as a kid I couldn't even conceive of 2000 as being seventeen years in the past!   Yes, in this January of 2017 I wonder where all the years have gone and I'm in a reflective mood.  I suppose being in a reflective mood at the start of the year is probably a good thing.  I hope it will help me to be more committed to "stay the course" in my Christian life and to make the very most of this year.  Now, about those anniversaries and memories:

Forty years ago this month, in early January of 1977, I began as a student at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.  (The school closed in 2013 and was "merged" into Evangel University, which is my daughter Amy's alma mater.)  I already had a B.A. in History from Stonehill College, but I felt the call to "full time ministry".  It's all a very long story, but I arrived on campus several days into that semester.  I'd never been to Springfield, Missouri before 1977.  In fact, I don't think I'd been much further west than Elmira, New York at that time.  I was quite a "home body".  I loved New England, and I was the type who wasn't keen on venturing much more than a hundred miles from home.  So, this was a really big thing for me!  It was my first time flying on a jet plane.  The plane took off from Boston's Logan Airport during a snowstorm.  I later found out from my parents that they closed down the runways (not allowing any take-offs or landings) just thirty minutes after that American Airlines plane departed!  I got a 1977 C.B.C. yearbook, but my picture is nowhere to be found inside.  There is a photo of the "new mid-year transfer students" but it was taken a couple of days before my arrival!  Those guys and gals also got a campus tour and a lot of helpful information.  I arrived late so I did not benefit from any of that!  I lugged one big old-fashioned suitcase with me.  (Following my parents' deaths in 2000, I donated that and some other old suitcases to the theater department at Framingham's Marian High School!)  I must have been a sight as I walked through the Springfield, Missouri airport lugging my big ugly (circa 1940s) suitcase and had no idea where I was going!  I hailed a cab to take me to the school and proceeded to find my way to the school offices.  It would take pages and pages to describe that whole "adventure".  I thank God for C.B.C student Ed Duddy who really "took me under his wing" during those first few days because otherwise I might have panicked and decided to go back to New England!  Over two years later, I graduated from C.B.C. with a B.A. in Bible.  Some years ago, an independent Pentecostal pastor I know told me I have a "forerunner's anointing".  I don't want to get too theologically deep here, but that's the same anointing that was on John the Baptist and on Elijah the prophet.  Honestly, I think I do walk in that anointing.  One of the "challenges" of having a "forerunner's anointing" is being given to extremes of emotion and being subject to great despair.  (That was true of both John the Baptist and Elijah.)  Yet, the person with the "forerunner's anointing" who may not necessarily be brave or bold or confident will at times be led to step out as a "first" at whatever the calling is, and pave the way for many to follow.  Ironically, I've been told I'm, "not a leader", and yet as far as I can tell I was the first one "saved" in our family, and that includes scads of relatives on both my mother's and father's side. Ironically, today my daughter Amy and her husband and kids live in Springfield, Missouri and they've been appointed "Assemblies of God Missionary Associates" with the "Sustain Hope" ministry!

Thirty years ago this month, I began as pastor of First Assembly of God of Framingham.  That sounds like an impressive name, but the church was tiny.  The little white wooden building (which had no parking lot) seated fifty people.  The church often "ran" far fewer in attendance than fifty.  When I arrived they were using rotary dial phones and had a circa 1965 electric typewriter.  They were saving twenty dollars a month to buy a photocopier.  At that rate, they'd probably have gotten the copier around the time the church closed in 2010! Despite "not being a leader" I helped direct the leadership to initially ask for the gift of an older copier that another church was no longer using, and within a year we were leasing a brand-new photocopier!  We also got new touch-tone phones pretty quickly!  I wrote (by hand) a weekly report about the church's activities every week from January 1987 to the church's closing in March 2010!  (I still have all of those reports!)  I made a lot of mistakes as a pastor.  Except for a couple of very brief growth spurts followed by declines, the church really never grew.  It was never regarded as very much or as very important, but one of our congregants in the early days, Christina Powell, sensed a big calling on her life.  Today, she's a highly regarded and published Christian medical ethicist.  Dr. Powell has told me I encouraged her and had an impact on her life.  There were many other stories of lives touched, and although there are many sad and painful memories about that pastorate, there were a number of victories and there are a number of happy memories.  Our kids loved growing up in Framingham.  One of the reasons I stayed there (possibly too long) was for the benefit of my kids- to give them the stability of growing up in a single community.  I don't regret that.

Twenty years ago, my wife Mary Ann decided she wanted us to have a big open house for New Year's Day 1997!  We went "all out"!  We sent out invitations and bought lots of food.  We were so excited about the open house!  We wondered how many would come?  Forty?  Fifty?  Sixty?  In fact, two people came!  The two were our friends Suzanne Fay and her nine-year-old daughter Erika.  We had a nice visit with Suzanne and Erika, and we ate like pigs, but we were very disappointed.  Later our relatives told us they didn't come because they thought the open house was for our church, and our church people told us they didn't come because they thought the open house was for our relatives!  All had been invited!  My son Jon and I did not take seriously the warnings about not eating chicken that was left at room temperature for over two hours.   We munched on chicken wings that were "out" all afternoon.  The next day Jon was very sick and I was moderately sick.  Well, that was twenty years ago and it's hard to believe!

Fifteen years ago, on the night of Dec. 31, 2001 going into Jan. 1, 2002 there were heating system problems at the church building.  It's not your "normal" way to spend New Year's Eve but Bob Gill, Bill Lincoln and I were at the church building dealing with a heating system leak all night!  Later that morning, I came to the church building to discover that the exterior of the facility had been covered with graffiti!  That was a tough way to start a year, but I remember 2002 as one of the very best of my life.  During that year, Mary Ann and I traveled to both Alaska and Prince Edward Island.  Yes, that timidity I'd had about traveling more than a hundred miles from home was long gone!

I look in the mirror and see a 62-year-old guy.  Honestly, I don't like it!  In many ways, I feel much more like the nerdy, naive 32-year-old who was the new pastor in 1987.  Sometimes I feel like I'd give anything to go back to those years, but I know we really aren't to look backward as much as we're to move forward.

What have I learned from my crazy life?  Well, I've learned to be a risk taker!  I've learned to step out and face a new adventure when you're scared to death!  I've learned to take the lead even when you're not a natural born leader or a dominant personality.  I've learned to humble yourself and do manual labor when necessary.  I've learned to make the best of a bad situation (i.e. the poor turnout at the open house); and that even if you suffer with some ill effects of that bad situation (i.e. getting sick from bad chicken) it will pass and things will get better!

So, after all that reflecting and writing, I'm ready to move forward and see what the Lord has for me in 2017!  How about you?!
AND, for more thoughts about the New Year, please watch this video:
https://youtu.be/flZ1WJ1dyvE

Monday, November 7, 2016

SURVEY SAYS: WRONG THINGS ARE BELIEVED!

"And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."  (Acts 2:42)

Last night I came across a brief article in the November 2016 issue of Christianity Today magazine that kind of "freaked me out"!  It was not a long article; actually it was just their Go Figure column entitled, "Our Favorite Heresies".  It seems LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries surveyed a group of evangelical Christian Americans and discovered they (or should I say "we"?) hold to a lot of beliefs that are incorrect and unbiblical!  (If you get Christianity Today or can get access to the November 2016 issue, this piece is found on page 19.)

I know this will sound like Family Feud, but I'm deliberately using the "Survey Says" terminology because we may need to have sort of a "family feud" in our churches to set the record straight on these matters!  Do you think that, "People have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative"?  (in other words, that a person may just decide out of the blue to turn to God with no prompting from Him).  The survey says that 82% of American born-again Christians believe this.  In fact, it's incorrect!  The New Testament clearly teaches that God [the Holy Spirit] draws a person to Himself and that even if a person thinks he or she is coming to God out of his or her own volition, it's just not so!  And, again, 82% of us got it wrong.  I was much more disturbed by what today's American evangelicals believe about the Holy Spirit.  Do you think that, "The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being"?  Many cults believe that the Holy Spirit is only a force, but the survey says that's also believed by 57% of American evangelical Christians!  I would think that such a belief would grieve the Holy Spirit!  (In fact, if you check out Ephesians 4:30, you'll see that grieving the Holy Spirit is a really bad thing to do.  Might that be the reason the Holy Spirit is not mightily moving in many of our services?)  Is it your belief that, "...most people are good by nature"?  The survey says 54% of American evangelicals believe that.  In fact, the Bible teaches no one is truly "good by nature".  That's why we all need Jesus Christ, because without Him, we're all so messed up!

I won't go over the other categories.  I think you get the point.  It's been said that true Biblical Christianity, "is only one generation away from extinction"!  The late Chuck Colson was one of those who prophetically warned about this fact.  I know from my many years of pastoring that most Christians consider "doctrine" to be boring.  If a church announces that it's offering a class on "Spiritual Warfare" or on "The End Times", you can usually get quite a few people to sign up for it.  If, however, a pastor decides to have a class on someting like, "Sound Doctrine: Know What You Believe", even in a large church, he'd probably be hard pressed to get five people to sign up for it. Listen, I'm no different!  Right now, I'm not pastoring.  I'm a "regular church attender".  If a class is offered on "Spiritual Warfare" or "The End Times",  I'll usually try to go.  Regarding a "Sound Doctrine" class, I'm likely to say, "Well, I know doctrine; I don't need that," as I really think, "Boy, that sounds kind of dull!"

May God help us and have mercy on us!  Do we really "know the Bible" and are we really "sound in our doctrine" and unlikely to be tricked by a deceiver, or are we just kidding ourselves?  Yeah, that Christianity Today article really shook me up last night!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

KELLY AYOTTE VS. MAGGIE HASSAN: THERE'S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY!

"So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor."  (Luke 20:20 New King James Version)

I don't live in New Hampshire and I've never lived in New Hampshire, but almost every time I turn on a television set,  I feel like I'm being dragged into the gutter of New Hampshire politics whether I want to go there or not!  I think people from outside of New England would be surprised to know that the major Boston television stations are overflowing with [mostly negative] political television commercials at this time.  There are numerous pro and anti Trump ads and there are numerous pro and anti Clinton ads.  This may seem strange in what's been called, "the bluest of all the blue states"! The fact is, those ads are all aimed at New Hampshire viewers, as the major Boston television stations are watched [mostly via cable and satellite] all over the state of New Hampshire.  Along with the Clinton and Trump commercials, and along with commercials about the Questions on the Massachusetts ballot this fall [such as legalization of marijuana, and expanding the number of "Charter Schools"], there is an absolute flood of commercials about the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race.  It's almost impossible to watch T.V. without being blasted by an ad (seemingly) telling the viewer that Senator Kelly Ayotte hates old people, hates college kids, and is a money hungry idiot who is funded by insane right-wing billionaires, and then being equally assaulted by a commercial telling the viewer that Governor Maggie Hassan is a sleazy, left-wing, tax raising fool who was linked to a pedophile who terrorized a Massachusetts private school. The anti-Ayotte along with the anti-Hassan commercials have been just so disturbing to watch!  Listen, if you think the Clinton and Trump negativity is sickening, well, that's "small potatoes" compared to the vitriol between the Ayotte and Hassan camps, and I think even former Vice-President Dan Quayle would have to agree with me!  (For you non-political types, the Quayle reference has to do with "potatoes", but never mind!)

I don't profess to be an expert on either Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte or her challenger, Democrat Maggie Hassan.   Frankly, although I'm very much a "news and current events junkie" and even though at times in my life I've been quite politically active, I've been so disgusted by politics this year that I've scrupulously avoided writing anything about politics on my blog or on social media.  But something happened a few days ago that really touched my heart, and has prompted me to write this piece. Many of my readers know I'm a registered Republican and I would be classified as a "social conservative" on most issues.  Once in a great while I will vote for a Democrat, and once in a very great while, I'll take the liberal side of an issue, but for the most part, I'm a conservative Republican. If I did live in New Hampshire, I'd probably be voting for Kelly Ayotte.  Again, I'm not an expert, but from the little I have read about the race, I'm in agreement with Kelly Ayotte on most issues.  Kelly has come forward with a couple of positive campaign television commercials, most notably an ad which features her mother and her daughter.  I've also got to say, I love the one in which she's wearing a Red Sox cap at home plate and belting a bunch of baseballs.  There is an ad, however, that grabbed my heart a few days ago like no political ad has done in a long time!  That one was a commercial for Maggie Hasson.  I probably disagree with Maggie Hassan on ninety percent of the issues.  Prior to seeing that ad, I hate to admit it, but I think I was beginning to think of Maggie Hassan as some sort of evil queen akin to the queen in Snow White!   The ad that ripped my heart out featured the Hassan family and especially Maggie Hassan's very disabled son Ben. When you see Ben, it's difficult not to start weeping.  He seems like a great kid, and it's gut wrenching to see a fine young man suffering with such severe disabilities.  And, there was Maggie Hassan in the ad, no not a wicked Snow White queen, but rather a very loving mother pushing her son's wheelchair.  The ad included Hassan's daughter talking about her mom and informing the audience that it was Maggie Hassan's love for her family that motivated her to get into politics.

You know, I just couldn't dislike Maggie Hassan after seeing that!  Now, I'm not saying I'd vote for her, because I don't believe I would.  And, I also genuinely have come to like and admire Kelly Ayotte.  But since I've seen the ad with Maggie Hassan and her family I've been thinking, "These seem like two nice, hard-working, dedicated public servants.  So how did our society get like this?  How is it that we hate each other and 'trash' each other?  How is it that I could have seen Maggie Hassan as a wicked queen and so many liberals could view Kelly Ayotte as the epitome of selfishness and evil?"

That's what I'm asking here.  Part of me thinks it's too bad Kelly Ayotte couldn't just continue being a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire and that Maggie Hassan couldn't just continue being Governor of New Hampshire.  But, I know that's impossible and it's just idealistic wishful thinking!

Incidentally, as soft-hearted and respectful as I've suddenly become toward Maggie Hassan, I do have sort of a bone to pick with her and her supporters:   There's an anti-Ayotte commercial that particularly upsets me.  I think it really "hits below the belt"; and I wish it would be pulled off the airwaves.  That ad states Kelly Ayotte had stated she'd vote for Trump,  then it shows her being asked during a debate if she'd recommend Donald Trump as a role model for children, and she eagerly states she would do that.  Finally, it shows Kelly Ayotte speaking against Donald Trump and politically distancing herself from him.  Maybe those weren't Kelly Ayotte's finest moments.  But I have so much sympathy and compassion for her!  Have you ever been asked a difficult "no win" kind of question in public and then badly "fumbled" your answer to that question?  I have.

The quote I opened this piece with is from the passage where Jesus' enemies come to Him asking a bunch of tricky and ridiculous questions, trying desperately to get Jesus to say something stupid or inappropriate [or both] so that they could completely discredit Him.  Well, it didn't work.  But, Jesus is the Son of God!  Jesus is perfect!

I'm not perfect.  Have I ever "said something stupid" or said something in public that I later deeply regretted?  I absolutely have!  I pastored a small church for twenty-three years.  I'm probably not much of a businessman and I'm probably not much of a leader, but I am a powerful public speaker and teacher.  Despite my gifting as a teacher and preacher, I'm also fallible.  During my years in the pulpit, I gave many wonderful sermons and I said many wonderful things.  But I also said possibly as many as two dozen "really stupid and/or really insensitive things" from the pulpit.  [And, I'm not including occasional "off the cuff comments" in causal conversations with people where I didn't always use a lot of wisdom.]  I think two dozen comments I shouldn't have made during twenty-three years isn't too bad of an average.  Even so, I would hate to see a television commercial which proclaimed something like, "Bob Baril- listen to the stupid things he said as a pastor..." (then they'd run a montage of me saying one dumb thing after another for about twenty seconds) and the announcer would ask the question, "...is this a man who belongs in the pulpit?  Vote to rescind his Ordination on November 8!"

I can't imagine how ashamed and embarrassed I would be.  Yet, it would be very unfair to judge my ministry and my speaking based on that alone!  It's also ludicrous to judge our political leaders that way!  An often used old expression says it well, "There but for the grace of God go I!"

I think it would be cool if I wrote for a newspaper with a circulation of over 100,000!  In reality, a typical blog posting of mine gets about 60 "hits" in a month.  So, unless there's a miracle, not too many people will read this.  But, honestly, I'd love to see a miracle happen where both Maggie Hassan and Kelly Ayotte would read this blog posting, and where both of them would immediately agree to pull all their negative advertising off of radio and television!  Maybe it would start a new trend, and wouldn't that be refreshing?  I suppose they'd each say something like, "Well, I'll pull the negative ads if my opponent will."  No, each should just take that step regardless of what the opponent did or did not do!

I'm publicly making a commitment to pray each day until at least the end of 2016 for Kelly Ayotte and her family and for Maggie Hassan and her family.  I hope many Christians in New England will join me in doing this!  I pray God's touch on each of them and that each would draw very close to Him.  And I pray for God's perfect will regarding who wins that U.S. Senate race!