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!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

TWO SATURDAYS IN 1988


"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy   (Acts 2:17-18)


There are so many Bible verses I could have used to start this piece, but since it has to do with God supernaturally intervening in the lives of very ordinary people, I chose those words from Acts chapter two.  One of the hardest aspects of being a "Spirit-filled, Bible-believing Christian who believes in the dramatic and dynamic interventions of the Holy Spirit, and that absolutely nothing is impossible with God" is also coping with things when life is difficult, confusing, and seemingly unfair.   We sing a song entitled, Blessed Be Your Name, which has a line about, "when there's pain in the offering".  Yes, that's what I'm talking about.  The Israelites in the time of the exodus from Egypt got very angry with God and with Moses.  Many of them became so angry, despondent and faithless that they seriously desired to return to Egypt, ask the Egyptians' forgiveness, and just volunteer to be slaves again!  Yet, these were the people who'd experienced the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, and God miraculously sending free food [i.e. manna] on a regular basis.  They became so obsessed with their problems and difficulties that they [apparently] forgot about His miracles done to bless and help them!  I'm so embarrassed to admit that I'm so much like them!  I can focus on my immediate situation with its problems, perplexities, and difficulties and completely forget about great things God has done for me.  In fact, God has done many great things for me, although I'm in one of those "dry" and challenging periods of life right now.  Today is Saturday, and on this Saturday I've found myself thinking about a great intervention of God in my past.  


The year was 1988.  It seems like only about eleven years ago; I can't believe it was over twenty-eight years ago!  It was mid-June.  Our family was leaving for a one week vacation on Cape Cod.  We would be staying at a cottage owned by a family who attended the church we pastored in Framingham.  In those days, we had only one car.  (We did not become a two car family until 1993.)  Our car was a 1982 AMC Concord station wagon.  (Some people called it a "Rambler" which is fine because the name of the Rambler make was changed to AMC some years prior to 1982.)  We bought the AMC used in 1985.  For the most part, it was a terrible car.  It leaked oil- lots and lots of oil every day in any location in which it was parked!  Our driveway was covered with oil stains and looked horrible.  It "broke down" a lot! There were many vacuum leak problems with that car, there were many radiator problems with that car, and from time to time, there were carburetor problems with that car.  Frankly, I spent a number of very sad and frustrating days because of that 1982 AMC station wagon!  On that mid-June Saturday morning, we packed the car and I attempted to start the car.  There's no way the car was going to start!  I telephoned Bill Lincoln, a member of our church, and one of the finest mechanics I've ever known.  Bill came over, literally took out the carburetor, took it apart, cleaned it, put it back, and the car started.  What a way to start a vacation!


Driving to Cape Cod during that morning, I experienced something mystical and supernatural.  I did not hear an audible voice, but it was so real and so definite that it might as well have been an audible voice.  Deep inside my spirit was a silent yet very real and very powerful impression.  The message I was getting was this:  "You will leave this car on Cape Cod.  One week from today you will drive off Cape Cod in another car which you will buy while you're on vacation on Cape Cod."


I didn't say anything to Mary Ann.  I thought she might think I was nuts.  And I felt like maybe I was nuts!  You'd have to know me well to understand this, but I can be a very rigid and inflexible person.  Shopping for a car while on vacation on Cape Cod (or anywhere else) is something I would never, ever do for many reasons.  I was totally puzzled.  There was no way I was going to shop for a car or buy a car while on vacation,  so how could that inner impression be correct?  Yet, I knew I received that message, and I knew it was real, it was powerful, it was supernatural, and dare I say it:  It was God.

The very next day we were at the home of Fred and Shelley, friends of ours, in Mashpee.  Shelley asked what was happening in our lives and how things were going.  I mentioned that we were having a lot of problems with our car.  Shelley suddenly became both very still and very happy and excited.  She said with conviction and enthusiasm, "I believe God is going to have you buy a car and it's going to be very soon.  It's going to be a little scary, but the whole situation is going to be of God and you're to buy that car!" 


Wow!  I don't remember what I said at that point.  We went through a normal few days of vacation on Cape Cod.  On Thursday afternoon, we stopped to visit the Sandwich Fish Hatchery.  I'm not sure why we even went there, but when I was a kid our family had visited the fish hatchery, and I thought our kids just might like it.  About fifteen minutes after we'd started walking around, I looked and to my shock, a guy named Tom that we knew [who was both a fellow Assemblies of God minister and a car salesman] strolled onto the grounds of the fish hatchery with his daughter.  Tom walked right up to me and almost on cue asked, "Are you looking to buy a car?"


"Well," I replied, "in the flesh, no; but in the Spirit, maybe!"


Tom said he thought he had the perfect car for us.  He asked us to stop into the dealership in Hyannis on Friday morning, and we agreed to that.  The next day, Tom told me he'd been driving by the Sandwich Fish Hatchery and [similar to my own experience while driving to Cape Cod] he got a strong inner impression from God to drive into the fish hatchery and begin walking around.  He said he'd thought, "But I've already been to the fish hatchery!"  Instantly, that inner impression replied, "Yes, but your daughter hasn't seen it."  When Tom saw me he said he knew God was up to something and believed a very desirable used car on their lot was probably for the Barils.


On Friday morning, we test drove a 1986 Plymouth Caravelle.  (That was a mid-sized model, also marketed by Chrysler Corporation as the Dodge 600. )  We still were making payments on the AMC.  The payments on the Plymouth would be for four and a half years, and would be almost double what we were paying for the AMC, and frankly couldn't afford.  Yet, Mary Ann and I knew this was of God.  We said "Yes".  We signed the appropriate paperwork.  We were told this would all be processed through the local Registry of Motor Vehicles branch and that the Plymouth would be ready to pick up on Saturday morning.


After we made the deal, we went out for Chinese food.  In the parking lot of the Chinese restaurant, we smelled an unpleasant odor, and noticed green anti-freeze fluid pouring onto the parking lot.  I had to call AAA to come and help us!  Had we made the right decision to get rid of the AMC and buy the Plymouth?  It sure seemed like we did!

I'll never forget that shortly after we got home and showed the "new" car to a couple from the church, the wife gave me one of the dirtiest looks I've ever received from anyone!  "How did you possibly buy that car?"  she'd asked.  "I financed it!"  I'd excitedly announced, and that's what brought the dirty look!  During the 1980s there were many evangelical Christians who taught it was always wrong and always out of the will of God to finance an automobile.  I think she believed that.  And, frankly, we couldn't afford the car.  Well, we made the car payment every month for four and a half years, and we had that car for two and a half years beyond the payment book.  Mary Ann has an expression that we, "drive our cars into the ground".  Usually, we do exactly that!  On a late summer day in 1995, a flatbed truck pulled up to 40 Harrison Street in Framingham, loaded up the 1986 Plymouth Caravelle and hauled it away.


This is only one of probably scores of similar stories of God's intervention in my life that I've experienced.  Honestly, I don't know why sometimes God seems very silent and very distant.  I know He's not.  I also know at times I've cried myself to sleep wondering why a prayer went unanswered or a terrible disappointment took place, and wondering why God seemed to be not there.  I want Him to be as present and as real and as dramatic and even as cool and mystical as He was to me in that situation involving the purchase of the '86 Plymouth.  And, yes, this is why we teach "new Believers" that we "don't go by feelings".  I guess if those "mountaintop" kind of things always happened, we'd take God for granted.  A true story such as this one about the two Saturdays in 1988 keeps me on track, praying, reading my Bible, "witnessing for Christ", going to church services, and hoping for the future.  I needed to be reminded of it this week, and if it was helpful to you in any way, I'm glad, and I hope you'll give the glory to God!


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"VERY NICE SERVICE"

"As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them."  (Acts 13:2)

A couple of days ago, I posted the following on my Facebook page:
"VERY nice service this morning at First Baptist Church of Marlborough where my daughter Amy Baril Julian was guest speaker (sharing about her Missions call and ministry). Great music and worship! My friend Pastor Stafford Trapp looks GREAT!"

To my surprise, when I looked at that posting today, Norman Biagetti, one of my Facebook friends, had left a poignant comment regarding my posting.  He wrote, "Just what is a nice service? Except that your daughter was there."

I must say, Norman's comment sparked a lot of thought in me.  I suppose we could ask a hundred Christians what constitutes a "nice service" and we'd get a myriad of responses!  Some might describe a "nice service" as a "quiet service".  Many might describe a "nice service" as a short service in duration which did not make them feel uncomfortable.  Some would say a "nice service" is a service in which the sermon was interesting and they "got fed".  Many pastors would say a "nice service" is a service in which a large offering was received!  The type of Christians who tend to be very excited and exuberant might say a "nice service" included public utterances in tongues with the interpretation of those utterances, as well as Christians being filled with the Holy Spirit.  

When I described the service at First Baptist Church of Marlborough as a "nice service" I did not mean it was a nice service because my daughter Amy was speaking there.  Admittedly, that was part of it, but I meant much more than that.  The group was small.  I don't think there were many more than thirty present.  The people were pleasant and friendly.  The "worship team" who led in music and singing were truly wonderful!  The Bible passage which Pastor Trapp read (from the Book of Esther) was a very relevant passage to "where I'm at" at this time.  Amy's message was one I'd heard her give before, but it touched me in a special way.  Yes, that's what I meant by a "nice service".

The verse I opened with comes from Acts chapter thirteen, the chapter that begins what we call, "Paul's First Missionary Journey".
The chapter opens with, "the story behind the story", (to use a line from the late radio broadcaster Larry Glick) about what caused Paul and his companion Barnabas to embark on that great missionary journey.  Paul and Barnabas were very active in a young and dynamic church in Antioch in Syria.  At that church, they "ministered to the Lord, and fasted" and then God called them to the great work He had for them.   When I was growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, we called the public gatherings for worship, "masses", or "Sunday mass".   Most (but not all) Protestant churches call these gatherings, "services".  More correctly, they should be called, "worship services".  An important reason we meet is to teach and help and encourage and pray for one another.  That's taught in the Book of Hebrews chapter ten.  Another reason for holding public gatherings is to encourage friends and family to come and join us and learn about the Lord and His Holy Word.  Yes, those are important reasons, and they're part of why we meet and hold public gatherings, but they shouldn't be the primary reason we meet.  The primary reason we meet is found in the verse I opened with.  We meet to, "minister to the Lord".  It's about Him!  It's not about us.  It's a "worship service" because we gather to "serve the Lord in our worship."  And, when we do that, extraordinary things can happen- such as the Holy Spirit dramatically calling someone to serve as a missionary to a foreign land.

It's sad that some "church services" are nothing like what I've described here, indicating what they should be.  Sometimes they involve people who are on "power trips" or who want to push a private agenda, or who want to "show the pastor where he's wrong".  (Many years ago, a gentleman attending the church I was pastoring told me his job was exactly that- to show me where I was wrong!)  Of course,
church should involve practical projects to help the needy and other benevolent actions.  That's part of it, too.  But I think we often forget; and listen, many times, I've been guilty of forgetting, that the matter of a "worship service" and of "ministering to the Lord" is "where it's at" and will be the action which facilitates all of the other "good things" that a healthy church practices!