Saturday, December 7, 2019

WALKING IN GOD'S WISDOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just saying'

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

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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2019

THE RULE IS: "NO CUSSING!"

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

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

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

Mary Ann was right!  She was absolutely right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 15, 2019

JARRID WILSON: SOME THOUGHTS AND WISHES

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

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

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

Please don't misunderstand me.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"HI NEIGHBOR!"

"But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus And who is my neighbour" (Luke 10:29)

The title of this post is taken from an old beer commercial that ran in New England during the 1960s.  It was for Narragansett Beer.  Their slogan was, "Hi Neighbor!  Have a 'gansett!"  (Please don't panic, you fellow Assemblies of God friends of mine!  I don't drink alcoholic beverages at all and have not done so in well over forty years.  I just liked the title for this piece!)

Last night around eight o'clock, I went on Facebook and read a very sad post.  It stated that Carrie Havener Mason [who was our next door neighbor for the entire twenty-four years that we lived on Harrison Street in Framingham, Massachusetts] had died.  I don't know her age, but she was a lot younger than I am.  Carrie had been battling cancer for several years.  I met Carrie, her sister Tabitha, and her mother Pam on the day we moved in at 40 Harrison Street in early January 1987.  Her death has hit me rather hard.  And, I've been thinking about that.  Were I to name the twenty-five most important people in my life, Carrie and her husband Andy would not be on that list.  Were I to name my twenty-five closest friends, Carrie and her husband Andy would not be on that list.  Were I to name the twenty-five people who have had the greatest impact on my life, Carrie and her husband Andy would not be on that list.  But it reminds me of how I felt when I learned in 1997 at my class reunion of the murder of "Katy" a classmate in our Canton High class of 1972. 

She'd been murdered by a deranged ex-boyfriend.  I was so devastated that it took many weeks to get over that news.  And, I had not been close to Katy.  She was never a girlfriend, or a close friend, or anything other than a distant acquaintance with whom I'd shared a few classes.  But the thing was, Katy was absolutely the nicest and most likable kid in our graduating class.  Her Step-Dad was a very popular English teacher in the school.  She was genuine, and vulnerable, and just such a great person.  That's why I took her death so hard.  It was so unfair and so wrong.

Carrie Havener Mason was just as nice and just as likable and just as genuine as Katy was.  I remember that from the moment I met her, she'd made a very powerful impression on me.  I posted on Facebook that she was both ordinary and extraordinary.  I'm very paradoxical.  I'm a very good public speaker.  I've spoken at a Moth Main Stage Theater Event, and had that talk broadcast on The Moth Radio Hour.  I'm always available to preach or teach and I love it!  But I'm also quite an introvert.  When I'm at a public event like The Moth  I love mingling among the crowd as a little celebrity.  But when I get home, I'm very private.  I want to watch television, read, and largely be left alone.  I know introverted Christians tend to be criticized for not knowing their neighbors.  No kidding, one time we had a guest speaker to dinner at our home.  He asked me about the neighbors on the opposite side of our house (from where the Masons lived) because he'd admired their German Shepherd dog.  When I told him I didn't know them, he really "let me have it" for not knowing my neighbors!  The bottom line is, I don't tend to be a big "mingle with the neighbors" person, but Pam, Carrie, and Tabitha coming over and welcoming the Barils on our very first day in the house, and introducing us to Mr. Needleman, the elderly Jewish man directly across the street, kind of cut into that "comfort zone" of mine.

During the first few years on Harrison Street we'd say superficial "hellos" and "goodbyes" to the Haveners and Carrie's boyfriend Andy Mason, but we weren't really close.  In the early 1990s, Carrie and Andy got married, and they lived right there at Carrie's house.  It was a two-family, so they lived in one apartment and Pam and Tabitha had the other.  Their first child was a bubbly and extroverted little girl named Danika.  It was Danika who really brought our families closer together.  When Danika was around four or five, she got the idea that she wanted to come to our house and have supper with us every night.  And she did exactly that!  She was so cute and so friendly and so adorable that we honestly liked having her over.  Andy and Carrie were very apologetic and embarrassed at first, but we told them we liked having Dankia over, and that if it was O.K. with them, it was O.K. with us.  I think Danika at supper time kind of served the role as a "little sister" for my girls and they loved that.  I don't know how long those "Danika suppers" went on but it was quite awhile.  We just found ourselves talking to Andy and Carrie a lot more and feeling closer to them.  During those years, Mary Ann's friend Suzanne and her daughter Erika used to come and visit us quite a bit and over time, Suzanne became friends with the Masons, as well.

It wasn't like we were friends like the Mertzes and Ricardos on television.  It was nothing like that.  Sometimes a week or more would go by with no more than a quick wave or a quick "hello" or "goodbye" with the Masons.  But at other times, it might be, "Too bad the Red Sox lost that game," or "Why are they messing up Concord Street?"  or "When is Framingham going to elect some decent politicians?"  Andy is what I'd call a "secular Jew".  He's Jewish, but not practicing.  He believes in God, but just doesn't usually get real excited about spiritual matters.  At times, he'd surprise me and we'd have some sort of religious or ethical discussion.  Those conversations were not often; perhaps once every year or two.  I think Carrie and her kids went to one of the Protestant churches in Framingham, but we never discussed it.  I will add that one time Sherry Gurney, who'd been the wife of the minister who preceded me as pastor of First Assembly of God of Framingham told me they'd done a children's outreach to the local area when Carrie was a little kid and that on a day in the back yard of 40 Harrison Street, Carrie had prayed to receive Jesus Christ as her Personal Lord and Savior.

Carrie was a school bus driver.  She and her whole family loved the Red Sox.  She was a very caring person.  I remember that one night, the elderly man Mr. Needleman had been taken seriously ill. Several of us neighbors were out on the sidewalk taking the whole thing in, and she was particularly concerned, hoping Mr. Needleman's son Stewie had been notified. The Masons also loved animals.  They'd had rabbits and even a ferret at one time!  My daughter Amy was remarking last night that she loved when Carrie and Tabitha would "sneak them over the fence to see the bunnies" when they were very small children.  I recently watched a classic episode of Leave it to Beaver in which Beaver wrote a composition for school about his father.  It was a real tear-jerker.  He wrote that his father was not famous, and had not accomplished anything impressive.  But he added that he brought him ice cream when he was sick and he liked to let Beaver help him with various chores and he liked to play with Beaver.  His closing like was something like, "You may not consider him great, but he's my father and he's great to me".  There will never be a statue to Carrie Havener Mason built in Framingham, nor will any building or bridge be named after her.  She probably won't even merit a footnote if somebody writes a history of Framingham from 1975 through the 2010s.  But my feeling about her is similar to Beaver's feeling about his father, and to how I felt about my classmate Katy.  Carrie Havener Mason was a great person and a great neighbor. 

My heartfelt condolences go out to Andy and their children, and all of their family and friends.

Monday, June 3, 2019

ACTS 12: A STRIKING CHAPTER!

"In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence:  and his children shall have a place of refuge." (Proverbs 14:26)

About a month ago, the Lord led me into Acts chapter twelve.  It's a chapter I've taught about and preached from on a number of occasions.  This was different, however.  I found myself just soaking in Acts chapter twelve and seeing and thinking about so many things.  These matters were striking!  I don't preach very much at all these days.  But if I were to preach a sermon this month, this would definitely be the sermon!  I don't even feel I have the space nor the time to write everything that I've received during the past few weeks from Acts chapter twelve, but I hope you'll enjoy this piece.  I also hope it will encourage you to jump into Acts chapter twelve and dig into its truths yourself!

1.  STRIKE ONE!  Well, I did say it was a "striking" chapter, so let's consider what I'm calling Strike One.  The events of this chapter are happening roughly thirteen or fourteen years after Jesus Christ's Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven.  The king mentioned in this chapter is Herod Agrippa I.  There were a number of kings named Herod.  All of them operated under the authority and permission of the Roman government.  This Herod was the grandson of Herod the Great who was the king at the time of Jesus' birth.  Herod Agrippa I had only been in power for about three years at the time of Acts chapter twelve.  Abruptly, he has James the Son of Zebedee "killed...with the sword".  There were at least three key figures in the New Testament named James.  There was James the son of Alphaeus, James called the "brother of the Lord", and James the Son of Zebedee.  In order to appreciate the magnitude of the murder of James the Son of Zebedee, remember that of the Twelve Apostles, there were three that Jesus Christ was training for leadership for the future:  Peter, and James and John the Sons of Zebedee.  These guys were the leaders.  These guys were the Big Three  These guys just seemed untouchable!  I don't think I can stress what a shock this murder would have been to the Church of this period.  I'm old enough to remember the assassination of President Kennedy.  Maybe multiply that by about three, and that's what it must have felt like!  The big question for events such as this is always:  Why?  Listen, God typically doesn't tell us why.  One of the most difficult facts for Christians to grasp is that terrible things that do not make any sense will happen to them and to those they love and respect.  This "throws" many believers, and some believers will even walk away from God because of such matters.  A female pastor friend of mine has been deeply grieving because of the sudden death of a young female writer and theologian whom she deeply respected.  The word my friend posted on social media about this is "Unfathomable".  Yes, some things are unfathomable.  My daughter Amy and her husband David have just experienced a terrible tragedy in David's extended family.  His uncle was killed in a car accident.  David was called upon to lead the burial service.  That whole family is in shock.  Yes, some things in life will happen that do not make sense, but we must trust that God loves us and He will sustain us.

2.  STRIKE TWO!  Not long after Herod had James killed, he had Peter arrested and imprisoned.  He was planning to have Peter executed.  The chapter tells us the believers were praying for Peter. The verses which tell this story are almost humorous!  For one thing, Peter is chained and guards are watching him, and yet he is sleeping like a baby!  And, this is, as I understand the wording of the chapter, the night before he's to be executed.  During the night, an angel appears by Peter, wakes Peter up, and tells him to follow him out of the prison.  The chains just fall off!  The doors all just open by themselves!  The guards are still and quiet like zombies!  Peter and the angel walk right out of the prison!  Then the angel disappears.  Peter had been assuming he was seeing a vision, but suddenly realized he was really outside and had been delivered from prison.  He goes to the home of John Mark's mother where a bunch of believers are gathered to pray for Peter's deliverance.  He knocks at the gate.  A young lady named Rhoda goes to the gate, hears Peter's voice, and doesn't let him in, but excitedly tells the people that Peter's knocking at the gate.  Ironically, they don't believe her!  Their attitude is something like, "That can't be him!  He's in prison!  We're praying he will get out of prison!"  Well, literally in verse fifteen they said, "It is his angel".  In other words, they said "It's his guardian angel and that means he's dead!"  Well, Peter continued knocking, was finally let in and told the believers what had happened.  They were praying for something they really didn't believe would happen!  Have you ever done that?  I can't tell you how many times I've done that!  What does this tell us?  God answers prayer- even impossible prayers!

3.  STRIKE THREE!  In the latter verses of Acts chapter twelve, we have Strike Three. Sadly, Herod had those men who had been guarding Peter put to death.  Now, (vv. 21-23) he was meeting with a delegation from Tyre and Sidon.  He gave a great speech.  Interestingly enough, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus has something to say about this.  If you do an internet search, you'll find that Josephus reports Herod had worn an outfit made entirely of silver.  He glistened in the sun.  As the people saw him and heard him, they concluded he was a god.  Joesphus says Herod was stricken with belly pain, and he died.  The issue was intestinal worms!  Some may say, "This was karma".  Well, I don't believe in karma.  But I do believe that what you sow, you'll reap.  (See Galatians 6:7).  No, it doesn't always happen that fast, but God rights wrongs!

4. ON DECK!  There is a fourth item to look at in Acts chapter twelve.  It's the final two verses which mention Barnabas and Saul (that is, Paul) and Mark.  Did the events of this chapter cause them to quit or to weaken in any way?  No!  They were merely "On Deck!"  In the next few chapters under their ministry, there is tremendous growth and expansion of the church.  We can expect our own Christian lives to have times of heartbreak and devastation and times of great victory; but like these saints of old we are called to be faithful and to press on for the cause of Christ!

Yes, there's a lot of "stuff" in Acts chapter twelve!  I think you can see why I call it A Striking Chapter!  It's not lightly that I quoted Proverbs 14:26 at the outset of this piece.  Remember:  God knows what He's doing and He will take care of us.  He's Got the Whole World in His Hands!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

FAST FOOD -- FAST FOOLISHNESS

"...a fool layeth open his folly." (from Proverbs 13:16)

Earlier this weekend, I found myself in the middle of a harrowing experience while in the Drive Thru line of a fast food restaurant.  I had already placed my order at the speaker and was waiting to pull up to the window to pay and receive my food order.  In front of me was a young white man at the wheel of a late-model mid-sized maroon Nissan sedan.  In back of me was a middle-aged white man at the wheel of a black truck.  It looked like a black dump truck, but at the very least, it was a black oversize pickup truck.  [I knew from past experiences in the Drive Thru line at this establishment that for some reason the employees tend to be slow in processing the orders.]  The guy in front of me was at the window for several minutes.  The man in the truck behind me began impatiently blowing the horn.  I was embarrassed because I was afraid the guy in front of me, as well as the restaurant employees, might think I was the person impatiently blowing the horn.

The man in front of me was passed a hot coffee through the window.
"Is that it?" the man behind me began yelling, "Is that all you were waiting for?  A hot coffee?! "  He began swearing, yelling at, and insulting the young man.

The young guy stuck his head out the window and started yelling and swearing back at the truck driver.  Meanwhile, I'm sitting there at the wheel of my old silver Toyota Corolla thinking a combination of, "This isn't happening," and "Is somebody going to start shooting?  Will the police be arriving?!"

Yelling and swearing continued coming from the driver of the black truck.  The young man was finally given an obviously large food order in a paper bag.  I expected him to drive away, but instead, he pulled up, and immediately darted his car into a parking space off to the right.  The young guy got out of his car!  He was about twenty-two and wearing camouflage military fatigues which had "U.S. NAVY" stamped on the shirt.  The middle-aged man began yelling insults, saying he had served as a Marine.  During a particularly sad and uncomfortable thirty seconds or so, the "Marine" used vile language to denigrate the Navy and the young man used exactly the same kind of language to denigrate the Marines.  By this time, I was at the window.  The two female workers I saw inside the restaurant, one sporting a number of body piercings, looked nervous and agitated.  The woman taking my money said, "That guy in the truck does this every time he comes through our Drive Thru!"

If that's true, that man obviously has some serious problems!  I was genuinely afraid one or both of these antagonists would pull a gun and the very worst possible outcome would take place!  Thank God, that didn't happen.  The young Navy man, while listening to more vile insults and profanities aimed his way, [wisely] got back into the maroon Nissan sedan and drove away.

I suppose my appropriate response here should be to say I was so upset by this scenario that I'd lost my appetite.  But being a man who enjoys his food; even fast food; I dove right into my meal and washed it down with a refreshing ice coffee!  I won't soon forget this incident, however.

This morning, we had Holy Communion at Bread of Life Church in Westminster.  You Catholic and other liturgical friends may be surprised that most evangelical Protestant churches don't have Holy Communion every Sunday.  It's usually observed once a month.  Protestant Reformer John Calvin felt that having Holy Communion every Sunday makes it a "common thing" and tends to trivialize its importance.  I'm honestly not sure if Calvin was right about that or not, but that's just the way it is.  I was genuinely struck by something Pastor Gary Collette said as he opened the Holy Communion part of the service.  He said, "This is the meal that heals".  I know that may sound weird to some people.  In the first century church, Holy Communion literally was a meal.  For hundreds of years now, in churches of virtually all stripes, it has become a ceremony where each person takes a small piece of bread (typically unleavened bread) and grape juice or wine.  It doesn't seem much like a meal, but "The Lord's Supper" is actually quite important.  Most Protestants don't believe the Communion is literally the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the way Roman Catholics do.  We do, however, believe these elements are holy and important symbols and that Holy Communion is never something a person should receive flippantly.  [I recommend reading I Corinthians chapter 11:23-34 to learn more about what I'm saying here.]  Communion service is frankly an opportunity to repent and get right with God before you take the elements.  If you've been a jerk, or you've done anything wrong, you softly tell the Lord about it, and repent.  If you later need to talk to someone or do something to make a wrong become right, then you do that. 

I thought about the contrast between the two meals;  that is, the fast food meals that the two other drivers and I partook of earlier this weekend, and The Lord's Supper that our church family partook of today.  What a difference!  I felt sad.  I'm hardly flawless.  I "received Jesus Christ as my Personal Lord and Savior" on July 21, 1970.  It saddens me that I have not lived one perfect day since then.  Each day, I've failed in some way.  Each day, I have had to ask the Lord to forgive me.  But because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and God's great love for me, I'm "saved" and I'm part of His family.

I also thought about the people involved in the incident at the fast food restaurant.  I think the driver of the black truck was the person most in the wrong during that incident, but the restaurant workers and the young Navy guy each have a piece of it, too.  And maybe I should have had the guts to just pray out loud, "Lord, please intervene and calm down this situation!"  I didn't, so maybe I'm a little bit at fault, too.

Each day I read online posts about how evil and wretched Donald Trump is, and about how evil and wretched Hillary Clinton is, and about how evil and wretched Nancy Pelosi is, and about how evil and wretched Rand Paul is;  I think you know what I mean.  It's ad infinitum.   You know what's needed?  How about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and Rand Paul, and for that matter all the people posting all the hostility-- how about they "pull a John chapter 13" and wash each other's feet in love, as Jesus did?

How about we all participate in "The Meal that Heals"?

Later in the service, Associate Pastor Joel Dahlstrom preached a wonderful sermon taken from the latter part of Matthew chapter 6 about worry.   He opened his sermon asking, "What is it that you are fighting for?"  He closed challenging all of us to take Matthew 6:33 really seriously and to live that.  I'm going to let you look up Matthew 6:33.  If you don't own a Bible, just do an online search for Matthew 6:33 and you'll see it in seconds.

Fast Food -- Fast Foolishness.
Yes, there's frankly a lot of sinful foolishness in our world today that [I think] must disgust God.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

WHY I BELIEVE SAYING "HAPPY EASTER" IS O.K.!

"And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quarternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people."  (Acts 12:4)

I know that verse may seem rather ambiguous, so I'll clarify that it's speaking of the time that King Herod had Peter arrested and jailed, after having orchestrated the killing of James the Son of  Zebedee.  What's significant is that in the King James Version, the word Easter is used in that verse!  I think it's important for my fellow Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians to think about that!  I'm not a Greek scholar, but my understanding is that in the original Greek, the word is pascha.  It's commonly translated "passover" and most other versions of the Bible, including the New King James Version, say "passover" in Acts 12:4, but after researching this matter online, I've found out that it is not wrong to translate it as "Easter".

Most of my readers know that although I pastored an Assemblies of God church for over twenty years, I'm not currently pastoring.  However, my wife and I are active in a very good church.  I think it was last year that I wished a woman who was sitting in front of me, "Happy Easter!" prior to the service.  She gave me a big smile, albeit a slightly nervous smile. 

"Thank you for saying 'Happy Easter!'" she commented, "I get so afraid of people getting offended and saying, 'I'm a Christian!   I don't celebrate Easter!  Don't you know, it's Resurrection Sunday?!'"

I heartily agreed with her.  I told her Easter is one of my favorite days of the year.  I've called it "Easter" all my life and I still call it "Easter"!  Of course it's Resurrection Sunday!  Of course, Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that's what we celebrate!  But that woman really "hit it on the head" in my opinion!

One of my professors at Central Bible College (way back there in ancient times!), The Rev. Terry Lewis, used to caution and urge his students, "Let's not major on the minors!"  Amen, Brother Lewis!  Sure, using the admonitions of Romans chapter fourteen as a guide, it's fine for people to call the day we celebrate Jesus Christ's Resurrection just about anything they want to!  Sure, it's a matter of personal convictions!  But we say we want visitors at church for "Resurrection Sunday".  And we say we want people to receive Jesus Christ as their Personal Lord and Savior on that Day.  And, yet, they walk in the door, they say "Happy Easter!" and we -- jump down their throats?! --  Again, let's not major on the minors!

I suppose I'll offend some of my fellow Christians here, but I've loved milk chocolate bunnies since I was a little kid, and I still do.  And, I like the Easter dinners, and coloring Easter eggs, and even the little marshmallow chicks!  One fond memory is that I'd just come home from the hospital after having had my tonsils out around Easter time in 1961.  My father felt so bad that I'd had to go through that over Easter that he got me an unusually large milk chocolate bunny which he kept in the refrigerator for when I could eat it.  I know, the eggs, and the bunnies, are from pagan fertility traditions and have nothing to do with Christ's Resurrection.   Yet, it's kind of all part of our culture, and I don't have a problem with that stuff.  Listen, Christmas trees, and so many nativity traditions have nothing to do with Jesus Christ's birth, and He certainly wasn't born on December 25.  Yet most of the people who refuse to say, "Happy Easter!" have Christmas trees and other cultural traditions at that time of year, so again, let's not major on the minors.

I know I'm a little bit early.  We still have Palm Sunday and Holy Week to get through, but I'll say it now and I'll say it a week from tomorrow:  "Happy Easter!"