Friday, May 29, 2009


“And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” (I Corinthians 12:21)

I’m just starting to feel somewhat better after being physically sick for over a week. There were several days this week in which I went into the church office for the morning, and came home and napped for the afternoon. A few days ago, as I was in bed drifting off to sleep, I began thinking about the people who have most impacted and influenced my life. Despite the fact that I’m pretty conservative politically, there really IS something to that Hillary Clinton, “It Takes a Village” thing. (Yes, I know, it’s actually an African proverb!) We have all been impacted for better or for worse by other people. Whatever successes we achieve are often largely due by what we’ve learned from very special and gifted people God has brought into our lives. There are seven gifted people who have impacted my life in a very positive way that I want to write about in this piece.

The first two are my father, Eugene A. Baril, and my mother, Virginia M. Baril. Many of you know that they each passed away in 2000. A few months ago, a woman at our church asked me, “Don’t you EVER have anything POSITIVE to say about your parents?” I felt really bad because I’d used my parents as “negative sermon illustrations” but I realized I’d failed to proclaim their very positive points. My father was a gifted public speaker. He not only had a physically booming voice (as I do) but he when he spoke in public, he had the whole audience in the palm of his hands. Dad was an expert about the early history of automobiles in Massachusetts, and was a sought after speaker for local historical societies. I saw him speak at the Dedham Chamber of Commerce twenty-five years ago. Although I’m a naturally shy person, watching my father speak in public was a big inspiration for my own public speaking. I don’t think I ever speak in public that I don’t somehow think of my father, and I think that’s why I’m often wearing his state tie clip when I’m in the pulpit.

My mother’s formal education ended after two semesters at Northeastern University, but she was an avid reader who loved history. I’ve often said I believe she had the equivalent of a Master’s Degree in European History. Mom read the entire newspaper every day. She watched and listened to all the great news and public affairs shows, and she became as knowledgeable of politics and current events as anyone I’ve ever known. Mom was an inspiration of someone who never stopped learning and had a thirst for knowledge. Many know that I also love politics and current affairs and have a thirst for knowledge, and I think that all comes from her.

The next person I want to mention is my wife, Mary Ann. People are sometimes surprised that in many ways,we’re exact opposites. Sometimes friends of Mary Ann’s have expected me to be exactly like her and vice-versa, and maybe some of those people have been surprised or disappointed. One of the most important reasons God put Mary Ann in my life is her wonderful gift of hospitality and the fact that she’s a “people person”. I’m not. I know, a pastor who’s not a people person...that’s not a good thing. No, it isn’t. If you think I have bad people skills now, you should have seen me many years ago. I used to be MUCH worse! Over the years, I’ve had the occasion at times to host various events, and I’ve always been praised for what a wonderful host I make. Honestly, all that praise rightly goes to Mary Ann. I knew NOTHING about hospitality until I married her. I’m still learning,but she’s had a big impact on my life in that area. Mary Ann is also very tuned in to children and their needs. Due to Mary Ann’s influence, I am much more aware of kids and of the importance of treating kids like they matter.

The fourth person who greatly impacted my life is Jack Judge who was the Town of Canton’s Fine Arts Director. He passed away in 2003. Many of you do not know I play clarinet. Well, I haven’t played for years, so right now, I’m not very good. It’s unusual to have the same teacher from Grades 4 through 12, but I did. Mr. Judge taught me clarinet in elementary school. I was in high school band from 7th through 12th grade (they let junior highers in because the numbers were so small) and he was the band director for the entire time. I also had him for a few classes in high school, AND I was also a member of the Canton Community Band of which he was director for several years after high school. If you’ve ever seen “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, Mr. Judge was very much like that character. He was the type that was both tough and tender. When you needed to be chewed out, he chewed you out. When you needed extra help and instruction, he’d give you all the time in the world. When I was going off to Bible College in 1977 I had to have a “high school teacher recommendation”. Well, I had been out of high school for almost five years, but I went to Mr. Judge asking for a recommendation and he said, “I’d be happy to”. His tenacity impacted my life, and I miss him.

Person number five is David C. Milley. I worked under him for over five years in the 1980s. Dave Milley was and is a very complicated guy. He’s about as blunt as anybody I’ve ever known, and sometimes he can leave you feeling as though you’ve been run over by a steamroller. But behind that bluntness is a very tender caring person. (In life, I’ve learned I’d rather deal with THAT sort of personality than the person who’s dripping so much syrup it seems like they just walked out of the Vermont Maid factory, but it’s all phony.) A few months ago, a person I greatly respect told me I have a gift for promotion. When an event is going on, I promote it and promote it and promote it. I know some people may think I over do it, but I learned all about promotion from Dave Milley. He did a fabulous job promoting events, and that’s all BEFORE the internet. I think if he’d have had the internet available to him in the 1980s, there’s no telling how far he’d have gotten with promoting things! Dave Milley is also a gifted business person. I’m not at all a business person. Yet, Mary Ann has often commented that I learned a lot about business from Dave Milley, and that I’d be far worse if it wasn’t for him, and THAT’S TRUE!

My sixth person is Tobi Hawksley. Tobi Hawksley is a female, and she’s had more names than anyone I’ve ever known! Her birth name was Melodie Pace. As a little kid, her Mom called her “my cute little punkin” and the nickname “Punk” stuck. I first knew her as Punk Diesso. She’s been married three times, and legally changed her name to Tobiah (nickname “Tobi”) around twenty years ago. Tobi is an ordinary person who has always dreamed extraordinary dreams. When she had three little kids and was in a bad marriage, she dreamed of having a ministry...speaking, writing, touching the world. Almost everybody thought she was nuts! She’s had a very difficult and very challenging life, but today she is a Messianic Jewish Rabbi. Yes, she is a speaker, a writer, a leader, and she’s touching her world in big ways. I’m a person who has struggled with low self-esteem, and who has sometimes wondered if God made a mistake when He created me. Tobi Hawksley has inspired me to dream big dreams and go for them, no matter how you feel or what your circumstances are. We’re dear friends, and as my wife came to understand years ago, it’s nothing sexual. As Tobi has said of me, “When we’re together it’s just like we’re a couple of guys!”

And, my seventh but not least is my friend Ed Duddy III in Frisco, Texas. I met Ed at Central Bible College. There is only one Ed Duddy! (Yes, I know his name says he’s “the third” but he is unique!) Ed just doesn’t fit into any mold. He’s got the craziest sense of humor I’ve ever encountered. He wears lots of cowboy clothes and his hair in a ponytail. I’ve never met anyone who was such a model railroading fanatic. Ed is also an veteran of the U.S. Air Force, both full-time and Reserve, and he served his country in several locations overseas. Ed pastored in suburban St. Louis for a number of years. Today, he is a rural letter carrier. Ed is his own person. He is who he is. Remember the “island of misfit toys” from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”? Well, I’ve often felt like a misfit. Ed is the person who made me proud to call myself “eccentric” and “unconventional”. From him I learned it’s O.K. to be who you are. For me, that was a very important lesson.

So, to those seven gifted people: thank you. And, I hope this piece inspires each reader that YOU NEVER KNOW HOW YOU CAN INSPIRE ANOTHER PERSON AND MAKE A PROFOUND DIFFERENCE IN THEIR LIFE!

Monday, May 25, 2009


"And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; " (from James 5:15)

I was shocked today to speak by phone to a man I know (Paul Morrison of Foxboro, MA) and learn that his 7-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Paul Morrison is a guard at Norfolk State Prison who works 2nd shift hours (usually 1-9 PM). I met him a couple of years ago through selling various automotive collectibles. He's had me over to his home a few times, and I've met his family in the past.

I'm sick today with some kind of bad cold or flu (yes, let's hope it's not the swine flu) but after talking to Paul Morrison, I certainly felt as if I did not even have a problem.

Jim Raymond who lives in Natick and is with the Central Mass. Wild Pigs motorcycle group is putting together a fundraiser for little Grace Morrison's treatments called the 'AMAZING GRACE RUN' which will take place in Millis on Saturday, August 22.

Information about this can be found at

If you are a motorcyclist or if you know a motorcyclists, would you pass this information on to them? And for you non-motorcyclists, will you join me and come out to the "Amazing Grace Run" in Millis on Saturday, August 22?

Let's pray for Grace's healing, and let's pray for the Morrison family of Foxboro!

Thank you.


“Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

A story on the front page of the (Framingham, MA) MetroWest Daily News on Saturday, May 23 saddened and disturbed me. Titled, “Layoffs lead to feud and suspension”, the story elaborated upon “a flap over how a recent round of layoffs was handled”. Faced with the difficult economic problems which are confronting just about everybody at this time, Framingham’s Town Manager, Julian Suso, laid off eight Town workers in March. In response to the layoffs, Sandra Charton, the Town’s human resources director, has argued that the Town “might be violating state and federal discrimination laws”. Many of those laid off are members of minority groups.

The Town Counsel (“lawyer”) Christopher Petrini has defended Julian Suso’s actions, saying, “Avoiding layoffs...was simply not an option.”

Julian Suso has placed Ms. Charton on paid administrative leave for “insubordination”, and spoken of her comments as, “...absurd...”. You can “read all about it at

I’ve casually met Town Manager Julian Suso a few times and I’ve never met Sandra Charton. That said, I felt bad about the story because Julian Suso is a really nice guy and has got to be one of the classiest officials down there at the Framingham Memorial Building. I’m not exactly sure HOW many years ago Julian Suso was hired as Town Manager. Time flies....but I’d say it was about four or five years ago. Suso is a midwesterner who was hired after one of those lengthy nationwide searches. I must admit that during the hiring process I was not in his corner. New England is a very unique section of the country (along with the deep South) in which civic leaders really need to be “up to speed” with the local culture. Julian Suso was previously a Town Manager in Ohio. I thought Framingham would be better off hiring a New Englander; and as I recall, the other two finalists for the job WERE New Englanders.

It was only about a week after Julian Suso came to Town that I changed my mind! I do a LOT of walking around Framingham, especially downtown Framingham. I was amazed to see Julian Suso all around downtown Framingham, meeting and greeting people. This was NOT the sort of phony political kind of thing you see too many politicians doing. I can’t explain it, but my gut old me this guy was for real and was going to be a refreshingly different Town Manager. The clergy had Julian Suso come to one of our Framingham Interfaith Clergy Association meetings. I don’t think any previous Town Manager had ever addressed us, but we had a great time getting to know each other. I learned, for instance, that Suso’s son was studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood. We expressed some practical frustrations about what it’s like to deal with Town offices, and HE HEARD US. On a very practical level, somebody also expressed frustration with Framingham’s Town street signs, which tell you the name of the side streets but never tell you the name of the street you’re traveling on. Well, I shouldn’t say “never”. They did never used to do that, but Suso promised us that would change, and since then many dual street signs have been added.

During times I’ve attended meetings of Framingham Downtown Renaissance when Suso was present, he could not have been more engaging and interested in concerns about the downtown. This past September 11, I was part of the “9/11 Remembrance activities” at Framingham’s Tercentennial Park. Julian Suso was there and made a point to personally thank me for being there.

Again, you may say that’s all just Suso being political. I will admit I’m not quite as streetwise as my late father was, but I did not just fall off the turnip truck, either. I think God has enabled me to discern the difference between public officials who are superficial and those who are genuine. I’ve come to like and appreciate Julian Suso and his dedication to the community of Framingham. It’s bad enough that along with several other Town officials, he was personally sued as part of the S.M.O.C. lawsuit, but to read Saturday’s piece I thought, “I wonder why a nice guy like that even stays around when he’s treated so unkindly!”

I realize the above Bible verse about “men speaking well of you” is “loaded”. It essentially says it’s better if people DON’T speak well of you, because you’re more Christlike. So I’m speaking well of Julian Suso and Ms. Charton is not speaking well of him. Well, I guess in God’s eyes he can’t lose on that one!

On this Memorial Day, there is a LOT to remember and be thankful for. Among many other things, I remember and am thankful for Framingham’s fine Town Manager, Mr. Julian Suso.

Friday, May 22, 2009


"...I was in prison, and ye came unto me." (from Matthew 25:36)

"...upon this rock, I will build my church..." (from Matthew 16:18)

On Wednesday of this week, a group of 7 clergy men and women visited the Framingham state women's prison; which is officially known as "M.C.I. Framingham". I guess I almost could have done this as a guest piece for Michelle McElroy's blog entitled, "This Is Framingham", because along with restaurants, historical sites, businesses, and other places of interest, the state women's prison is certainly a significant chunk of what makes Framingham "Framingham".

We were the guests of The Rev. Lucy Marshall, who is the Protestant Chaplain at M.C.I. Framingham. I've known Lucy and her husband, The Rev. Ben Marshall (who is one of the pastors at Zion MetroWest Church in Framingham's Nobscot section) for over ten years. I consider this African-American couple to be two of "God's Generals" for the community of Framingham. Ben, for instance, works as a Counselor at Walsh Middle School. I described him to a pastor friend as a guy who is "both tough and tender, and who loves people". The same description applies to his wife Lucy.

Lucy Marshall has been Protestant Chaplain there for 9 years. That's a long time for a prison chaplaincy! There's a high degree of burnout among prison chaplains, which is understandable. Lucy knows her limits and does not attempt to take on more responsibilities than she can handle. She also is obviously VERY sensitivity to the moving of the Spirit of God.

We had to provide our legal names and birthdates well in advance so we could be C.O.R.I. checked. There were also strict rules about how we could dress (no sneakers, for instance). We were scheduled to enter the prison around 12 Noon, so we arrived around 11:45. Lucy discovered there had been a clerical error, and most of us had NOT been C.O.R.I. checked. We had to wait an hour for that procedure to be done. While we waited, we conducted some of our regular Framingham Interfaith Clergy Association business, but we also listened as Lucy began to share with us about her prison ministry. Finally, we went through the slow procedure of going through the metal detector and being thoroughly checked, and then getting "on the inside". I had been to M.C.I. Framingham only once before, and that was this past Good Friday for a Good Friday service. Our meeting on Wednesday was in a room not far from the Chaplain's office. We had a nice deli catered meal and soda to drink.
Since we got in very late, we DID have to rush a bit. Even so, we learned quite a bit from Chaplain Marshall.

One of my pastor friends, Brad Watters of Grace Congregational Church, wrote me that he got quite an education from listening to Lucy. In fact, I think we ALL did! She spoke about several areas. One was "boundaries". Not only are visitors never to physically touch an inmate (unless THEY initiate a handshake); visitors are also may NEVER give anything to an inmate or take anything from an inmate.

Sometimes inmates will ask requests such as, "Will you take this letter for me, put a stamp on it and mail it?" That simple request is a big NO-NO!

Lucy told us many volunteers essentially come in with "rose colored glasses" on at first, but quickly understand that the inmates are there for crimes they've committed, and that many will try to "con" them. It takes great patience, love, and wisdom to be a prison volunteer. Even so, volunteers are greatly needed.

Lucy excited told us that God is doing mighty things at M.C.I. Framingham. Many very tough women are receiving Jesus Christ as their Personal Lord and Savior and having their lives transformed. Lucy admitted that some folks are cynical about her work and call the conversions, "jailhouse religion" but Lucy responds to that, "If being in jail is NOT the time to give your heart to Christ, then when IS the time?!"
Jesus is the ROCK who is shaking things up in a positive and miraculous way at M.C.I. Framingham.

Lucy spoke of the need of "after care"; that is, helping women who are released from prison to reintegrate into society. My friend, The Rev. Jim Spence, who was the Protestant Chaplain at Walpole Prison many years ago, founded New England Aftercare Ministries("The Bridge House") located in Framingham, for that very reason. "The Bridge House" is a program for men. Right now, there is very little available for after care for women. There are Bible Studies during the week for interested inmates. There is a mentoring program. Lucy highly recommended the "Angel Tree Project" (which is a ministry of Chuck Colson's "Prison Fellowship") which donates Christmas gifts to inmates' families.

As we walked across the outdoor "quad" (or WHATEVER they call it) on our way out, Pastor Rich Hurst commented to me that seeing inmates in clusters around the quad reminded me of scenes from prison movies. I'd had the same thought. Both Rich and I were impressed with the beautiful greenery, which one does NOT typically see in prison movies!

Well, we had our visit, and then we left. The prison was originally built for 300 inmates. Currently it houses over 700, and Lucy Marshall informed us that at times the population rises to over 1000. It's the only state women's prison for women in Massachusetts. (There ARE some county jails for women.) It would probably make more sense to build a second women's prison somewhere in the Springfield, MA are, the economic reality is that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


"And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.” (Matthew 4:2)

I suspect some of you will think my title for this is a typographical error and that I really meant to write, “A Fast Internet”. No! The title “An Internet Fast” IS correct. When we speak of “fasting” from a Biblical perspective, we usually speak of fasting from foods, and perhaps from certain drinks; but I’m treating “fasting” in a broader context here. It’s ironic I’m writing about this on an on-line blog, but I’ve begun doing some “fasting from the internet” and that’s what I’m writing about today.

Prior to going on my one month of sabbatical time (for total rest) I was struggling with a lot of issues, and people were “speaking into my life” about some things. One of the big ones was being confronted with the accusation that I was “addicted to talk radio” and “addicted to being on-line”. I’m still not sure that I was “addicted” to talk radio, but I confess that YES I probably was listening to too much talk radio. As far as being on-line, YES I was absolutely addicted to that.

I first went on-line in April of 1996; very reluctantly, I might add. In those days, I did have an office computer and a home computer, but neither one had modems. They were fine for word processing, etc. I saw absolutely no need to be on-line. In the spring of 1996, I accepted a voluntary position in the local Assemblies of God organization that required I have an on-line account on which I would receive important communications and forward those on to other AG ministers. I opened that AOL account with a lot of reservations, wondering why I’d POSSIBLY want to be on-line! In May of 1998, my wife and kids got AOL accounts and screen names, and we all went on-line at home. Originally, I was in an AOL “pay by the minute” plan. When AOL later offered unlimited on-line service for a flat monthly fee, my wife jumped on that opportunity. I didn’t. I liked that fact that paying by the minute disciplined me to only be on-line about 20 minutes a day. In fact, I VERY seldom spent more than 20 minutes a day on-line, and that’s the way it was until late 2005. In late 2005, I began seriously contemplating starting a blog, and I also was getting frustrated that I really didn’t have time to do on-line searches, check out websites, etc. Thus, I switched my payment arrangement to “unlimited”.

Switching to unlimited frankly WAS bad for me. Prior to that, I’d typically check my e-mail once or twice a day for about ten minutes at a whack. Now, I was checking my e-mail about fifteen times a day. And, I was doing all sorts of on-line searches, checking out all sorts of websites (No, NOT porn, thank God!), writing and sending mass e-mails, etc. It’s a good thing I never had a Blackberry, and in fact, I DON’T have a laptop; I have use either a desktop computer at the church or a desktop computer at home. Even so, YES, I was absolutely addicted to being on-line. If I sent somebody an e-mail and they didn’t respond to it within a hour, I was actually very annoyed with the person, and I’d think: “What’s the matter with so-and-so; doesn’t he even CHECK his e-mail?!”

When I left on that one month to Missouri, I was admonished to stay off the computer for the month that I was gone. Well, I did “cheat” a little bit at the public library. I was on-line for a total of just under three hours over a one month period; AND for two weeks I was TOTALLY off-line, which was a big deal for me! It was pretty much “cold turkey”! Yes, in a way it was very difficult. But, in another way, it was very liberating. I also listened to a total of about one hour of secular talk radio the whole time I was gone.

Upon returning, I HAVE been afraid of going back to my old habits. For this reason, I’m learning to put up “boundaries” in my life. A friend of mine named “Jim” who is a professional counselor has told me many times that I need to establish firm boundaries in my life, and I’ve ignored his advice. I wanted people to like me, and I didn’t want them to feel like I was putting up walls against them. But now I’m learning to make boundaries in my life and I’m learning the importance of “fasting” from things which have had a major hold on my time, energy, and thoughts. (Of course, people can phone me anytime for emergencies and for important church business which just can’t wait, but I’m starting to learn that a lot of things CAN wait.)

I still listen to secular talk radio, but a LOT less of it. I think I’ve only listened to maybe four hours of secular talk radio in the past ten days, which for me is not much at all. I’ve also made a MAJOR shift about the internet. Except in cases of absolute emergencies (such as having to send an e-mail saying church is canceled due to a snowstorm or something like that) I’m not going to be on-line at all on Saturdays, Sundays, or Tuesdays. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. I want to treat that as such. Saturday is the day I’m focusing on getting ready for Sunday,. and for me, part of that is going to be staying off-line. Finally, Tuesday is my day off. I had gotten into the habit of going into the church office for one hour on my day off; then it became two hours; then it became three hours. And, I was on-line pretty much most of the day on Tuesdays. I’ve decided it’s going to be a TRUE day off, away from church business (except for emergencies) and away from the computer.

I certainly hope nobody thinks I’m being unfriendly or unreasonable by making these changes, but I’m already finding they’re very good for me! For those of you who are addicted to being on-line as I was, maybe you need an internet fast!


"And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure, so much as to eat.” (Mark 6:31)

I’ve written about spending a month (April 13 through May 10) in southwest Missouri. My wife Mary Ann was with me for the first week, and during part of that time, we spent a couple of nights in Branson. I spent most of my time in Missouri at my daughter Amy’s in Springfield, but I did spend the better part of one week at the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center in rural Pittsburg, Missouri on Lake Pomme-de-Terre (also known as Pomme-de-Terre Lake) which is fed by the Pomme-de-Terre River.

I found out about the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center on-line. You can check it out at:

I did tell “Father Paul” who essentially runs the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center that I would write a favorable review about it on my blog, so here it is! My wife had some reservations about me going there because from the description of the place on-line, the philosophy of those who run the it seemed to be a mixture of Roman Catholic, liberal Protestant, and New Age. In fact, that’s true. And, YES, I have some problems and disagreements with all of those theologies and philosophies, ESPECIALLY New Age. That said, the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center is mainly a place for PERSONAL, INDIVIDUAL retreats. As a pretty theologically conservative evangelical and Pentecostal guy, I had no problem “getting in touch with God” there. It WAS, in fact, a wonderful place to just “get away from it all”, rest, and hear from God.

I stayed in a house (what they call a “hermitage”) just a short distance up hill from the lake which featured a beautiful view of the lake. Another “retreatant” was on the 2nd floor of the house, and I was on the 1st floor. The other “retreatants” are pretty much supposed to leave you to yourself, and honestly, this guy DIDN’T do that. However, I still had several hours a day totally by myself, and that was good enough.

Father Paul, a Roman Catholic priest and former United Methodist minister, has built a trail through the woods there with the Stations of the Cross. Since the Assemblies of God is very “non-liturgical” we’re really not “into” the Stations of the Cross, but I still thought it would be nice to walk the trail and think quietly. It was a nice experience, although in some places the trail was so badly flooded and blocked with brush, that I ended up turning back!

I was blessed to find a WONDERFUL Christian book (published by Word Books) about discipleship in a bookcase at the house, and I devoured it. The book was very practical and had much helpful information and suggestions that I really needed. The days I spent at Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center were very important for me, and in many respects, were a highlight of my sabbatical month. Incidentally, the place is FREE although they gladly accept donations!

Monday, May 18, 2009


"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (I Corinthians 15:58)

I have not been in the habit of posting sermon outlines or sermon highlights on my blog, but this is the gist of the sermon I preached at our church yesterday morning. I hope you like it!

"Lessons I Learned From Sam" is about a DOG. I'm really not a "dog person" at all, but I have to say I really enjoyed my daughter Amy and son-in-law David's young Jack Russell Terrier "Sam" while I was staying with them in Springfield, Missouri.

What are the lessons I learned from Sam?

(Please read John 15:1-10).
Sam is 18-months-old. Amy and David have had Sam since last August. Like most Jack Russell Terriers, he's full of energy, very fast, but is unwise! David had left the door of their two car garage open, and Sam ran through it and began running as fast as he could through the neighborhood. Amy was frantically chasing him but could not keep up. Sam ran across Chestnut Expressway (a similar road to Route 9 in Framingham) and it's a miracle he was not killed; but then Amy lost him. She sadly walked through the area but thought he was gone for good. A man in a pickup truck pulled up and asked, "Are you looking for a lost dog?" It seems Sam was at a local gas station/convenience store frantically jumping at their glass door. The guy drove Amy to the place; Amy leaped out of the truck yelling, "Grab that puppy!" When Sam got home he was put into his cage for quite awhile!
As Sam needed to stick close to his master, Amy; WE need to stick close to our Master, Jesus. When we DON'T, we put ourselves in spiritual peril! (See also the Parable of the Ten Virgins from Matthew 25:1-23).

(Please read Luke 11:27-28 and James 1:22).
"The Master's Directions" are found in the Bible! We must not only thoroughly read our Bibles, we must DO what the Bible says to do! I found that when I taught Sam firm commands, his behavior got better. When I'd try to put dry good in his bowl, his nose and mouth would be all over my hand. I quickly learned to say, "NO, Back up! Back up!" I got Sam to the point that he WOULD back up and let me easily put food in his bowl. When Sam wanted to go out into the back yard, he'd jump and jump at the back door and door handle. I learned to say, "NO, Get Down!" THEN, I'd open the door. Amy's yard has a chain link fence and a gate connecting the front and back yards. Sam loves to try to bolt out when the gate is being opened. I would firmly command, "Stay back! Stay back!" and he quickly learned to do that.
Like Sam, WE need to follow our Lord's directions and commands. Last week, I heard radio teacher John DeBrine say that our trust should not be in ORGANIZATION, our trust should not be in EDUCATION, our trust should not be in ELOQUENCE, but our trust SHOULD be in the Holy following the Holy Spirit's directions. Amen to that!

(Please read the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30).
Sam's original owner was an old lady who really couldn't take proper care of him. When Amy and David got Sam he was very fat! She fed and fed him, and he got little exercise. The vet told them Sam was obese and needed proper diet and exercise. Today, Sam is at his correct weight and very active. It's hard to believe he was ever fat. Sadly, many Christians become spiritually fat and lazy. Over thirty years ago, Amy Grant sang about that in her cute song, "Fat Baby". James 1:22 says we must be "doers of the Word and not hearers only". In the American Assemblies of God, the number of Sunday Schools and other means of discipleship is SHRINKING. People want to "get saved" and then just sit in pews and take up space. That is NOT God's way. He calls us to actively minister for Him; whoever we are.

(Please read Please read Philippians 2:1-11 and Mark 10:45).
Sam had one particular bone he loved to chew and gnaw on. Amy hated when he jumped up on one of her sofas with that bone, and when he did she'd yell at him to get down. One Friday evening, I was laying on the sofa watching T.V. Sam had jumped up on the other end of the sofa with the bone. Amy yelled at him to get down. He suddenly jumped hard onto the other end of the sofa with one of his paws landing HARD on my ear. It felt like getting whacked in the head with a hammer! When Sam got off the couch, my ear had a gash in it and was bleeding. Needless to say, Amy put Sam in his cage for a good long while, and I was glad she was a nurse! She thoroughly cleaned the wound with peroxide and I had to hold a paper towel on it for about a half hour. Sam was selfish. All he cared about was his bone and what he wanted to do. Many Christians are very selfish. They care ONLY about what's good for them and have no sensitivity for others or concern for others. JESUS came to love and serve. WE are called to be be like Jesus.

(Please read John 10:10).
There were several wild bunnies running around Amy's neighborhood. When Sam would see one of them, he'd go crazy! He'd run after one of the bunnies as fast as he could, but the rabbits would slip under the fence and get away. A couple of weeks ago, Amy and David came home from church on Sunday to find a present on the floor of the living room: a dead bunny! You guessed it; that incident also landed Sam in his cage. Amy said the rabbit did NOT appear to be fresh killed. Rather, she thinks Sam killed it and hid it for awhile. Somehow he snuck it in the house on that Sunday morning before we left, and brought it out to play with it when no one was home. Yuck! Would you like to run around with a dead bunny in your mouth?! The Bible says in John 1:4 as well as many other passages that Jesus came to bring us life, but so often we, like Sam, seek death. We go after things that are no good for us and will ultimately lead to eternal death in Hell. Let's seek the Lord and His Word...let's seek what brings life and not death!

(Please read Mark 13:32-37).
We are called to be alert and watchful during the last days. I found it humorous that quite often, Sam was NOT particularly alert. One Saturday evening, we had a cookout and party in Amy's backyard. Sam was running around trying to beg for food from people, but there was a hunk of a hot dog on the ground right in front of him. We tried and tried to show him the hot dog. It seemed to take him forever to finally discover it! Sam did a lot of things like that! After many years of ministry, I've seen SO many situations where God was trying to get someone's attention about something and they were absolutely CLUELESS! Let's not be like Sam. Spiritually speaking, let's really be alert to what the Lord is wanting to show us!

(Please read 2 Timothy 1:7 and I Peter 5:5-8).
On the early morning of Friday, May 8, Sam was whimpering and sticking very close to me. Outside it was dark and rainy. Little did I realize that in a few moments, tornadoes would touch down in the Springfield, Missouri area and the tornado warning sirens would begin to sound. It's said that animals can sense danger before humans can, and I think that's often true. It may explain his behavior that morning. I went to the safest place in that house and coaxed Sam to do the same. So many times in life, we get fearful and confused. When we try to only follow our OWN thoughts and opinions, we may well end up with a lot more confusion and a lot more fear. In a sense, Sam had to trust and obey me during that tornado warning. So, GOD wants us to trust and obey Him through the difficulties of life.

Friday, May 15, 2009


“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Almost immediately after arriving home from a month in southwest Missouri, I spent Monday and Tuesday in Worcester at the Assemblies of God Southern New England District Council. (That’s essentially an annual convention for the Assemblies of God churches and ministries of southern New England.) A highlight of every District Council is the Tuesday night Ordination service. This year, twenty-four were Ordained, which I believe is a record high number for our District. Our speaker was Dan Betzer, and he was great!

Virtually every Assemblies of God church member in America knows who Dan Betzer is, but for those of you who DON’T know who he is, he’s the pastor of the (very large) First Assembly of God of Ft. Myers, Florida. Betzer is a captivating speaker with a very interesting background. Now in his 70s, he’s got the energy of a 40-year-old. Dan Betzer graduated from a state university around fifty years ago and began a career working in T.V. news- mostly as an anchor man in small and medium-sized markets. People must have thought he was crazy when he left that career to become an Assemblies of God minister- in the beginning pastoring the small struggling churches that NOBODY wants.

Dan doesn’t SOUND like a typical preacher. He frankly sounds like a combination of a standup comedian and a television news anchorman. The content of his messages is very Biblical and inspiring. Dan’s topic on Tuesday night was “Faith”. He shared a very powerful true story with us that I am excited to post on my blog. Over thirty-five years ago, Dan was pastoring a small “startup” church in a small Ohio town. The church was holding their Sunday services in a hotel. Each week, Dan cashed his small paycheck at a beautiful bank building in the community’s downtown. The bank building had four stories, which is pretty big for a small Ohio town. It probably dated from the very early 1900s and was a very ornate and impressive facility. Each time Dan Betzer went to that bank, he admired its beauty. One day, as he was cashing his check, Dan got a strong and overwhelming impression that God was saying to him, “This bank building will one day belong to your church!”

That sounded SO crazy, that he did not tell anybody about it. Several weeks later, Dan picked up the local newspaper and was stunned to read a story saying the bank building was going up for sale. The bank’s directors were selling it because it did not have a drive-up window! Betzer went to his church board and told them God wanted them to buy the bank building. Of course, they thought it was pretty nutty. They did some checking and found out the Town had assessed the value of the building at over 6 million dollars! Dan Betzer and one of his Board members made an appointment to go and see the President of the bank and offer $200,000 to buy the facility.

They went to the Bank President’s officer with fear and trembling. Upon learning of their desire to buy the building, the Bank President was stunned. Ultimately THEY were stunned when he Bank President said that the asking price was $80,000! (I suspect the bank figured the building was a “white elephant” and would be difficult to sell, but it still doesn’t explain an asking price which was THAT low!) Betzer told him, “We’ll take it!” The church entered into the process of buying the building.

Their next step was going before the Town’s mayor and Zoning Board to get approval to change the zoning and use the building as a church. At the public meeting they were flatly turned down. There was NO WAY the Town was going to lose the tax revenue on that building by having it turned into a church. The news of the church’s denial hit the local newspaper. Then, to Dan Betzer’s surprise, the head of the Chamber of Commerce phoned him and told him the downtown business community was IN FAVOR of his plan to turn the bank building into a church. The Chamber insisted on a meeting with the mayor. A public meeting was held with the mayor and zoning board. Scores of the community’s businessmen and “movers and shakers” showed up asking them to reconsider the proposal to allow the bank building to be turned into a church. The Town backed down and gave the approval!

But there was one thing Dan Betzer and his church leaders hadn’t thought of: They didn’t HAVE $80,000! After the meeting, a powerful local businessman walked up to Dan Betzer and asked him directly, “You’re buying that building for $80,000. Do you even HAVE $80,000?”

Betzer was jolted into reality and admitted that he DIDN’T. The guy said that was not a problem. He pulled out his checkbook and wrote the church a check for $80,000! It ultimately cost the church $120,000 to renovate the building for church purposes (I assume they financed the $120,000) which meant it cost a total of $200,000 which was what they’d planned to offer for the building in the first place.

For many of us preachers pastoring struggling churches in difficult situations, like “yours truly”, Tuesday night’s message was very powerful!

Incidentally, if there is anybody that wants to write our church a check for $80,000 we’ll gladly accept it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:30)

During the years I was a student at Springfield, Missouri’s Central Bible College (the late 1970s), I used to get my hair cut at Don Mullins’ Barber Shop, which at the time was located on North Grant Ave. Don Mullins was a very talkative and entertaining Ozarks native who must have been in his mid-fifties at the time. The second chair at Don Mullins’ shop was manned by a slim and quiet young barber named Randy. That barber shop drew an interesting mix of blue-collar workers, Bible college students, and even Assemblies of God national leaders. I always got good haircuts there.

The Don Mullins’ Barber Shop closed up long ago, but the Springfield telephone directory listed a “Randy’s Barber Shop” on West Division Street. This past Thursday I needed a haircut, and since I was still in Springfield, Missouri, I decided to check the place out. The parking situation on West Division Street is pretty dismal. I decided to park at the Price Cutter supermarket on North Grant and walk the five or six minutes over to Randy’s Barber Shop. The old Don Mullins shop was kind of fancy and a little upscale looking, much like Collotta’s in Framingham where I usually get my hair cut. Randy’s Barber Shop is a small, simple building which definitely could use an exterior paint job.

Walking in, I found a simple two-chair barber shop which looked a little like something from the Norman Rockwell era. THERE was RANDY! Yes, the same Randy that worked for Don Mullins only thirty years older! I learned that Randy’s son usually covers the second chair, but had rushed home to attend to a problem with his dogs. I had remembered Randy as quiet, but now he was much more talkative; almost as talkative as Don Mullins used to be. I had a good time reconnecting with Randy the barber and talking about the past. He told me Don Mullins had died of lung cancer. He fondly remembered his days at Don Mullins barber shop and recalled that they had many Central Bible College students as customers.

I was pleased to have received an excellent haircut at a very low price! Randy’s Barber Shop is located only a few blocks from the Assemblies of God national headquarters. I’d recommend it to any guys who live in Springfield, Missouri. Barber shops are still great places to connect with people!

Monday, May 11, 2009


"...and, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness..." (from Job 1:19)

I guess an extended trip to Springfield, Missouri would not be complete without a full blown tornado warning! On Friday morning, May 8, I awoke to a very rainy and dark day. My daughter Amy and son-in-law David had already left for work. Sam, the Jack Russell Terrier was whining and unhappy. He followed me everyplace in the house. After shaving and showering, I made myself coffee and breakfast. I turned on the television set. At 8 a.m. the local NBC affiliate indicated that a very strong line of thunderstorms would hit within the next hour. The broadcast warned that 70 M.P.H. winds were not out of the question, but that it was unlikely there would be tornadoes associated with the fast moving storm. Amy's house is almost directly across the street from one of the city's tornado warning sirens. Just a few minutes later, the tornado siren began to sound. It was very loud! Outside it was dark, windy, raining, and thunder could be heard from the distance.

"I guess they're just sounding that alarm because of the high winds that are expected," I thought.

I thought wrong.

Suddenly, the announcement came over the television:
"A tornado warning has been issued for Greene County." (Greene County includes the city of Springfield.) Amy's house has no basement, so I went into the bathroom and got in the bathtub. The television announcement continued: "A tornado was spotted on the ground in Republic. It is expected to be in Battlefield at 8:15 and in southeast Springfield at 8:25."

Amy's house is located in east central Springfield and Amy works at Cox South Hospital in southeast Springfield. I was in the bathtub, praying softly, and feeling apprehensive.

At 8:25, I heard the following announcement over the television: "The system has just passed over Cox South Hospital. The report indicates it had a rotating, corkscrew formation. If you're in that part of the city, take cover now."

Immediately, the electricity went out, and it would not come back on for almost five hours. At 8:30, Amy called me on my cell phone. She was in the hallway with patients and was fine, and the hospital had no apparent damage.

The wind and darkness seemed to let up. I came out of the bathroom and looked around. A few small tree limbs had fallen, but things did not look too bad. Suddenly, at 9 a.m., the area was hit with hurricane force winds for about ten minutes! (I went back into the bathroom!) Then, as suddenly as it all came, it was gone. Several very large tree limbs had fallen on Amy's property.

I DID notice that the sky was a sickly yellow-green color. I've often heard that the sky looks like that when tornadoes take place. I then heard police and fire sirens in the distance, coming from all directions. I later took a walk and saw that several properties in the neighborhood had substantial tree damage.

Later, while watching the evening news, we learned that at least two Missouri residents had lost their lives during the tornado outbreak; several homes had been leveled, while others had sustained massive damage. At a high school just north of Springfield, an entire exterior brick wall had fallen. No students were in the room (the school's new weight room) at the time. At one home some distance east of Springfield a man had come up from his basement to find a radio when the tornado hit and caused substantial damage to his home. He was grateful to have survived and he learned the hard way about the importance of staying in a protected space during a tornado warning!

I was grateful to God that everything came out well for most of us in the area, but this was a reminder of how quickly things can change in this life. For longterm Ozarks residents, tornado warnings are just a part of life. On Saturday morning, people were out shopping and going about their business like nothing unusual had happened; but for me, this tornado warning experience helped make my month in the Ozarks quite exciting.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." (I Corinthians 10:23)

Most of you know I've been on a month's "sabbatical leave" in southwest Missouri. I went on this sabbatical (somewhat) under duress. I thought that I really didn't need it, and that it might even be a waste of time. I was VERY WRONG about that. Right now, I'm still in Missouri on my sabbatical. I am scheduled to be back in my office in Framingham, Massachusetts on Wednesday, May 13. Much of what has happened during this month in Missouri is very private. There's a lot that I really should NOT publicly share. There IS a matter concerning this blog, however, which I must address.

I don't want to explain exactly how this happened, but God communicated something very important to me concerning what I write on this blog. Over the past three years that I've had the blog (originally on the old AOL Journals and more recently on blogspot) I have experienced a tension between whether I should strictly write Biblical and inspirational pieces or whether it's O.K. for me to write secular pieces, opinion pieces, and even pieces in which I express disappointment, frustration, criticism, anger, etc. I've gotten much conflicting feedback about this, and it is a matter I've raised for discussion a few times on the blog.

I understand that part of the oath which physicians take says something like, "First - Do No Harm". I now need to apply that "First - Do No Harm" rule to my blog. Some of you will continue to be disappointed because in fact I still don't believe it's wrong for me to write secular pieces or to write opinion pieces. I plan to continue to write a number of those. I will not, however, write any more pieces which deliberately make statements that are hurtful and/or confusing. I would guess that close to 25% of the blog pieces I've written in the past have contained hurtful or confusing material. I am SO sorry and SO ashamed about that. I considered going back through all of my blog entries from 2006 to the present and deleting any which DO contain hurtful or confusing material. I decided such a project would take SO much time and effort that it would be counterproductive. I also COULD simply end this blog and start a new one with a different name. I'm not going to do that, either. Instead, I have decided to turn all this into a "teachable moment". I have decided to openly openly admit that I've messed up, but to leave those entries in cyberspace as they are. In addition, I've decided to proclaim that when we acknowledge mistakes, sins, and failures, we can then repent, be forgiven, grow, and move on. That's what I aim to do - move on!

I am glad for the 75% of my postings which have been interesting, informative, and edifying. For those of you who have been hurt and/or confused by the 25% which were not so good, I am deeply sorry and I ask you to please forgive me.