Monday, August 30, 2010


“She perceiveth that her merchandise is good:
her candle goeth not out by night.” (Proverbs 31:18)

Last night while watching prime time television, I saw a brief advertisement for Avon, the cosmetics company. Avon’s current corporate theme is “the company for women”. When I was a kid, the Avon salespeople were not known as “Avon women.” Rather, each was called, “The Avon Lady”. I remember Avon telephone commercials from the 1960s which would feature an attractive, smartly dressed woman in her late thirties ringing the doorbell and cheerily announcing, “Avon calling!”

When I was growing up in Canton, Massachusetts, there was an Avon lady that I think just about everybody in town either knew or at least knew of. She looked and acted NOTHING like that Avon lady in the commercials. Our Avon lady must have been at least sixty-five, and probably older. Her hair was very gray, and I don’t think she ever had much of a “hairdo”. It was kind of just there and looked like she’d given it a quick brushing. I wouldn’t call her obese, but she was a bit overweight. She rode a tricycle. Now, it was NOT like a tricycle that children ride. It looked like a typical one speed bicycle that was in the style of a “girls’ bike”. The difference was that it had TWO wheels at the back, positioned almost like giant training wheels, and there was a very large basket on the bike (or I guess more correctly, the “trike”!). Sometimes, the Avon lady’s husband drove her around in a station wagon. That was particularly true when she was making deliveries. But she did most of her general sales calls either on foot, or riding that tricycle.

The Avon lady had a very pronounced speech impediment. My brother, sister, and I could not understand anything she said. Well, that’s not QUITE true. After she rang the doorbell, she would be trying to say, “Avon calling!” and it would come out something like, “aBoaW caw!” That’s the most we could understand. Remember watching Cousin Itt on The Addams Family having conversations with the rest of the family? Itt was just a mass of long hair with glasses and a hat. When Itt spoke, it sounded something like a tape recording sped up at least ten times faster than it was supposed to be. It was a bit high pitched and complete gibberish. Yet, Morticia and Gomez would converse with Itt, apparently understanding everything perfectly. That’s what it was like listening to my mother talk to the Avon lady. The Avon lady’s last name started with “J”. My mother always called her Mrs. (and then the last name). Here, I’m just going to use “Mrs. J”. This is what a typical conversation between my mother and the Avon lady would sound like:

Avon Lady: “Eck rycopment thess node bassos.”

Mom: “Oh, YES, Mrs. J, I think I WILL buy some of those new bath salts!”

Avon Lady: “I law bybo like annew mothorifer.”

Mom: “And, YES, I WILL take some of that new moisturizer.”

Avon Lady: “Achhe ecchve preny fuv bischness fruf dh laze afte grache.”

Mom: “Oh, yes, my sister-in-law told me everybody at the Grange buys from you!”

The conversation would go on for about a half hour...all like that. We just COULDN’T understand how our mother could UNDERSTAND the Avon lady!
One time when he was about nine, my brother Eddie asked Mom why the Avon lady talked like she did.

“OH, she was in a car accident!” my mother quickly replied.

To which Eddie had a instant comeback:


I think the Avon lady started coming around when I was a fourth grader, and I think my mother did business with her almost until my high school graduation. My sister learned that the Avon lady was the grandmother of one of the girls in her high school class.

Yes, we DID get a big chuckle out of the Avon lady and my mother’s conversations. But here’s a interesting thing to ponder: If the Avon lady HAD looked and acted like “The Avon Lady” on television, I don’t think she would have made any impact upon us. Today, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about her, and I would probably hardly even remember her. But that old Avon lady with her tricycle and speech defect (who had an amazingly successful Avon business) is somebody I will never forget. She didn’t let her disabilities hinder her. She was cheerful, positive and outgoing. She was also not afraid to just BE who she was! If she felt like riding around on a weird looking tricycle, well she just did it! She could have just sat home feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she got out in the community. She made a lot of friends. She had a profitable business. She touched a lot of lives. And all these years later, when I see Avon products or an Avon advertisement, I think of The Avon Lady!

Friday, August 27, 2010


“A time to be born, and a time to die;” (from Ecclesiastes 3:2)

At the telephone answering service job I where I currently work, at least ninety percent of our clients are doctor’s offices. When I take a message, either for the doctor’s office, or to page a doctor, most of the time the “field” on my computer screen requires me to ask the caller a series of questions. One of those questions is usually “date of birth?”.

After over five months of taking messages and asking questions, I’ve gotten to the point that I could probably guess the caller’s year of birth (within four years, either way) just by hearing their voice. That thought of that has really STRUCK me lately. Why do we age, not only PHYSICALLY, but also mentally, neruologically, and socially? Well, I know we ALL age, but it seems these patterns are SO deep seated....SO “programmed” as it were. Callers born in the 1980s and very early 1990s typically sound very “together”. Even if the caller is depressed and calling for a mental health professional, they STILL usually sound “together”! People from around ages eighteen to thirty seem to have no problem answering rapid fire questions and comprehending what you’re saying to them. That’s all only slightly less true of people born in the 1970s and 1960s. They may be more comfortable with you just speaking SLIGHTLY slower, but they’re a lot like the younger folks; actually they’re kind of a somewhat more mature version of them.

I was born in 1954, and I hate to admit this, but callers born in the 1950s, especially the early 1950s DO get a slight “older person” way of talking and communicating on the phone. I ABSOLUTELY notice it. One caller said, “I’m not as YOUNG as YOU are!” In fact, she was born in 1956! When I talk to people born in the 1950s I feel like I’m talking to a people in their late 50s and early 60s who have graying hair, grown children, and young grandchildren. I CAN’T BELIEVE these folks are my peers...but they are. Listen, getting off the phone after speaking to someone born in, say 1952, who definitely is getting that “older person” sound is kind of depressing!

I hope my older friends won’t want to shoot me, and there certainly ARE exceptions to these stereotypes, but callers born in the 1940s absolutely sound old and talk slow. Slowly and methodically such a caller will say something like, “I have an appointment with Doctor; well, wait a minute I can’t remember his name.” You’ll ask “Date of Birth” and get something like “6/5/42” for an answer.

Now, if you get a caller born in the 1920s, you’re probably going to be in for a challenge, as they typically can’t hear you (and I have a strong, penetrating voice) and trying to explain to them that they’ve reached an answering service and the doctor’s office will call them back is like trying to explain how to use the MassPike FastLane pass to someone in rural Haiti!

One thing we page doctors and nurse practitioners about a lot is nursing homes calling to report on a change of a patient. A few weeks ago, I asked the nurse calling from a nursing home the patient’s date of birth. It ended in “sixteen”.

“SIXTEEN?!” I replied.

“Yeah, sixteen” the nurse repeated, and in response to “reason for call” she replied, “I’m reporting the patient expired.”

I took a similar call this week from a nursing home where the patient’s date of birth ended in “twelve”. That’s 1912. It was about hospice reporting the pt. is in final stages.

Yeah, there are all the calls from parents who have kids with ear infections, and the dates of birth ending in “07, 08, and 09” and then there are those other calls. I speak to a whole cross section of humanity, and again, after several months of this I can easily pick out an age group.

There’s a lot that the Lord is “speaking” to me through this job. One thing I’m really being impressed with is how fast life goes by, how there’s really nothing we can do about getting older, and how important it is to be prepared to meet the Lord when the time comes that we “expire”.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child;
but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)

If you’re a resident of Framingham or a MetroWest Community, over the past week you’ve read or heard a lot about Kyle Alleyne unless you’re living in a proverbial cave! On August 9, the body of Alleyne’s wife, Heather (Marcheterre) Alleyne was found in the couple’s Framingham apartment. She died from multiple stab wounds and it’s believed she’d been dead for several days. For several days, law enforcement authorities were looking for Kyle Alleyne. Kyle was arrested on Saturday, August 15 in Laredo, Texas, where he was trying to reenter the United States from Mexico.

Each day for the past several days, Kyle Alleyne’s face has stared at me from the MetroWest Daily News. Kyle’s face is not new to me, however. During the years my three children attended New Covenant Christian School (then in Ashland), Kyle was one of their schoolmates. In fact, Kyle was in my daughter Amy’s class. The Christian school movement has been controversial, and honestly, in a sense it’s been eclipsed by the home schooling movement which is more controversial and more common than ever before. We sent our kids to New Covenant, but we sent all of them to Marian (Catholic) High School in Framingham. (In my opinion, as far as standards and practices, Marian is a lot like a typical public high school of about thirty-five years ago.) There is always the criticism that parents who send their kids to Christian school are trying to shield them from the real world and are doing them a disservice. There’s also the belief that the kids will be so SATURATED with God, the Bible, morality, etc. that they’ll actually grow up to go totally wild. I wrestled with this stuff. I know that many, many kids who grow up in evangelical pastors’ homes end up as atheists or agnostics and are superficial and worldly people. Many deeply resent their upbringing. That’s why we always had decks of playing cards in the house (verboten in many Christian homes) and why we exposed them to (mostly healthy) secular entertainment as well as Christian entertainment. We weren’t perfect parents. We definitely made some mistakes. Today, each of our kids is a professing evangelical Christian and regularly attends church, so we apparently did something right.

That has NOT been the case of every kid who attended New Covenant Christian School, however. I’d say the majority have grown up to be fine Christian young men and women, but some have NOT. I think there WERE the parents who sent their kids to NCCS believing it was a guarantee they’d turn out to be model Christian citizens, and who sent mixed messages to their kids and in most cases that did not work out. NCCS’ philosophy used to be that of a “three-legged stool” meaning: a strong Christian school, a strong evangelical church, and a strong Christian family all working together. I think in MOST cases where all those three were in place, things worked out; but again, there were many kids standing on one-legged stools as it were that toppled over.

New Covenant Christian School had mandatory once a week chapel. Chapel speakers were mostly local pastors who’d come in as guest speakers. I remember some powerful chapel services there. I especially remember a powerful chapel service I did for just the “middle school” aged kids somewhere around twelve years ago. I photocopied pictures of several kids from my high school graduating class, showed the kids the pictures, talked about what each kid was like in high school and what each kid became in adulthood. One kid was the co-captain of the football team. He hung himself in a jail cell about fifteen years after high school. One girl was probably the sweetest and nicest girl in the class. She was murdered on the west coast by a deranged ex-boyfriend. My best friend from 6th grade dreamed of being a movie director. He’s dead- he died of A.I.D.S. around fifteen years ago. Conversely, some kids were kind of “duds” in high school and grew up to be pretty successful. I really tried to impress into these kids about the importance of life’s road ahead. Well, a few years later, one of Amy’s classmates was featured on the Channel 25 evening news. He’d been arrested after committing several local armed robberies. And, now Kyle Alleyne has been arrested as a murder suspect. (I will say it amazes me that Kyle graduated from Framingham High in 2008! Amy graduated from COLLEGE in 2007 and was married in 2008!)

I definitely remember Kyle Alleyne. I THINK he was from a single parent home. As I recall, there was a mom but no father there. Frankly, I remember him as a kid who got in trouble, especially in the higher grades. A couple of my kids have told me they always thought he’d grow up to be something like a drug dealer; although murderer seems somewhat unbelievable.

So what does all this say about Christian school? It was a great experience for my kids, and a great place for my wife to teach, but it's no guarantee that its alumni will all be model citizens. And how does a kid who grows up with nice middle-class “religious” patriotic MetroWest citizens end up like Kyle Alleyne?

Food for thought, isn’t it?

Monday, August 16, 2010


“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

This past Sunday afternoon as I took an afternoon walk along Concord Street (one of the main streets in Framingham, Massachusetts) I observed a strange sight. There was an older woman, who appeared to be poor or homeless, digging in some large planters that belong to a local business. The older woman was carrying a white plastic bag and was placing things she’d dug out of the planters into the plastic bag. I couldn’t help but assume she was stealing flowers and plants from the planters!

As I walked by her, I saw her pull up an attractive red flower and its roots and toss it into the bag. (Please don’t ask me what kind of flower it was, or what kind of flowers or plants are growing in the planters. I am very ignorant when it comes to plants and flowers!) I know it’s not polite to stare, but as I passed her I turned around and I stared! I could feel a grin erupting on my face as I directly asked, “Are you STEALING flowers from those pots?”

“YES I AM STEALING THEM!” she answered quickly and boldly.

She then walked up to where I was standing, carrying the white plastic bag filled with flowers and plants she’d dug out of the planters. I’m not sure how old this woman was. With her tanned and weathered skin and her mouth missing many teeth, she really LOOKED homeless, although she explained that she lives nearby.

“They DON’T get watered!” she exclaimed, and then passionately added, “They’ll die if I don’t take care of them.”

The woman told me she regularly takes flowers and plants from the large planters. She brings them home and puts them in pots; feeds, waters and cares for them. When the plants are healthier, she returns them to the big planters....then she looks for the sickliest plants in the planters, digs them up, takes them home, and repeats the cycle.

“I just love plants,” she said, adding, “I’ve always loved plants.”

I realized how wrong I’d been about this woman. Smiling, I said to her,
”You’re not STEALING them, you’re MOTHERING them. You’re doing a GOOD thing.”

She and her plastic bag crossed the street, and I suddenly felt that the Holy Spirit was trying to impress something to me: In Christian evangelism, so many love to “win souls” “add notches to their spiritual belts” as some have said. Now there’s nothing wrong with winning souls for Christ. In fact, it’s a very good thing! Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.”

But these newly won souls need WATER and need care! Ephesians 5:26 says, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,”. Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” There are all sorts of other Bible verses which teach the importance of caring for “baby Christians” such as I Peter 2:1 2 , “as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:”

It’s sad that the local business is not watering its plants and flowers and doesn’t seem to understand the importance of doing that. The Plant Lady is resorting to a pretty unorthodox method of caring for those flowers and plants to make sure they survive. How many sincere Christians have tried to disciple immature Christians in their Bible Studies or one-on-one discipleship (or whatever) only to be branded as “sheep stealers” and disloyal to “Such and Such Church” where the immature Christians are attending? In probably more cases that any of us would care to admit, there have been those unorthodox Christian disciplers who have SEEMINGLY “stolen” believers from churches only to send them back there a few weeks later in a far more spiritually healthy condition, and then they’ve begun the process all over again with some other immature Christian. Like The Plant Lady, their image and methodology makes us uncomfortable, and IS unorthodox, but they’re filling a need in the Body of Christ- rescuing the weak and fragile Christians (unnoticed by busy and preoccupied Christian brothers and sisters) who will frankly “die on the vine” (see John 15) unless some unorthodox man or woman of God gets involved.

I took a lot of things for granted when I was pastoring and I took a lot of people for granted when I was pastoring. Sometimes, I was one of those busy and preoccupied Christians. Like many pastors, I shied away from certain unorthodox people and methods. If and when I ever pastor a church again, I hope to do so with the love of Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t think I will ever forget The Parable of the Plant Lady!

[ IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION! : This post is in no way attempting to support, encourage, or justify false teachers or people with impure motives who “prey” on new believers and seek their spiritual destruction! Rather, it’s a defense of mature, Biblically sound, and sincere Born Again Believers whose methods and style may be strange or unorthodox, but who are genuinely used of the Lord to salvage and disciple weak Christians who are “falling through the cracks”. Any genuine Spirit-filled Pastor can discern the difference! :-) ]

Friday, August 13, 2010


“And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.” (Luke 15:9)

There are SO many passages of Scripture I could have used to open this post! I came very close to using one of those about saying you can see but are blind (such as from John 9) or about walking by faith not by sight; but I settled on the passage from Luke 15 which is about that which is lost being found.

I’ve got a transistor radio which belonged to my parents. Now, I had several very cheap, plastic transistor radios in the 1960s, but my parents’ transistor radio was higher quality than that. My father bought it around 1964. I think he actually had to ORDER it...that it was advertised in a Sunday newspaper supplement...something like that. It’s SMALL. You can easily hold it in your hand. Being from 1964, it gets ONLY AM radio stations. There used to be an earpiece for it, but I don’t know what became of it. Unlike the transistor radios I always used, this one does not take a 9 volt battery but rather 2 AA batteries. As I recall, AA batteries in the 1960s were much less common than they are today. When my sister and I were in the process of going through my parents’ things, the old transistor radio was something I wanted.

Granted there is not a whole lot on AM radio anymore. Pretty much I flip between WRKO, WBZ and WPRV (Providence, RI “Business Radio"), and I usually listen to the little radio when I’m shaving in the morning. On Monday, I was outside doing some light yard work and I brought the transistor radio along. I then went inside to do a few things and was carrying the radio around from room to room with me. A phone call came in which I took. I then went to pick up the radio and turn it on, and I could not find it.

At first, I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I walked from room to room looking around and I just could not find it! That’s something that can “drive me crazy”: having an object. laying it down for a moment, and then having it “disappear”. My father hated having that sort of thing happen, too. He sometimes had a funny way of enunciating and pronouncing things...a combination of a Boston accent and a very slight Quebec French accent. He’d get mad and say the lost object pulled a “disappearing ACK!!!” (“ack” meant “act” but that’s how he pronounced it!). Well, that vintage 1964 transistor radio “pulled a disappearing ack!”

I walked from the bedroom, to the bathroom, to the dining room, to the kitchen, almost like a lion pacing around in its cage. I did that on Monday for what seemed like forever. Finally, I just gave up. I did mention to my son Jon that I’d lost the radio. He went to the same rooms, looking under furniture, looking on countertops, looking all over the place. He wondered if I accidentally threw it in the trash, and I wondered that, too. I even looked in the refrigerator and the freezer! No radio.

I looked around for a few minutes on Tuesday and Wednesday, also, and NOTHING. Yesterday, Jon gave the house a good, thorough final check for the radio: nothing. In the late afternoon, I was putting something on top of my bedroom dresser and suddenly I noticed that there on top of the dresser, toward the back of it, was the transistor radio!

Here’s the amazing thing: My eyes scanned that room and dresser top several times, as did Jon’s, and WE NEVER SAW THE TRANSISTOR RADIO. I guess we just mentally did not expect it to be there and we did not SEE it! I watched a special on ABC a few weeks ago about the unreality of “eyewitness” testimony and that it’s amazing what your brain will block out. One exercise was done where a bunch of people are on a stage dancing, and a guy keeps changing dancing partners. The audience is told to watch carefully and see how many dancing partners he has over one minute. I did that. Afterwards, the host asked if anybody saw a man walk onto the stage and do a bunch of crazy things while the dance was going on. A FEW people in the audience DID see the man. MOST did not. I had not seen the man at all. Then the clip was rerun. Indeed, during the dance a man DOES walk onto the stage and do a bunch of crazy things. When you’re watching the other guy dancing around and changing dance partners, you don’t notice or even SEE the guy doing crazy things!

On my telephone answering service job, one of my coworkers got in trouble recently for not following procedure that this particular client wanted. The issue was that the proper procedure was “spelled out on the computer screen” for that account, and she ignored it. It’s a challenge when we take calls at the answering service...sometimes you take one after another. When the call comes on, the client’s info. comes up on your computer screen. But there’s usually a LOT of stuff on the screen. You’re trying to listen to the caller, take the information, and glance at the screen. My coworker did not see the specific instructions. Later, I “brought up” that account on my own screen to see if I’d have noticed the special instructions. In fact, they were right there on the screen, but along with so much other stuff, I knew that if I’d have taken that SAME call, I would have not “seen” what was on the screen and I would have made the same mistake. Well, NOW that it’s happened, if I take a similar call on that account, I will know what to do, but this whole thing of having something right in front of you, but NOT seeing it... it’s a strange and mysterious phenomenon; don’t you SEE??

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


“The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnez'zar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.” (Daniel 4:33)

In the Boston media market, one of the biggest stories of the past few days has been the drunk driving arrest of Matt Amorello. A few nights ago, Amorello smashed his ‘99 Ford Explorer into two parked cars in Haverhill, then drove away. One of the wheels fell off his vehicle, but he kept driving. When the police arrested him he was quite drunk and what could be called “out of it”. The “mug shot” of Matt Amorello’s arrest this weekend was splashed all over the Boston area papers, and it’s got to be one of the most embarrassing photos of a public figure you could ever imagine.

Matt Amorello was the Chairman of the Mass. Turnpike Authority from 2002-2006. When I hear the name “Matt Amorello” I probably think of what almost every other Boston area resident thinks of:

1. The death of the woman from Jamaica Plain in mid-2006 when a giant ceiling tile in one of the “Big Dig” tunnels fell into her car and killed her. Matt Amorello, as Chairman of the Mass. Turnpike Authority was blamed for her death.

2. The dramatic firing of Matt Amorello by then Governor Mitt Romney a few days after the woman’s death in the tunnel.

3. The fact that Boston Herald columnist and WRKO talk show host Howie Carr incessantly makes fun of Matt Amorello, calling him “Fat Mat”.

What Amorello did a few nights ago in Haverhill is very serious...thankfully no one was killed. He certainly will have to be held accountable for his actions. But I’ve learned a lot in the past twenty-four hours about Matt Amorello that I was not aware of:

I did not realize he has been unemployed for the past four years. Numerous businesses classified him as “toxic” and would not even consider hiring him. Amorello tried for a big job as some sort of highway commissioner for the State of Illinois, but several from the Boston media contacted the “powers that be” in Illinois and told them they’d be crazy to hire Matt Amorello. That was the end of that.

Matt and his family lived in a beautiful home in Wenham. When he was Mass. Turnpike Authority Chairman he made well over $200,000 a year. (Prior to that, he had been a State Senator from the Worcester area.) For that family to lose that income and prestige was devastating. Matt’s wife was apparently very upset that he did not get another job and divorced him. (Matt has a 12-year-old son.)

The house went into foreclosure. Matt had to move out several months ago. He would spend a few days “visiting” with each of his siblings, but then spent much time sleeping in his car.

Who is the real Matt Amorello? What is he really like? I have never met him so I don’t know. Howie Carr says he was selfish and mean, firing people left and right, expecting to be treated like a king (apparently he DID insist on being addressed as “Mister Chairman” all the time) and having his subordinates waiting on him. One guy’s “job” was to buy him a frozen yogurt every afternoon. But, Emily Rooney of WGBH channel 2 says Amorello was always willing to come on her “Greater Boston” program and was a nice guy. She reminded viewers last night of the “Greater Boston” TV special she and Matt Amorello ran in 2006 in which he gave her a complete tour of the Big Dig. Jordan Levy, former Mass. Turnpike Authority Board Member backs up Emily Rooney’s description. Many friends and acquaintances of Amorello say he really was ill prepared and not qualified for the Mass. Turnpike Authority Chairmanship. This was a political appointment. At the time, the Governor was Republican Paul Cellucci. There were very few “big name” Republican politicians for him to appoint to important leadership positions. Had the Governor been a Democrat, Amorello would not remotely have been considered for the job. He probably thought he was living the American dream when he assumed that job, but it turned into a nightmare. How much of The Big Dig fiasco was Matt Amorello responsible for? Obviously, SOME, but the fact is the defective ceiling tiles such as the one that killed the Jamaica Plain woman were installed three years prior to him assuming the Chairmanship.

The above Scripture verse is about Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar. He literally went crazy for seven years as a judgment from God. Later, he regained his sanity and was returned to the throne. Matt Amorello has “hit bottom” as they say in Recovery programs. I hope he will get the help he needs, that there will be redemption, and that he will then be able to hold his head up and go out helping others.

Right now Matt Amorello needs our prayers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


“There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-13)

“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17)

This evening (August 8, 2010) as I was leafing through the “Arts & Entertainment” section of the (Framingham, MA) MetroWest Daily News, my my heart sank as my eye fell upon a small advertisement in the lower right area of page C4. I guess the news the ad brought should not have been a total shock; well not anymore of a shock than learning several months ago that General Motors was discontinuing the Saturn or several weeks ago that 97-year-old Art Linkletter had died. These were both anticipated events, but when the hammer finally drops, it’s still abrupt and still sad. The ad proclaimed the going out of business sale of Milford’s “Bibles Books & Things” Christian bookstore. BB&T has been in business for twenty-one years. It’s located in the Quarry Square Shopping Plaza at 196 East Main Street (Route 16). I must have stopped into BB&T to pick up a few items at least nine times each year for the past several years.

The store’s closing is not unanticipated for a number of reasons. Christian bookstores have been closing left and right for the past twenty years. I would guess the number of Christian bookstores in the U.S. is probably down by at least 60% since 1990. They just can’t compete with the on-line and catalog Christian discount book and gift companies. As much as I love to go in and browse in a Christian bookstore, and I really DO, I will admit that 75% of the Christian books, cards, gifts, DVDs, and so forth that I have purchased over the past decade for either the church I pastored or for me and my family were purchased from one of those catalog companies and not from BB&T. I did not want to see BB&T go out of business, however, and so there were my roughly nine or ten trips there a year, usually to pick up a few items for me, and once in awhile to buy Bible study booklets, cards, or tracts for the church.

You couldn’t have asked for a nicer person that “Dot” the owner of the store. Running the store was a second career for her. It was obvious she wasn’t really making any money PERSONALLY from the was pretty much a ministry, and she was just trying to break even and keep the store going. I’m sure she felt it was a ministry to the MetroWest community and a witness for Christ, and it WAS. But you can’t go on like that forever. And, what do you do? Do you set things up so that you’ll make a nice income but NOBODY can afford the items in your store, or do you wear yourself out and work yourself to the bone in what must at times have seemed like a thankless job. She never complained... at least not that I was aware of. I always got a warm greeting along with everyone else. The store was a nice oasis...a calm, pleasant, and Godly retreat in the midst of a busy week and a busy shopping center.

The ad proclaims that “All Bibles, Books, & Music” are “40%-70% off” and “All of our Gift Items” are “50%-80% off”. I really don’t know when the final day of the store will be...I guess it will depend on how fast the stuff goes. Even so, I hope the born-again Christians of the MetroWest area will make it a point during this month of August to stop in to Bibles Books & Things, say hello to Dot and her staff, buy something, and let them know how much we appreciated the store.

The news of Bibles Books & Things closing, albeit buried in a small ad inside the paper was even harder to take when compared to Sunday’s MetroWest Daily News lead front page story, “For Psychic Shops...Business is Intuitive”. The story reports fortunetelling and other psychic shops are springing up around MetroWest with great success. Ironically, one of the featured psychic shops is located in MILFORD! It’s “The Robin’s Nest”. Owner Robbi Packard says, “We believe we’re guided by spirit, and that spirit was very insistent it was time to create a place where people could gather.” (Note: I’ll just bet that spirit DID insist upon the psychic shop being opened, and I guarantee it was not the Holy Spirit and not of God!) Described as a practicing pagan, Packard opened her shop at 157 East Main Street (note the address: just a hop, skip, and a jump from Bibles, Books & Things) about a year ago. The article notes that during the recession, business at fortune telling shops and other psychic stores is booming.

Listen, I am not advocating that America become a theocracy, nor that it become a religiously repressive country, a Christian fundamentalist republic, or anything of the kind. We have a free country and a free society. If people want to practice
sorcery, “magic”, witchcraft, the occult, etc. they are free to do so. If people want to have a psychic shop, or a Christian bookstore, so be it. I just find it sad that once again we have an example of one group of “spiritual” people working and sticking together to make their ideas and businesses flourish, and the born-again Christians (including me) worrying about their pocketbooks, convenience, etc. and willing by their apathy and complacency to see a Christian bookstore go down the drain. This is one time I wish I was fabulously “loaded” because I’d buy BB&T even if I had to run it at a loss for a couple of years. But that’s a crazy dream for me because my family and I are just trying to get by from week to week right now, and I can barely think about affording a new Bible, let alone a Christian bookstore!

It just seems like a shame to have psychic stores expanding and Christian bookstores closing their doors. I just had to express that tonight.


“And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.” (Genesis 4:17)

As far as I know, that’s the first mention of a “city” in the Bible...Cain’s son Enoch built a CITY. Despite the beauty and simplicity of country life, people have been attracted to cities from the most ancient times. There can be a lot of convenience and security in a city environment, and there can also be a lot of sin and crime in a city environment.

A hundred years ago, Americans were moving in droves to the cities. In addition, foreign immigrants were POURING into our cities, especially New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and to a slightly lesser degree, Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and St. Louis. People WANTED to live in the cities. The cities had the best public schools, the best transportation systems, the best water and sewer systems, and the best police and fire departments. There were also all sorts of jobs in the cities. THAT was the environment my parents were born into in the 1920s. Each lived in congested neighborhoods in Boston’s Roxbury section.

Between 1950 and 1965, white middle-class Americans ABANDONED the cities. They built new homes in the suburbs. Boston’s population dropped by several hundred thousand in that period while the population of most of its suburbs tripled. By 1970, America’s cities were home to the very, very rich and the very, very poor. 90% of the middle-class had fled to the suburbs.

During that period, mostly white middle-class evangelical churches (including the Assemblies of God) abandoned the cities in droves as they built fancy new church complexes in the suburbs. The Assemblies of God actually did a great work in the poor Hispanic neighborhoods with our Spanish-speaking churches and pastors, but the overwhelming majority of the white middle-class Christians wouldn’t be caught dead in the inner city.

There ARE some churches and pastors who have bucked that trend, however. I was delighted to speak today at Christian Life Ministries church right in the heart of downtown Leominster. Pastor Steve Koroskyeni and his wife Robin have done a WONDERFUL work leading this church! They started with a very small group of people in Lunenburg, Mass. well over ten years ago, but Steve and Robin always had a heart and vision for the people of downtown Leominster.

There ARE a certain kind of people who are attracted to “downtown”. Forty years ago, Petula Clark sang Tony Hatch’s lyrics,

When you're alone
And life is making you lonely,
You can always go downtown
When you've got worries,
All the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown, no finer place for sure,
Downtown, everything's waiting for you

Now, that’s an upbeat song, but the reality is, our downtowns are often places filled with poor, lonely, and troubled people...especially after 6 p.m. They’re often places of crime, drug abuse, prostitution, and a lot of things that make many of us uncomfortable. Almost ten years ago, we lost one family from our church in downtown Framingham. The mother said she didn’t want her children around the kind of people in downtown Framingham, including those people at our church. I thought that was very sad, and I still think that. Thank God for Steve and Robin who went against the tide. It was truly a miracle that they were able to move into a former theater and former YMCA facility in downtown Leominster. At the time, the place was a “dump” but the church has poured its blood, sweat, and tears into the place. Today, they are touching all sort of folks in downtown Leominster, and I don’t think I’m off base when I say GOD has GOT to be very pleased!

I was honored and humbled when Steve Koroskyeni contacted me a week ago and asked me to speak in his place while he’d be away today. I had been up to the church a few times, and I knew it was a very special place of ministry. I did not take preparing my sermon lightly at all. Today I went there with my wife Mary Ann and my grown children Jon and Rachel. It felt like home. For one thing, there were a LOT of stairs, and that was true of our old church building in Framingham. The songs we sang were mostly the same songs we used to use in Framingham. What felt most like home was the love and warmth of the people and the love and warmth evident all throughout the service. You could sense many of the people had “stories” and had lived very painful lives. Yet, you could also sense they’d met Jesus and truly loved Him, AND that they wanted to grow in the Lord and please the Lord. This MIGHT be a group some people would look down upon, but I LIKED this group very much and (again) I felt right at home among them. I would have no problem worshiping at this wonderful church every Sunday.

Robin and others in the church are SO talented in art. They have painted some BEAUTIFUL and POWERFUL murals!! There’s a “neat” children’s room, and a very cool youth room. The sanctuary is an old’s not perfect, but they’ve really done a great job with it. There was no A/C but the fans actually made the room quite comfortable. God has done quite a work in downtown Leominster at Christian Life Ministries. I honestly believe God will do far more there in the next few years.

God bless Steve and Robin and the Christian Life Ministries church! What a pleasure to worship there today!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


“And thou saidst , I will surely do thee good , and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” (Genesis 32:12)

“And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west.” (Acts 27:12)

I chose to call this piece “Places I Remember - 6” to keep the theme of “Places I Remember” that I have been writing over this summer. Otherwise, I would have called this, “Old Cape Cod”. Patti Page had a big hit in 1957 with the beautiful song, “Old Cape Cod”. In fact, a street in the municipality of Barnstable (the Centerville section of Barnstable, to be exact) has been named “Patti Page Way” in honor of the singer and that song.

Those of us who are “Old New Englanders” (and I guess being 55 and born in Boston, MA qualifies me as such) know that Cape Cod is not QUITE as nice as it used to be. The population of Cape Cod has EXPLODED over the past sixty years. I don’t have the hard figures, but I suspect the Cape now has three times as many full time residents as it did in 1950. Along with that is around three times as many houses, apartment buildings and “year round cottages” as there were in 1950- AND more shopping centers, gas stations and restaurants, as well. The “upper cape” (the area closest to the Cape Cod canal and only 20-30 miles or so from Boston’s southeastern most suburbs and only maybe 60 miles or so from downtown Boston) has become the most developed and, frankly “overbuilt” part of Cape Cod.

That’s the problem with a GREAT place of outstanding beaches and scenery, not to mention loads of history, some fine seafood restaurants, and many COOL attractions. Everybody wants to travel there and everybody wants to live there. I’m not writing this to KNOCK Cape Cod...I just wish you could have seen the Cape Cod that existed when I was a little kid, because it was nicer. Despite that, Cape Cod is STILL a very nice place to vacation. The traffic IS really heavy during the summer months...especially from July 1 through about August 25. IF you are able to do it, September (after Labor Day) is a wonderful time to vacation on Cape Cod. The tourists decrease by about 70% as compared to August, and the weather is usually still warm enough for the beach.

Of course, Cape Cod is famous for the Kennedys. When JFK was President and was at the Kennedy compound, you couldn’t get NEAR the place! One summer day in the early ‘60s my Dad tried. The whole area was crawling with cops, and I think the closest we got was maybe within a quarter mile of the Kennedy compound. Many Republicans (like me) often ask, “What GOOD did the Kennedys do?!” Actually, JFK and Bobby, especially JFK did do some good things. JFK saw the Cape being rapidly developed and commercialized and was instrumental in establishing the Cape Cod National Seashore...insuring that the bulk of the “lower” Cape would stay much as it was in 1961- preserving beautiful beaches, sand dunes, salt marshes, etc.

My sister and I remember our summer vacations at Dennisport as a highlight of our childhood. We’d rent a cottage each year at Chase’s Ocean Grove, off Old Wharf Road in Dennisport. It was just a step above “camping” in that you had a shower (actually an OUTDOOR shower) and an indoor toilet and sink, plus a refrigerator, stove, and kitchen sink. It was pretty tiny and Spartan. NO A/C. Well, prior to 1970, most New Englanders never gave A/C a thought. No television. Crowded. Sand seemed to be EVERYWHERE. But it was a place to sleep and during the day we’d walk down to the beach (MAYBE 2/10 of a mile away) and spend most of the day there. On rainy days, we’d go for rides...maybe to Provincetown or Falmouth or Hyannis. Most of the families at Chase’s Ocean Grove were blue collar and from either the Boston area or the Worcester area. OH, there were not only no cell phones, but no phones. Actually, there was ONE the “office”. Mrs. Chase, an “Old Yankee” who ran the place would get on a big loudspeaker and announce when someone had a call. In a VERY rural New England accent she’s say something like, “Attention please; Attention please; Tom Smith, WANTED ...on the phone....HOLDING THE LINE for Mr. Tom Smith!”

My father loved to do impersonations of Mrs. Chase’s announcements. Mrs. Chase died in 1965. Our final Cape Cod family vacation was 1966, and THAT year her son did the phone announcements... and it just WASN’T the same!

The water on the south side of the Cape (Dennisport, West Dennis, Harwichport, etc.) is relatively calm and warm. It’s part of Nantucket Sound. The water is warmer due to the Gulf stream; and Nantucket Sound is sort of an inlet, so the water is USUALLY not so rough. Probably the biggest waves and roughest waters on Cape Cod are on the EASTERN facing beaches in places like Eastham or Truro or even Chatham. Incidentally, Chatham Lighthouse and the nearby beach is a cool place to visit and take pictures. Chatham Light is near the “elbow” of Cape Cod. The north side of communities such as Dennis has much COLDER water because it’s NOT on the Gulf stream. There are also far more sand dunes in that area. If you want to find a BEAUTIFUL place to watch a sunset, it’s Chapin Beach in Dennis on the north side. (It’s a couple of miles north of Route 6A.)
Chapin Beach is NOT a big “swimming beach” although some people do go there to swim. It’s the kind of beach that when the tide goes out, it’s OUT! I mean WAY OUT! It’s a cool kind of beach to walk around looking for shells and enjoying scenery...stuff like that.

Mary Ann and I took a whale watch trip out of Barnstable Harbor (north side) once or twice. It’s CALLED “Hyannis Whale Watch” but all REAL New Englanders know Hyannis is NOT on the north side but on the south side. (In fact, Hyannis is one of about a dozen villages of the municipality of Barnstable.) I guess since Hyannis and the Barnstable Harbor are in the same municipality, the owner figures he can get away with calling it “Hyannis Whale Watch”. I USUALLY don’t have trouble with getting seasick, but the water was rough going out on one of these trips. I was fine going out, but coming back Mary Ann said I turned GREEN. The boat was bouncing around like a yo-yo. People were actually up ordering hot dogs, cokes, etc. I couldn't have so much as eaten one M&M candy! We did see a few whales, but I WILL say you see FAR more whales when you take a whale watch boat out of Gloucester Harbor in the NORTHERN part of Massachusetts.

I have always been fascinated with the Cape Cod Canal. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers around a hundred years ago. Many people don’t consider that you’re actually on Cape Cod until you go OVER one of the bridges (built in the 1930s) over the Canal, but in fact, Cape Cod is Barnstable County, and so the land on the “Boston side” of the canal for probably at least a mile stretching off the canal IS technically “Cape Cod”. You can take a GREAT Canal cruise out of Wareham, MA (again, on the “Boston side” of the canal). I had always wanted to do that, and we finally did only a few years ago.

Provincetown at the very tip of the “lower Cape” is a gay mecca and has been for probably at least fifty years. Some very socially conservative types are thus afraid to visit Provincetown. In fact, there ARE some nice beaches in Provincetown and one interesting site is the Pilgrim Monument which towers above the Town of Provincetown. Provincetown was the site of the Pilgrims' first landing in Massachusetts in 1620. They quickly concluded it was NOT a suitable place to settle (hence my Acts 27 reference above) and went on to what we now know as Plymouth. When I was a kid, I climbed the stairs up to the top of the Pilgrim Monument and down again. Now, at age 55, I’m not sure I’d do it! I DO remember that there are stone blocks on the INSIDE of the Monument with the names of EVERY City and Town in Massachusetts written on them. It was exciting to see the “CANTON” block when I was a kid.

I had my first ice cream on Cape Cod as a very little kid in the 1950s. It was always traditional that we went to the Kreme ‘n Kone in Dennisport. The Kreme ‘n Kone opened in 1953 and was there for over 40 years until it was destroyed by fire. The Kreme ‘n Kone relocated to South Dennis shortly after the fire and they’re still there doing business. I miss the original location, but I can’t go to that part of the Cape without visiting the Kreme ‘n Kone. It’s soft serve ice cream and greasy onion rings and hamburgers...VERY 1950s style. If that’s not quite your cup of tea, a fancy ice cream place is Sundae School in Dennisport.

You can tell I could go on and on about Cape Cod. Maybe I should work for their Chamber of Commerce. No, it’s NOT quite as nice as it was in the 1950s and 1960s but it’s still well worth visiting!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"IN LABOR...?"

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” (Revelation 12:1-2)

This morning’s service at Bread of Life Assembly of God in Westminster, MA was very rich and very anointed by the Holy Spirit. For the most part, it really WASN’T a “bouncin’ off the walls” kind of service. In fact, it was much more of a reverent service with soft, contemporary worship music and a very sweet and special presence of God. (I realize if you’re not Pentecostal or Charismatic, this probably sounds bizarre.) Something I very much like about Bread of Life church is that they don’t wait for the ending of the service for a “move of God”. They also do not try to orchestrate and manipulate a “move of God” like so many churches do...and frankly many of those situations are NOT genuine moves of God. At Bread of Life, we were only singing and worshiping for about twenty minutes when it was evident God had some special work to do. The pastor called people to come up to the altar area for prayer, and many did just that. A few minutes later, the worship leader urged those still at their seats to get on their knees and spend time in the presence of God...creating their own “altar” at their seats. I did just that.

When I was spending time on my knees at my seat, I got a VIVID picture in my mind of a woman in labor. No it wasn’t a literal “vision” but it was pretty close. I could “see” a young woman around 30 with dark brown hair laying on a bed. She was VERY pregnant, in labor, and in fact, in VERY difficult AGONY...and there were a number of people in the room watching her. The following “thoughts” came to me...and I believe they were from the Holy Spirit:

Individual Christians, Christian families, as well as churches and Christian organizations will (at times) go through “great labor pains” as God is intending to “birth” something new, different, important, and special in their lives. For a literal woman in labor, it may be 24 hours or more, but in a SPIRITUAL sense, we may be in “labor” for months or years before a new ministry or a new chapter of life is “birthed”. It’s very unpleasant. It’s been said that if MEN gave birth, everybody would be an only child! I think that’s accurate! What many men can attest to is the helplessness of watching their wife in agonizing labor, and that whole experience of, “Hey, YOU got me into this!!” that’s even yelled by some women. Well, Christians and Christian organizations DON’T like when God has them going through labor pains as something is being birthed. Often, we get mad at God wondering HOW He could say He loves us but has “gotten us into this mess”!

So often, Christians blow it. So often churches blow it. So often we MISS what God really has for us. Those who are “watching” the labor want to help, but frequently make things much worse. When Mary Ann and I went through our first series of childbirth classes when she was pregnant with Jon, the class did a “field trip” to the Labor and Delivery floor at the local hospital, and I remember they showed us what “forceps” look like. They’re kind of big metal tongs to grab the baby and pull it out if things are going badly. Fortunately, forceps are not used much anymore. In fact, they CAN cause serious damage to the baby being born. Sadly, SOME well meaning people see a Christian or a Christian organization “in labor” and want to “hurry things along”. They “pull out the forceps” as it were, and try to FORCE what God intends to birth in His time and His way. The results are never good. At the other end of the spectrum, are well meaning people who decide it’s just not worth it for a person or ministry to “go through” such agony, and they perform an abortion! They “kill” what’s being birthed in the name of love and compassion.

(I know somebody may ask “What about a C-Section?” but remember this is just a illustration...don’t try to carry it too far!)

Jim Spence was the founder of New England Aftercare Ministries (“The Bridge House”) back in the 1980s. I have the highest respect for him because I don’t know HOW he did what he did; except for the grace of God! Jim had been Protestant Chaplain at Walpole Prison. He saw countless men receive Christ as their Savior, get released from prison, go back to their old friends and neighborhoods, and “go down the drain”. Jim’s vision was a place where newly released Believers could go to spend at least 6 months reintegrating into society and being discipled. There were YEARS in which Jim and his fledgling board tried to find property and make the vision a reality. Jim was subject to hatred, hostility and opposition of a truly demonic nature. Nothing was easy! Nothing went right! Jim experienced agonizing labor pains! Most of his friends and colleagues urged him to GIVE UP the “have an abortion” as it were. Jim stuck it out. A “baby” was born, and Framingham’s Bridge House is now 23-years-old!

Moses got out the forceps back there in the Old Testament. At 40 he was ready to “take on all comers” like a 19th century boxer. In his own way, he was trying to lead an uprising, and it all BOMBED! You see, it wasn’t God’s time and it wasn’t God’s way. Many years later, when God called him from the burning bush, Moses wanted to “abort” the vision, telling God to “get someone else”.

There are a number of things God impressed to ME today that are VERY VERY personal and that I could not and would not share with anyone. They’re just for me. But I felt this could be helpful for someone. Is God in the process of “birthing” something through you, or through your family, or your church, or your ministry or Christian organization? Are friends getting out the forceps and trying to force things along? Are YOU doing that? Or, even worse, do you just want an abortion and for the whole thing to be over?

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways (see Isaiah 55:8-9). Please don’t try to “force” the birth, and please don’t “abort”. Let God be God. Nothing is impossible for Him!