Friday, March 20, 2015


"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."  (I Corinthians 12:12)

I fancy myself to be a pretty good writer but I'm at a loss as to how to begin this piece.  There really doesn't seem to be any "good" way to begin it, and yet my phrase:  "...I'm at a loss..."  is most appropriate because over the past few weeks there have been so many deaths which have rocked my world!  I feel like I'm living in a season of death.  Each time the phone rings I wonder if I'll hear that someone else has passed away.

These words may seem strange coming from a "Bible-believing minister" who truly embraces Jesus' words from the tenth verse of the tenth chapter of John's Gospel, 
"... I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
I truly believe that Jesus does bring abundant life and, in the words of the old Gospel chorus, "Joy unspeakable and full of glory".  Yes, I believe in all of that, but I'm also mindful of the shortest verse in the entire Bible which is found in the very next chapter, in John chapter eleven.  That verse is number thirty-five which simply says,  "Jesus wept."   Even Jesus wept at the grave of his dear friend Lazarus.  Yes, "Heaven's sounding sweeter all the time," as the old country Gospel tune proclaims, but the whole death and loss thing is, well, sad and painful.

Just two weeks ago, I conducted the funeral service of little David Magorian who died at the young age of two months.  It's only through the prayers of the saints and the anointing of the Holy Spirit that I was able to do that.  It seemed like hardly any time had had gone by when I was shocked to read the obituary of "Danny".  Danny was seventy-three-years old.  I think the last time I'd seen him was in 1995.  Yet, in the late seventies and early eighties he'd been a close friend of mine and I'd spent a lot of time with him.  Then, I was notified by a Facebook friend of the death of "Shirley".  Shirley was (I'm guessing) about "eighty-something".  She and her husband were living in Florida.  I had not seen Shirley in at least ten years, but back in the eighties I saw her almost every day.  She was the senior pastor's secretary at the large church where I served for several years as one of the assistant pastors.  Shirley was both a friend and a mother figure.  She truly had a great impact on my life.  

The thoughts of this piece were "germinating" in my heart and mind for several days when I sat down at a public library computer yesterday (Thursday, March 19) morning.  I was all set to start writing when I was jolted to learn that "Michelle" who'd been one of my co-workers at my answering service job had been shot to death by her boyfriend on Wednesday.  That news had such a profoundly sad impact on me that I just couldn't write what I'd been planning to write.   I don't want to share anything that might tarnish Michelle's memory, but let's just say Michelle and I were about as opposite as you could possibly imagine when I met her several years ago.  It was both my surprise and delight to watch the subtle yet real and positive changes in Michelle's life as she accepted Jesus Christ as her Personal Lord and Savior and began studying the Bible, attending a good church, and taking her responsibility and disciplines involved in her own "recovery" process very seriously.  No, I wasn't the one who led her to Christ or discipled her.  It's usually best for men to work with men and women to work with women at that stuff.  I will say that whoever led Michelle to Christ and was leading her in discipleship was a real hero in my book!  No, Michelle wasn't perfect, but watching her learn to walk with God was like watching a one-year-old learn to physically walk.  Sometimes they fall down and bump their heads or skin their knees, and maybe they cry a little, but they get up and they learn to walk and eventually they learn to run.  Michelle had a great life ahead of her.  That's why her murder at the age of thirty-one is so hard to accept.  But the great news in this tragedy is that she's with the Lord and I'll see her again one day.  The last time I saw Michelle was at the Framingham (MA) WalMart store just a few weeks ago.  As always, she gave me a big enthusiastic greeting, as though I was her best friend and the greatest guy in the world.  Honestly, I wish I could thank her for being so affirming and that I could congratulate her for making that important decision (as Billy Graham and his son Franklin would put it) to follow the Lord.  From Michelle I was reminded that the person who seems the least Godly can turn around and become extraordinarily Godly!  That's one important legacy she's left for me.  She may have been in the early stages of her Christian life, but she was an important and vital part of the Body of Christ, nevertheless.

Now, back to Danny.  In so many ways, Danny's life was a paradox.  I guess part of why I really connected with Danny is that people either absolutely loved him and considered him a great man of God or they couldn't stand him and considered him a persistent problem and annoyance.  As difficult as this may be to understand, Danny was both.  Danny came from a pretty rough background.  A nominal Catholic, he had no real relationship with God until a small group of born-again Christians "witnessed" to him in the mid-1970s and he gave his heart to Jesus.  Danny had one of those "Damascus Road" sort of conversions!  Suddenly he was reading the Bible all the time, preaching the Bible to friends, family, and co-workers constantly, up to his eyeballs in evangelical Christianity and driving everybody crazy!  There's a bittersweet aspect to the conversion of people like Danny.  They join a local evangelical church and pretty soon they're the first ones to show up and the last ones to leave every Sunday.  They arrive for every Bible study.  They even show up for every "church work day".   Danny and his wife Cathy began cleaning the church building where they attended (as volunteers) every Saturday.  The problem is, the Dannys can't understand why not all of the born-again Christians are as committed and enthusiastic as they are.  Then they can't understand why their brothers and sisters are not all as eager to pray or study the Bible.  After a couple of years, Danny became disillusioned with the church he'd been attending and he left.  Danny attended a few evangelical churches off and on, but his disgust with American evangelical churches became so strong that he pretty much stuck to Christian television and personal Bible study.  It may surprise you that I liked and appreciated Danny, but I did.  Of course, we did not agree about the importance of the Church.  As far as I'm concerned, and as far as the New Testament is concerned, each Christian is to be faithful to a local church and its ministries, whether he or she likes everything about that church or not.  Danny was (sadly) wrong about that area.  Yet, Danny who had been a very average, blue-collar guy went back to school.  He attended college for four years graduating with a B.A. degree, and then he went to graduate school and earned a Master's in Counseling.  Danny worked for years as a staff member of a recovery program.  He touched many lives and led many people to Christ.  He was a valuable member of the Body of Christ, albeit a disobedient and independent one.

And, then there's Shirley.  Shirley meant just as much to me as Danny did, but she was exactly the opposite of Danny.  Shirley was the epitome of a Christian woman who was committed to the local church "through thick and thin" as some would say.  She and her husband Dick were the types who'd show up for church no matter what!  They loved God and they loved the local church.  Most pastors would not hire a Member of their church to be their employed secretary.  This is because the secretary learns so many secrets of people in the church.  The secretary often knows what families are in crisis, what person is struggling with depression, or serious illness, or doubt.  The secretary may know of things that are going on in a church that even the Board members don't know about!  There are very few people who would have the maturity and character and Godliness to be able to (frankly) handle a job like that.  Shirley did, and she did it well.   I learned a lot from Shirley.  In my early days as an assistant pastor I was so naive and so, well, green!  There was so much "practical stuff" that she taught me!  For example, one day an older woman walked into my office.  I said "hello" and made small talk with the woman.  Later, Shirley came in to correct me!  "You didn't stand!" she admonished, "You didn't stand!"  She carefully explained to me that proper etiquette calls for a younger man to stand when an older woman comes into his presence.  I honestly did not know that.  I never forgot that.  I won't tell you all the faux pas that I was guilty of as a young assistant pastor, but Shirley made sure to set me straight, and I'm glad she did!  Please don't misunderstand.  Shirley always gave me respect as a minister and valued what I had to say about Scripture, etc.   Upon learning of her death, I wished I'd have thanked her for the impact she made in my life.  The next best thing is to public acknowledge her, as I'm doing now.  Yes, she too was a very important and vital member of the Body of Christ.

None of us is perfect.  We all need each other.  I learned from Michelle, I learned from Danny, and I learned from Shirley.  I benefited from kmowing them.  I'm sixty.  It seems like yesterday that I was in my middle twenties and just "getting my feet wet" in ministry.  The years have gone by so quickly.  In closing, I also remember another line Christians of yesteryear often used:  "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last!".

Sunday, March 8, 2015


 "And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."  (Luke 10:41-42)

You may recognize that the above Bible verses are from the account of Jesus visiting the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  Martha was upset that Mary was not helping with meal preparations and household tasks, but Jesus essentially told her that sitting and listening to His teachings at that moment was the far more important thing to be doing.  Jesus was not condoning laziness or irresponsibility here.  Rather, He was giving an important lesson in priorities.

I want to be careful in sharing a fault of my father's here because some may interpret it as me being hostile and disrespectful to him and as not honoring him.  That's not the case.  I miss my father and I learned a lot from him.  He was so talented and gifted.  He was a pilot,  a law enforcement officer,  a mechanic,  and very much a leader and take-charge kind of person.  He had a great sense of humor and was a fabulous public speaker.  My father also often had some wrong priorities in his life.  He was the kind of guy that would be furious about a little scratch on the floor, or a tiny mark on the wall.  One of my siblings has said that no one ever got more upset about spilled milk than he did, and that's true.  A cup's spilled milk at the kitchen table would ruin his day and really set him off.  One would think the end of the world had taken place!  I wonder if this behavior had something to do with having lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s.  His family really didn't have it that bad during that time.  I'm told they were about the only family on their street that owned a car and had a telephone.  Nevertheless, the care and treatment of material things meant a great deal to him.  

Now, I'm not advocating that it would be great to be a slob and just dump milk and coffee and soda all over the place in one's residence!  I'm not saying that breaking windows and bashing holes into walls, and damaging furniture is a good thing.  But I am saying that there's got to be a balance with this kind of stuff.  My father could leave you feeling that the floor or a wall or a kitchen table were much more important to him than a person was.  I don't think that was his intention, but it contributed to him making me very nervous and not being particularly close to him.  Honestly, what tripped this thought off recently for me is that there's a friend of mine who constantly says to me, "Don't slam the DOOR!"  almost every time I open and close his car door.  I want to tell him that a jury of my peers who might hypothetically watch and listen to the door closing would overwhelmingly rule that I was not slamming the door and that he is overreacting;  instead I have just chosen to keep that thought to myself.  But each time he's said that, I've thought of my father and his (seeming) priority about material things, and that's been painful for me.

A number of years ago, I attended a prayer and fellowship meeting for pastors at one pastor's home.  The house was immaculate.  No, it was far more than immaculate.  It was sterile.  I actually attended several pastors' prayer and fellowship meetings at that home.  Each time, we were told to take our shoes off  upon passing through the front door.  The kitchen stove looked like it was a model stove at a department store.  It looked like nothing had ever been cooked on it.  The bathroom was perfectly clean.  Everything was perfectly clean.  It was too clean.   There was not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere.  One of my pastor friends who attended these meetings with me is also a professional counselor.  Following one of these meetings he commented to me, "The way their house is isn't normal."   He wondered if the pastor's wife had (perhaps) been the victim of a violent crime and this had led to such extreme behavior about having a perfectly sterile house.   We later learned that the pastor's wife had been the victim of a violent crime some years earlier.   I wondered how people from their church felt when they visited their pastor's home.  I wondered if they felt like I did as a kid when I accidentally made a mark on the floor or on the wall or spilled milk at the table.

Many of you know that back in the 1980s,  I was on staff at Christian Life Center church in Walpole, MA.  The Senior Pastor, Dave Milley was a "stickler" about a lot of things.  Something he said shortly after the church moved into their new building in mid-1980, though, may surprise you.  It surprised me!   The building was new and nice and big and beautiful.  In one of the earliest services there, Dave Milley told the congregation that over the next few years there'd be stains on the carpets and marks on the walls and woodwork and the building would cease to be "perfect".  He said that was a good thing.  Coming from Dave Milley, that comment was a major surprise, but he added that it was a good thing because it would mean that people were coming to the church and people were being ministered to.  The price of that would be wear and tare on the building and its contents and that was good.   It was good because people and their souls are far more important than buildings.

If any of my grown children are reading this, they may be as surprised as I was when Dave made his statement all those years ago.  That's because I grew up to be a guy who was a lot like my father.  I, too, got very upset about spilled drinks and marks on the furniture and things like that.  Now, I wasn't quite as extreme as my Dad was, but I was a lot like him.  In my days of pastoring,  one thing I hated was when the Sunday School teachers and childrens' ministry people had kids using paste and glitter.  Oh, how I hated glitter!  There'd be glitter in the hallways and glitter in the church sanctuary and even glitter in my office for months after they used it.  I hated it.  I thought it made the church building seem sloppy and low class.  The people who ministered to the little kids thought that the impact on those little lives was far more important.   I have not pastored now in five years.   You know what? ... they were right.  If and when I ever pastor again, I will not care how much glitter and paste residue appears on chairs and floors and other items.  I really won't.  And, now that I don't  have my own residence, I have come to the the conclusion that if and when I do, I won't care if someone makes a mark on a wall or on furniture, or accidentally turns and breaks a lamp.  I remember one time a person visiting us in our apartment in Walpole "many moons ago" sat down on our couch and one side of it collapsed.   All I could keep saying is, "You broke my couch!"  Sounds a bit like, "Don't slam the DOOR!"  doesn't it?   I wonder if Jesus would have given me a "talking to" similar to the one he gave to Martha in the Bible story I referenced above.   I think so.

I know this piece could make some people upset.   I'm sorry if I upset you, but this is something we all need to think about!   David C. Milley was correct.  People and their souls are important.  That chair or piece of wallpaper or kitchen table or sofa can be replaced.  They're just material.  They're temporal.   It's people and souls and relationships with them that are far more important.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


"While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)

They say, "Things happen in threes".   I'm not sure I fully buy into that saying, but I did receive three sad reports this weekend which have left me in a solemn and reflective mood.

The first sad and stunning report was received from my daughter Amy who informed me that the two-month-old great grandson of Bill and Joanne Lincoln (who were active Members and lay leaders at First Assembly of God of Framingham, MA where I pastored for over twenty years) had suddenly and unexpectedly died.   Little David Joseph Magorian passed into Heaven on the morning of Saturday, February 28.  The family is understandably shocked and devastated.  I had a phone conversation with Bill Lincoln last night and with Joanne Lincoln this afternoon.  I tend to be a very verbal and animated person; but such news left me speechless.  It was only with the help of the Lord that I was able to speak words of comfort and wisdom to them.  I have been very blessed in that up to this point I've never had to conduct a funeral service of anyone under the age of twenty-one.  Let's face it; the death of a baby is devastating.

The second sad and stunning report came when I tuned into one of my favorite radio programs.  The show is called "Says You" and is heard on about one hundred public radio stations.   It's heard in Boston on WGBH-FM and in fact the show is based in Boston.  I guess "Says You" would be called a radio program for "word geeks".  It's a fast moving and thoroughly entertaining game show featuring some very colorful panelists, including Paula Lyons who was a consumer reporter on Boston television for many years.  "Says You" has been on the air since 1997.  I did not discover it until I picked it up one Saturday evening on my car radio as I drove from my job in Framingham to my (then) residence in Webster.  In those days, I was a particularly sad and grieving person.  That show was so interesting and so entertaining that it put a smile on my face and truly cheered me up.  I became a regular listener, either on Saturday evenings or on Sunday afternoons (when the show is rebroadcast).  The host, Richard Sher, really made that program what it was, with his delightful sense of humor and schtick.  "Says You" goes on location during each year and tapes programs in various locations all over America, but always does a few shows in Boston and New England.  It was a goal of mine to one day go to a live "Says You" event.   It's unusual for me to not listen to "Says You" for seven weeks in a row, but in fact, when I tuned in last night it had been that long since I'd heard it.  What a shock I received as I heard the opening announcement telling us that this was Richard Sher's last broadcast!  It was being done in his memory.   It turns out that sixty-six-year-old Richard Sher of Weston, MA passed away on February 9.  This weekend's broadcast was recorded before a live audience at Regis College in Weston in early January.   It was surreal listening to the energetic and comical Sher last night, knowing he died just about a month after that was recorded!  I've learned  that Sher had developed the show and wrote most of its material.  I'd love to have met him sometime and shook his hand.  Instead, the best I could do was post my condolences today at the "Says You" website.

The third sad and stunning report came this morning when I learned that Denny and Debby S. (good friends of my wife and me) who are Assemblies of God missionaries in Central America were victims of a very serious crime on Friday evening.  At the large church we attend in Westminster, MA, the service was opened with special prayer for Denny and Debby.   (Their photo was displayed on power point for all to see as we prayed.)  When I think of Denny and Debby, the words that come to mind are "Godly", "generous", "classy", "talented", "gifted", and "humble".  I don't have the words to express how sorry I was to hear the news of their suffering! 

Clearly, each of these situations needs prayer.  I've also found myself doing a lot of thinking and reflecting about each situation.  Regarding Richard Sher, it reminds us that we are never sure of tomorrow.  Any one of us could die at any time.  I'm also reminded that Richard Sher used his talent and personality to the fullest.  He really taught  a lot of "stuff" (which admittedly many would say was trivial) on "Says You".  He also brought some cheer and happiness to me during some very down times, and he probably did so to many others.  You know what, God wants us to use the talents He's given us and to touch the lives of others.  Richard Sher did that.  Regarding Denny and Debby, it's absolutely true that "bad things happen to good people".  Missionaries have suffered persecution and martyrdom going all the way back to the first century church.  This is something we don't like to talk and think about, but it's true.  Denny and Debby could be selfish and lazy Christians if they wanted to be.  But they have made a choice to follow and obey the Lord, no matter what the cost.  They're real heroes!  It's easy for me to think, "Well, I'm no Denny or Debby Seler!   I'm no hero!"  Yet, God calls me and God calls evry Christian believer to humility and service no matter what the cost.  Am I willing to serve the way Denny and Debby do?  I honestly need to do exactly that, no matter what the cost!  Finally, the loss of a baby is deeply painful.  As of this writing, I've been asked to conduct the funeral service.  I'm not sure exactly when that will be.  Such a loss is confusing.  We don't understand it.  I think of a great teaching C.D. that some friends sent me last year.  The Bible teacher on that C.D. said that Christians should never ask, "Why?"  That's the wrong question.  Instead we should ask, "What does this mean?"  and  "What must I do?"   I've never experienced the death of a child or of a grandchild.   My parents did.  Following the death of my brother Eddie in 1983, they were never quite the same.  But, I will say, there was a bit more vulnerability and sensitivity in each of them after that terrible loss.  The Rev. John DeBrine says, "Difficulty will make you either better or bitter."  Eddie's loss was terrible for all of our family, but in some ways, I think it did make all of us "better".  I think of the story of King David in the Old Testament.  His little baby was deathly ill.  King David fasted and prayed.  He was distraught.  Yet, the baby died.  The King's aides were shocked that following the child's death, David got up, cleaned himself up (we'd say "took a shower") and went about his business.  They asked the King how he could possibly accept the death so calmly when he'd previously been so despondent and upset.  The King essentially said, "I thought that perhaps my fasting and praying would result in the baby's healing.  But now that he's dead, he cannot come to me, but one day I will go to him." (see 2 Samuel 12:23).

This weekend, the sad reports came in threes.   I am a writer, so I thought sharing this with you would be a good thing, and I hope it was exactly that for you.