Saturday, December 1, 2018

BREAKFAST WITH ROMANS 12

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."  (Romans 12:1)

This morning I had a number of errands to get to, so I left quite early.  I ordered a breakfast sandwich and a coffee at a chain restaurant, and spent just under a half hour reading and thinking about Romans chapter 12.  It was a really good way to begin the day!  Wow!  I'd read Romans 12 before;  I've taught Bible classes and Sunday School lessons about Romans 12 and I've preached a sermon or two from Romans 12.  But just sitting there reading it and pondering the chapter was very rich today.

The first eleven chapters of Paul's Epistle to the Romans are very deep and very theological.  It's the kind of stuff doctoral students in seminaries write dissertations about.  In fact, Romans 11 closes with the word "Amen".  But then we're on to chapters twelve through sixteen which is the really practical stuff in the Book!  You know, it doesn't matter how much theology you can write dissertations about if you aren't living out your faith in practical ways!  

Verse 1, quoted above, really seems like an oxymoron, for it calls each of us to be "a living sacrifice"!  A sacrifice is slain on the altar- it's dead!  So, how can one be a living sacrifice?!  Well, there are really two things to consider here:  1.  It's easier to die for the Lord than to live for Him!  2.  It's totally unnatural and against everything we would desire to live life as a living sacrifice, but it's what God has called each Christian to do!

Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Advent.  I think most Christians would say that Romans chapter 12 has nothing to do with Advent, but I'd say it has everything to do with it!  For, the Lord Jesus Christ came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves!  He came to bring us the free gift of eternal salvation (if we will only receive that free gift) and then He came to give us all the help and power we need to live for Him which we could never muster up on our own!

Today, December 1 would have been my father's ninety-sixth birthday.  He passed away in 2000.  Many, many times I remember my father asking in frustration, "Where does the time go?!"  He never seemed to have enough time to do all the things he wanted to do, and once he got into his sixties, his health rapidly went downhill.

Frankly, December is always a very tough month for me.  I always feel stressed and frazzled; unable to keep up with responsibilities, and feeling like no matter how hard I push myself I just can't accomplish what I want to accomplish.  So, my father's birthday and the start of Advent and the start of the month of December have had me in a sort of intense and challenging place today.

But Romans 12, believe it or not, was perfect for me to read this morning!  It spoke to me.  It was what I needed, and it helped me with perspective.  I could write my own dissertation here, commenting liberally about each verse of the chapter and pouring out all sorts of "stuff".  But I don't want to do that.  You're probably very busy, and you probably can't imagine spending twenty or thirty minutes with a coffee and a sandwich and Romans chapter 12.  I just want to encourage you to do exactly what I did this morning, and see if it doesn't speak to you and help you in some way!


Saturday, November 10, 2018

"NEVER ASSUME!"

"For whosoever has, to him will be given, and he shall have more abundance:  but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."  (Matthew 13:12)

Recently, some of my Facebook friends shared on Facebook a short piece stating that Jesus would have heartily welcomed the "Caravan" of impoverished and troubled people that is currently slowly moving through Mexico toward the United States border.  I briefly read the piece.  I got the sense that it was meant as an "in your face" piece to hurt and discredit conservative white evangelicals, many of which support President Trump's position of seeing these people as "an invasion" to be kept out of the country.

Wow.

I'm reminded of a short phrase of my father's that often comes to my mind.  That phrase is "Never assume".  In my experience, the behavior of assuming we know exactly what Jesus Christ would or would not do about someone or something, and of knowing (to use a line from a Bob Dylan song) that "God's on our side" is very arrogant, and frankly usually quite flawed.

Honestly, I can't say for sure how Jesus in His first century ministry would have responded to the "Caravan", nor do I even want to posture an opinion as to right now how the Lord Jesus Christ in all His Heavenly Glory would respond to the "Caravan".   Stating exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ would think, say, or do is the height of arrogance whether it comes from the political left or from the political right.  Frankly, I can't imagine Jesus would endorse little children being taken away from their parents and detained in a holding facility, nor do I think He would endorse the idea of a far right-wing caller whom I heard on a radio program stating that the members of the "Caravan" should all be "shot down with machine guns".  On the other hand, the Bible (admittedly the Apostle Paul and not literally Jesus Christ) in the thirteenth chapter of the epistle of Romans strongly endorses a society characterized by "law and order"- and mind you, that chapter was essentially saying that the dictatorial regime of Ancient Rome, in keeping law and order, was perfectly O.K. in doing so!

Yes, this stuff gets very tough ethically and morally.  I know most of my friends on the left and on the right, and I have many friends of each political persuasion, will say that my piece here is very wishy washy and foolish, and that it's obvious what Jesus would say about the "Caravan" and it's obvious what America's response to it should be.  Well, remember the famous phrase of the late Eugene A. Baril, "Never assume!".

It's scary to truly speak for Jesus.

There is an idea that the first-century Jesus was a total pacifist; excessively loving and sweet, who would never raise His voice, and would never behave in any way other than totally friendly, loving, and completely passive.  Listen, that is just not true at all!  Jesus was nothing like that!  Nothing!

In Matthew 10:34, Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth:  I came not to send peace, but a sword."

I don't think you'll find that verse printed on too many Christmas cards!

And there are some passages in the Gospels that are quite troubling, even to many evangelicals!  I know that for years I avoided teaching or preaching from Luke 16:1-13, for instance.  That is what's known as "The Parable of the Unjust Steward".  In that story, a guy who is essentially an accountant and manager, working for a wealthy businessman, is dishonest, crooked, manipulative, selfish, shrewd, and worse.  The guy ends up getting fired, yet he still "finagles" things so that he comes out smelling like a rose to a number of people, and guarantees a secure future for himself.  And, the passage, spoken by Jesus Himself, praises the guy!

Another troubling passage is found in Mark 7:24-30 where Jesus and his disciples are visiting in Gentile territory northwest of Galilee.  There, a Gentile woman comes to Jesus asking Him to cast a demon out of her daughter.  He tells her He really came to minister to the Jews, and that He's not going to "take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs";  in other words, he makes a disparaging remark to her regarding her ethnicity and gives the impression He's not going to help her.

Still another is one my son Jon showed me when he was in elementary school.  He was pointing out that adults often tell children that they should have, "a Christlike attitude".  Yet, in John chapter 2, Jesus makes a whip, and pretty violently goes after the moneychangers in the Temple and throws them out.  Jon pointed out that most grown-ups would say Jesus did not "have a Christlike attitude" there!

Now, in all fairness, there are explanations for each of those passages.  Jesus really wasn't saying we should literally behave like the unjust steward.  He was pointing out that ironically people in the world often know how to use all sorts of things in their lives to their advantage, whereas many times God's children are naive and clueless and miss many wonderful opportunities that God hands to them, essentially on a silver platter.  Regarding the Gentile woman in Mark 7, Jesus did give her what she wanted- the demon was cast out of her daughter.  Some have said He may have been speaking to her sort of in a "tongue-in-cheek" manner.  And, regarding the John 2 "Cleansing of the Temple", I once heard someone say, "Jesus went into the Temple and acted like He owned the place!"  Well, considering (as Christian doctrine says) Jesus is God - He did "own the place"!

My point here is to say, whether on the political right or on the political left, maybe we should drop a lot of this "speaking for Jesus" stuff!  And, maybe we should all spend time reading the Gospels and asking the Holy Spirit to "open up" the meaning of what we're reading to us!  The final passage I will leave you to think about is Matthew 7:21-23.  In that passage, very religious and zealous people stand before Jesus in the afterlife boasting of all their great service to Him.  Jesus tells them to depart from Him, and says, "I never knew you".

I have a strange feeling that experience of being embarrassed before the Lord may be in the future for a number of zealous people on the political right and for a number of zealous people on the political left. 

Do you disagree?  Well remember, "Never assume!".

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A PLACE AT THE TABLE

"Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment."  (John 7:24)

Just when you think you've "heard it all" regarding "political correctness" and "progressive intolerance", well, that's when you realize you haven't; and that's when you get the news that the scales have tipped so far to an extreme that the Founding Fathers must surely be "turning over in their graves"!  Such was the case with me on Thursday night when I turned into Dan Rea's "Nightside" radio program on Boston's WBZ 1030 A.M. radio.

Dan's guest during the 10 p.m. hour was the Rev. Dr. John Tamilio.  Tamilio's been a guest several times on "Nightside".  He's a man of amazing talents and accomplishments; a Professor at Salem State University, an attorney, and he serves as Pastor of the Congregational Church of Canton.  A very intelligent man, as well as a fine speaker, Tamilio is always an interesting guest on the show.  The topic on Thursday night floored me- so much so that I called in and spoke to Tamilio and Rea on the air.  It seems the Rev. Tamilio offered the invocation at the Canton High graduation this past spring.  He read the actual words of his prayer on Thursday night's program.  It was a very generic and inclusive prayer, not mentioning Jesus or Christian doctrine.  The prayer focused on asking a blessing on the graduates and that they would go on to serve others.  In closing, Tamilio asked the audience for a "joyous Amen".  I chuckled in that he even referenced the CHS mascot (the Bulldog) in a humorous way as part of the prayer.  I'm a 1972 Canton High graduate and I loved it!

Not everyone loved Tamilio's prayer, however.  Someone contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Wisconsin who sent a letter to the Canton Superintendent of Schools demanding that all invocations, benedictions, prayers, and religious rituals be banned from any part of any school ceremonies.  The Canton Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller quickly "caved in" to this request and that was that.

Well, that was that, at least for now.

The Rev. Dr. Tamilio is a very likable and informative gentleman, but he's no marshmallow!  Tamilio intends to fight this.  Dan Rea's on his side, as am I.  An article in the October 11, 2018 Canton Citizen newspaper states that the Canton Public Schools are merely following the mandate of the United States Supreme Court regarding this matter.  Now, I admit, Dan Rea and John Tamilio are each attorneys but I'm no legal scholar.  However, even if the paper's reporting about the Supreme Court's mandate is accurate, and I'm not sure that it is, I'm frankly happy that we now have a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.  I say, "Let's fight this thing all the way to the Supreme Court!  Wouldn't it be great to get a ruling from the current Court in favor of allowing inclusive and positive invocations and benedictions at graduations and public school functions?"

I think the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Canton Public Schools have picked on the wrong guy in attacking the Rev. Tamilio's prayer!  This may well have national historic ramifications, for once in the right direction in more ways than one, and I couldn't be happier!

And as a P.S. I want to add that a community's churches and synagogues as well as their clergy, along with Islamic centers and Hindu temples, for that matter, are all a vital part of a community's life, and absolutely should have a place at the table!  Didn't a famous liberal Democrat remind us that it takes a village?  Well, we're part of the village, and we're not going away with our tails between our legs!

To the Rev. Dr. John Tamilio, I say, I'm with you, Sir, and Godspeed!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

SHORT AND SWEET REGARDING DOUG IN AYER

"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces."  (Matthew 7:6)

These days I don't find a lot of time to post on my blog.  It's been over a couple of months since I've posted anything here.  I don't get a lot of opportunity to sit and write at a desktop computer, and I really don't want to be writing and posting items for my blog on my smart phone.  This will be brief, but it's just something I felt I needed to write.

Disclaimer:  This may make some folks really angry.  I expect some to call me a hater or a bigot, and possibly some will "unfriend" me on Facebook.  So be it.  Jesus Christ did not make everyone happy.  His crucifixion is a testimony to that fact.

There's a late night (well technically, it's "early morning") radio program on WBZ Boston (1030 AM) hosted by a guy who calls himself "Bradley Jay".  Bradley Jay is one of those guys who is somewhat like the words of an old nursery rhyme, in that, when he's good, he's very, very good - and when he's bad, he's horrid.  A few programs ago, he was horrid.

I would have called in, but there I was, resting in bed, "half asleep".  I don't want to call in to a radio show in that "half asleep" condition, as you can put yourself in a very vulnerable and undesirable position by doing that!  There are a number of "regulars" who call Bradley Jay's program, including Doug from Ayer (a community in north central Massachusetts).  Doug would probably best be described as a "Fundamentalist".  I probably agree with about ninety percent of Doug's theology, but have problems with about ten percent of it.  Doug is a strong proponent of the "young Earth" theory, for instance.  He believes creation is only a few thousand years old, and I don't believe that.  However, Doug does have a very good handle on the message of the New Testament;  on why Jesus Christ came to this world, on how a person comes into right relationship with God, and so forth.  Bradley Jay likes to argue with Doug and with people like Doug.

Well, a few programs ago, Doug called in.  Bradley proceeded to lecture Doug that God would be much more pleased with Bradley than with Doug because Bradley does good works for the sake of doing good works but Doug serves God for fear of going to Hell.  Honestly, Doug did not handle himself well on that call!  He was no match for Bradley Jay.  Doug even told Bradley Jay that God does bad things but it's O.K because He's God and He does not have to follow the same rules that humanity has to follow.  That's absolutely WRONG!  I felt bad for Doug because Bradley Jay "walked all over him".  I don't know where Doug goes to church, but if I was Doug's pastor, I'd tell him to stop calling Bradley Jay's program.  I'd tell him to live for God and to share with his family and friends about how the Lord Jesus Christ has changed his life, but to not put himself in a position of being verbally torn apart over the airwaves by Bradley Jay.  The Scripture I base that on is the one I opened this blog post with!  Am I calling Bradley Jay "swine"?  Well, Jesus Christ died on the cross for Bradley Jay and Jesus Christ loves Bradley Jay, but in a sense, yes I am calling him that.  When a person runs roughshod over a sincere Believer that is obviously not up to his intellectual level; well what would you call that?!

And, what would I say to Bradley?  He and other callers went on to talk about their beliefs that "good" people go to Heaven.  This is the part that will make some people "unfriend" me.  It's not true that "good" people go to Heaven!  Nobody is good enough to go to Heaven!  Nobody!  Well, to be technical one is good enough to go to Heaven, and that's the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Bible says only perfect people go to Heaven.  That's found in Matthew 5:48 which is a very tough verse to accept!  I'm not perfect!  I've never lived a perfect life for even a day!  Neither have you!  Neither has Bradley Jay!  That's why we need the Lord Jesus Christ!  He is perfect!  He died on the cross, taking our place!  He paid the penalty for our sins!  When we receive Him (John 1:12) His righteousness is counted as our righteousness and because of Him, we are able to go to Heaven - if we receive Him.
That's the message of the Gospel.  It's largely a hated message.  It's hated because it means we have to admit that we don't measure up, and can never measure up.  We have to admit there's nothing in us deserving of Heaven.  No, Doug is not an intellectual giant, and no he didn't do so well on the air the other night, but yes, he has received Jesus Christ as his Personal Savior and Lord, and yes, for that reason Doug will be in Heaven.

That's my two cents on the subject and that's what I was too sleepy to call and tell Bradley Jay the other night (or is it "the other morning"?)!

Monday, May 14, 2018

WHAT I'D SAY IF I SPOKE AT THE MARIAN HIGH GRADUATION

"But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."  (Luke 2:19)

At the outset I will state that it's probably much more likely I'd be struck by lightning than that I'd be asked to speak at the Marian High graduation!  This is just a piece about if I were speaking at the Marian High graduation!  It's purely hypothetical.  I'm a Protestant.  I'm an Ordained minister.  My theology differs from Roman Catholic theology- in some instances, it differs quite a bit!  I am not a celebrity.  I don't have a list of great monumental life achievements.  And, I'd expect that like all schools, if there is a special speaker for Marian's 2018 graduation, certainly that speaker was chosen many months ago.  But one can dream.  This has been a very difficult year for Marian High School.  On April 3, 2018, it was officially announced by the Marian school board that the school would close at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.  A group of committed parents valiantly went to work in an effort to save the school.  In my opinion, they did an outstanding job.  Many stepped forward in support of saving Marian High School.  On May 10, 2018, the Archdiocese of Boston formally announced that despite the efforts of the Save Marian organization, the school would absolutely be closing in June 2018.  My wife has been employed in the office at Marian, I think, since 2005.  My three kids graduated from Marian, in 2001, 2003, and 2005 respectively.  Despite the fact that I left the Catholic church over forty years ago, my wife and I found that Marian was a great fit for our family. There is so much I could say, but without further ado, here is what I'd say if I were speaking at graduation:

This graduation day brings more than the usual rush of emotions, both of great happiness and ecstasy and of nostalgic sadness.  Until April 3 of this year, who of us would have believed this would be Marian's final Graduation Day?  I'm the only one of our family who never actually attended Marian High nor worked at Marian High, that is, unless you count my volunteer time when my kids were here.  I haven't lived in Framingham since 2010.  So, you'd think this wouldn't be quite as difficult a day as it is for my wife and grown kids.  But let me tell you, it is!  However, my speaking here today does underscore a great truth:  Scripture says in Luke 1:37, "For with God nothing shall be impossible."

To those who worked to save the school and feel you failed, remember those words!  I actually have a Marian High School 2017 key ring.  I will keep that key ring until it is so worn and tarnished that it falls apart!  The buildings may be closed up.  The physical property may become something totally different.  But in the sense of that film, "We Are Marshall", every one of us who's ever been a part of Marian High School will go on and it can always be said of us that, "We Are Marian!".

I'm a Protestant minister and I'm speaking at the Marian High graduation!  If that's not God, if that's not impossible, I don't know what is!  And, I'm going to say some things today that are most unusual for a Protestant minister:  I'm going to speak about Mary!  Now, that wouldn't be at all unusual for a Catholic, but it's very unusual for a Protestant.   You see, Protestants don't tend to teach or preach or speak about Mary.  I pastored a small Protestant church in Framingham for over twenty years.  In all that time, I don't think I ever gave a single sermon about Mary.  Oh, we'll mention Mary briefly at Christmastime, or briefly in teaching on the incident of Jesus in the Temple as a twelve-year-old.  But we don't talk about Mary, because it just plan sounds too Catholic!  And that's a shame, because we evangelical Protestants claim to be people of the Bible, and you can't be any more of a "person of the Bible" than Mary!  So today I'm speaking about Mary.  It's fitting because this is Marian High School, named for Mary.  And let me say this:  If you'll truly follow the example Mary sets for us in the Bible throughout your lives, you'll be outstanding and godly men and women!

I want to briefly tell you six things about Mary from the Bible today:

Number One; Mary Was Faithful to God's Plan.  We don't have time, but sometime in the next few days, take some time and read Luke's Gospel chapter one.  The verse about nothing being impossible with God that I cited comes from that chapter.  Tradition tells us Mary was a teenager when she was visited by the Angel Gabriel and told that she would be the virgin mother of the Messiah, Jesus!  Wow!  Have you ever thought about how difficult that all must have been for her?  Everybody thought she "fooled around" before marriage.  In many quarters, she was disgraced and disdained.  But she said, "Yes" to Gabriel and "Yes" to God!  Would you say "Yes" to God, no matter what that meant?  Most people wouldn't but Mary did!  She was faithful.  She was a giant of faith!  Will you be a giant of faith like Mary?  Will you say "Yes" to God no matter what that means?

Number Two; Mary Was Obedient to God's Word.  In Luke 1:38, Mary said to the Angel Gabriel, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me accouding to thy word".  Mary said, "If God's Word, says it, I want to do it, I want to obey it!"  Do you obey God's Word?  My late father would have said, "It doesn't take a college degree to see that most people don't!"  Well, it doesn't take a college degree or a high school diploma to see that most people don't desire to obey God's Word, but if you will be a person who honors and obeys God's Word, there will be great blessings for you!

Number Three; Mary Was a Prophetic Voice.  Now that may sound a little spooky.  You may say, "Well wait a minute, Pastor Bob, I'm just an ordinary person, I can't speak as a prophet or a prophetess!"  I'm not talking about any foolish, crackpot nonsense here!  In the cults and in false religions there's plenty of that.  But Mary was a prophetic voice.  Have you ever read The Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1 verses 46-55?  It's one of the most beautiful portions of Scripture in which Mary speaks both poetically and prophetically!  Listen, you don't have to be a Billy Graham or a Mother Teresa to speak prophetically.  It just means you know God and you walk with God and you vocally speak what God wants you to speak.  Do you know what was the greatest thing about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr?  It's not all that leadership in the civil rights movement, as great as that was.  It was King's prophetic voice that sparked his actions in the civil rights movement!  Do you know who Corrie Ten Boom was?  She was a Dutch watchmaker who rescued countless Jews during World War 2.  She wrote several books which speak prophetically.  Like King, her prophetic voice led to her actions.  There's so much more I could say about this, but there are kids here who can and will change the world if they'll really get to know God, speak with a prophetic voice, and then let that lead to action.

Number Four; Mary Was Reflective of God's Wonders.  Luke 2:19 says of Mary that she, "...kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."  "All these things" was all she had seen and experienced God say and do.  She thought about this stuff.  She reflected on it.  She meditated on it.  And it affected her in a very positive way; and then she affected others in a very positive way!  What do you think about?  Listen, we all think about a lot of stupid or worthless things!  I do!  Great people think about a lot more than stupid and worthless things.  They think about what really matters!  There's a discipline to that!  Somebody says, "But Pastor Bob, I'm only a teenager!"  Listen, Mary was only a teenager, but she kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart!  Do you want to be like everybody else?  Some of  you do want that.  That's too bad.  But if some of you will discipline how you spend your time and talents, and what you think about and what you give your attention you, you'll inspire others and you'll motivate others, and you'll change your world!

Number Five; Mary Was Longsuffering and Committed to Christ.  John's Gospel tells us Mary was there at the cross when Jesus was crucified.  Can you imagine the sorrows she experienced?  The woman's name Dolores literally means "sorrows" in Spanish, and specifically refers to the sorrows of the Virgin Mary.  There's a line from the movie "Field of Dreams" that I love.  It's when the voice says to Ray the main character, "Go the distance!"  Most people don't "go the distance".  When the going gets tough, most people get going, meaning they leave!!  Not Mary!  Did you ever stop to think she could have been jailed or even killed?  She didn't care.  She was "all in" when it came to her faith.  She was willing to "go the distance".  Most people are not willing to "go the distance" with God.  Are you willing to be like Mary?  Are you willing to "go the distance"?  If you will, you'll be one of the heroes of the faith!  No kidding!

Number Six; Mary Looked to Jesus Christ for Help.  Do you remember the first miracle Jesus performed?  It was the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana in John chapter two.  There was a real crisis at this wedding.  They were running out of wine.  Mary did not know what to do, so she turned to Jesus.  Then she told the servants in John 2:5, "...Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."  And the rest is history!  Need help?  Jesus is the answer.  I remember when I used to volunteer in the Health Room way back around 2000 I'd hear the Religion teacher Mrs. Cunis leading her classes in what she called, "The Miracle Prayer".  She taught them this prayer over and over.  Mrs. Cunis told her classes, "In life,  if you're ever in a crisis, pray this prayer."  Here is what she taught them to pray, "Jesus, I'm a sinner.  I can't save myself.  I need you, Jesus.  I need help Jesus.  I believe you died on the cross for me and I believe you rose from the dead.  I ask you to come into my heart.  I ask you to come into my life.  I ask you be be my Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Amen".    That's a great prayer.  If you pray that prayer, you'll be like Mary.  You'll ask Jesus for help.  I don't say that life will be easy.  It may be very hard.  But the Lord will be with you.  The Lord will help you, and the Lord will see you through.

Yes, if you'll truly follow the example Mary sets for us in the Bible, you'll be outstanding and godly men and women.  God bless you!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

"THANK YOU, JOHN McCAIN!"

"Render therefore to all their dues: ... honour to whom honour." (from Romans 13:7)

I've really debated within myself whether to write and post this piece.  Over the years I've written and posted some items online that I really believed had great significance and would have a great impact.  At least- that was my hope!  Shortly after Senator Edward Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer, I wrote an open letter to him online.  It was a pretty well-written piece.  I'm sure he never saw it; it got very few "hits", and it probably made no impact.  Earlier this year, I wrote an open letter to President Trump, and that one is pretty much in the same category.  Interestingly enough, I did once post an item on my blog that got over 5,000 "hits".  That was a piece stating my thoughts and opinions about Boston radio talk show host Jay Severin and his program.  Frankly, most of my posts never get 200 "hits" and may never get 75 "hits".

So, I really debated this one, wondering if even one hundred people would read it, wondering if anyone would "share" it on social media, wondering if anyone would forward the link to it to their friends, wondering frankly if anyone would even remotely care!

I decided that the words from Romans chapter 13 that I opened with indicate that I absolutely must write this piece and post it online!

It can be kind of embarrassing to be sort of obsessed with a celebrity.  I wouldn't want people to really think of me in that way; as the kind of guy waiting to get a celebrity's autograph, or the kind of guy who'd be blushing and spilling his glass of water while stuttering nervously and attempting to shake a celebrity's hand.  But today I'm admitting that's the way I feel about John McCain.  In answer to one of those questions asking what celebrity you'd like to go to dinner and a ball game with, for me, my number one choice is John McCain.  When Billy Graham was alive, he probably would have been my number one choice, and I don't know what some of you will be thinking after you read this, but my other choices are (in this order):  Robert Duvall, Jimmy Swaggart, Mike Pence, Rob Gronkowski, and lastly Dr. Phil Mcgraw.

I first became fascinated and obsessed with John McCain during his run for the 2000 Republican Presidential nomination.  The more I saw and learned about John McCain, the more impressed I was and the more fascinated I became.  Then, at some point, I watched a television drama about his early life, particularly his six-year imprisonment in Hanoi during the Vietnam conflict.  Many of my friends know I don't like to post about politics on social media.  That's why when Donald Trump said that John McCain was not a hero "because he was captured",  I merely wrote on Facebook that it made me "sad".  Today, I really regret downplaying that.  Now, I did (somewhat reluctantly) vote for Donald Trump for President in 2016 and I will probably vote for him again in 2020.  But that remark was so inappropriate and so insensitive that it still boggles my mind that it was said.  And, the comment from the Trump staffer this week to the effect that, "he's dying so what does it matter"... well that comment was perhaps even worse.  It was this week's comment that moved me to write this piece, even though I may look foolish to some people.  (Honestly, with all I've said and done in my life, I probably look foolish already, so I guess it won't hurt to write this!)

Can you guess I'm one of those preachers who can be known for giving long introductions in his sermons and for using lengthy illustrations in his sermons?!   So far, this is only the introduction!  Now I will attempt to get to what I really want to say.

I guess I will never meet John McCain.  I guess we will never have dinner together and go to a ball game or some other event.  That's too bad.  Maybe we'd have nothing in common.  I wouldn't have lasted twenty-four hours in that "Hanoi Hilton" before I would have been crying like a baby!  I would never have had the guts to do so much of what he did in life!  Listen, I know he has a number of personal failures in his life, too.  But John McCain is a great hero in my eyes.  The first thing I would have done is saluted him.  The second thing I would have done is shake his hand and tell him I'm very proud of him.  I would have told him I voted for him for President in the 2000 and 2008 Massachusetts Republican primaries, as well as in the November 2008 Presidential election.  I would have told him about my mother, the late Virginia M. Baril.  She was a lifelong Democrat.  In 2000, just a few months before her death, she changed her party status in Massachusetts from "Democrat" to "unenrolled" so she'd be able to vote for John McCain in the Republican primary.  And, I'd tell him my sister Dianne feels the same way and admires John McCain as much as I do - maybe more!   I'd probably have asked him questions about the current political scene and about his military service.  And, I'd probably just have asked some general questions about things he likes to do, places he's visited or would like to visit, favorite books and movies, and things like that.  Finally, I would have clearly talked about my personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and how it's God who is my purpose and reason for being "twenty-four/seven".

Will John McCain ever read this?  I don't know.

I've certainly prayed for him.  And, I've admired his daughter Meghan McCain and the strong stand she took on The View to defend Mike Pence and his faith.  I think in my last moment with John McCain at our "meeting" I'd have quickly (and a little nervously) said, "Can I just briefly pray for you?" and if he'd allow it, I'd have laid my hand on his shoulder and prayed a very heartfelt prayer.

If there's been some miracle, and he's reading this, I say "THANK YOU, JOHN McCAIN", and I add that a lot of people love you, respect you, and are praying for you.

Monday, April 30, 2018

THE STRANGE CASE OF PAUL RYAN & FR. PATRICK CONROY

"Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24)

I believe it was last Friday when I heard a very strange news story reported on television.  I honestly don't remember which national news broadcast I was tuned into at the time, but it was reported that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had fired the Chaplain of the House of Representatives!  It was also reported that in all the years they've had chaplains in the House, none of them have ever been fired.  I must say the idea that the Chaplain of the House would be fired seemed most bizarre!  Of course, I wondered what very serious offense could possibly have caused such an event to take place!

I'd honestly had no idea of the identity of the Chaplain of the House.  It was reported that the person who'd been forced to resign was a Roman Catholic priest.  His name is Father Patrick Conroy.  Conroy states that after a pleasant seven years of serving in that position, a public prayer he prayed last autumn stirred things up quite a bit.  If you do an on-line search, you can easily find more details about this, and you can read the exact words of the prayer, as well.  The gist of the prayer is that Fr. Conroy hoped that whatever the results of pending legislation there would be only winners and no losers among the poor.  The priest says he was confronted by the Speaker shortly after he uttered that prayer and was told that there had been complaints that his prayer was "too partisan".  He believes that's the issue which led to his resignation being requested a couple of weeks ago.  Speaker Ryan has told reporters that wasn't the case at all; that the real issue was that Fr. Conroy was not providing effective pastoral care to the members of the House.

During the first twenty-four hours after I heard this story reported, there were a number of posts which popped up on Facebook.  Most were from Facebook friends of mine that tend to be "progressive" in their political and social views and tend to vote for Democrats.  Father Conroy was portrayed as the epitome of a totally selfless man who'd lay down his life for the poor, while Speaker Ryan was portrayed as, well, at best Eddie Munster and at worst, Satan.

Now, don't get me wrong here!  I had no problem with the words of Fr. Conroy's prayer.  And, just to make sure I wasn't missing something, I "ran this by" a couple of my evangelical Protestant friends who also had no problem with the words of Fr. Conroy's prayer.  I had strongly considered posting something very critical of Speaker Ryan, myself.  I mean, we evangelicals (and Ryan's a Catholic, incidentally) are constantly saying we want more prayer, more Bible reading, more acknowledgement of God in public life, etc.  So, even if Fr. Conroy is a liberal and had a political agenda in praying that prayer (and we don't know if that's the case) it would seem foolhardy to fire a chaplain for something like that, whether he's a priest, or a rabbi, or a Unitarian-Universalist minister, or whomever he or she is!

But...
After thinking about it for a few days, I will admit that Speaker Ryan's stated reason for asking for the Chaplain's resignation seems very, very weak, but I really don't know the facts, and I doubt that the people posting about it on Facebook do either!

I guess what strikes me as ironic is that so many (but not all) of the people who came to the priest's defense were those who usually won't come to any clergyperson's defense!  Somebody did post that James Madison back in the day very much did not want chaplains in Congress and that maybe this is proof that Madison was right.  Maybe.  Or maybe it's making some folks see that clergy who speak and pray with a prophetic voice- whether they're registered Republicans or Democrats, and whether they're liberals or conservatives - bring something very positive and very important "to the table" in a society where that moral and spiritual voice is typically not welcome.

Yes, the case of Paul Ryan and Fr. Patrick Conroy is indeed strange and it will be interesting to see who replaces the priest in the House, and whether the position of Chaplain comes to be considered of more significance and importance than has previously been the case!


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

JENNIFER B. ASKS THE $64,000 QUESTION

"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God:  for they are foolishness unto him:  neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."  (I Corinthians 2:14)

This morning I noticed an interesting question which had been posted on Facebook by one of my Facebook friends.  I'm not sure if she'd want me using her whole name or not, so I'll call just use her last name's initial and call her "Jennifer B."  I have something like two hundred and fifty Facebook friends.  There are probably not many more than twenty that I'd consider fairly close friends, although I have met Jennifer B. one time a few years ago.  It was at a venue where I was the guest speaker.  Here's her question, exactly as she worded it:

"Why do people find God so offensive!?  I don't believe in lots of things or behaviors so I go on with my life.  Why can't OTHER PEOPLE do the same when it comes to God?"

My sister has asked me a similar question at times, although my sister's "question" is more of a statement.  She often says, "I can't understand why so many people want nothing to do with God.  I just don't get it!"

I know my Adult Sunday School class is far away for many of you.  (It is at Bread of Life Church in Westminster, MA)  Ironically, during last Sunday's class we discussed something along the line of why people just ignore God, don't take Him seriously, and don't want anything to do with Him.  (The class right now is on Ezekiel, which is kind of a tough book, and the lesson was on God's judgment falling.  Yeah, a tough topic, but we actually got into a really interesting discussion!)  Jennifer B. got thirty-one "likes" for her post, and if my count was correct, she got sixteen comments.  I was one of the people who commented.  I wrote that many people want to be totally free and independent.  The idea of a Supreme Being to whom they're supposed to be accountable makes them very uncomfortable and they recoil at such a thought.  Many also see "religious" people as "repressive" and "trying to ruin their lives" etc.  I closed my comment by saying they fail to understand John 3:16!

If you want to understand what I mean about John 3:16 I recommend you go to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's website (you can find it pretty easily with any online search) and watch any one of Billy Graham's sermons.  They all pretty much have the same theme:  That God is actually not some horrible cosmic jerk.  Rather God is love.  He loved us so much that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins and purchase our eternal salvation.  I know.  Most modern sophisticated Americans and Europeans don't want to hear that message.  They tend to recoil at the idea of a bloody dead Savior dying on a cross as, (to use a word that the late Senator Robert Byrd made famous in a Senate speech) "barbaric!".  In fact, as one song puts it, "There is No Greater Love".

I know that born-again Christians sometimes do "turn people off".  Sometimes Christians can be loud, obnoxious, negative, and condemning.  They mean well, but I know it can be hard to take.  Honestly, I've been a born-again Christian for over forty-seven years, and I probably spent almost twenty of those years as a hand wagging, condemning legalistic Christian.  I'm so sorry for that!  I meant well, but I forgot about God's love and focused on sinners being punished, etc.  Ironically, a fellow Assemblies of God minister had a little talk with me one evening about my legalistic ways somewhere around 1991, and that little talk caused me to "do a one-eighty" in how I approached "unbelievers"! 

It's not at all my purpose to make this a long boring lecture, so I'm about to wrap it up.  But Jennifer B.'s question really resonated with me today.  Those who have received Jesus Christ as their Personal Savior and Lord and who have had their lives transformed by Him are so eternally grateful!  Sometimes, we just have a very hard time understanding those who frankly don't seem to care about God's love or their eternal destiny.  So, I decided to write about that today.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

BRENDAN SEITZ (Marian High) "REACHES FOR THE STARS"!

"...The things which are impossible with man are possible with God." (from Luke 18:27)

For friends, family, students, parents, and alumni of Marian High School of Framingham, Massachusetts, to borrow from the words of F.D.R.:  Yesterday, April 3, 2018, was a day which shall live in infamy!  Yesterday, the President and official board of Marian High School announced that the school is closing at the end of this school year.  The news was sad and shocking.  My wife, Mary Ann, has been the Administrative Assistant at Marian for well over ten years.  We joke that she, "makes Marian run"!  I hope no one at the school is offended by my saying that, but she really does!  All three of my now grown children graduated from Marian.  During the past (at least) nineteen years, I've been very close to the school in many ways.

I never thought I'd be so involved with a Roman Catholic high school, or that my wife would become a long time employee of the school.  I'm an Assemblies of God minister, and I pastored a small AG church in Framingham for many years.  Much to my parents' dismay, I parted ways with the Catholic Church as a very young man.  I'd become a "born again Christian" as a teenager, and just felt much more at home attending Baptist or Assemblies of God churches.  Mary Ann was raised attending a Baptist church.  Especially as a younger man, I was quick to argue against "praying to Mary" or "Purgatory" or "salvation by keeping the sacraments".  I recall that one September day around thirty years ago, the Assemblies of God had asked its ministers to drive onto their local high school campuses and just spend a few minutes praying for the schools.  I went to a few local high schools.  I still remember feeling kind of foolish praying there in the Marian parking lot!  God must have been laughing, because as I drove away I felt no connection to the place, but He knew what the future held for our family!

During the early 1990s, several teens from our church attended Marian.  At first, I asked their parents, "Don't you have to be Catholic to go to Marian?" I was surprised to learn that was not the case.  I also found that the kids who attended Marian were frankly "a cut above" their peers in every way.  That's the biggest reason we sent our kids to Marian and we weren't sorry we did!  I could get very teary as I talk about the wonderful teachers they had, the friendships they made, and the wonderful activities they enjoyed at the school.  I can't say enough good things about Marian's outstanding Drama and English teacher, Mr. Stephen Flynn.  He's a "class act" and a total professional!  My kids loved the Marian Mainstagers!  Rachel '05 went on to major in Theater at Westfield State and she's come back to help Mr. Flynn with some of the productions.

I was at Marian High School on 9/11/2001.  In those days, because my kids were on financial aid, I volunteered in the Development Office on my day off.  What a day it was!  At that time, Father Sheridan of St. Cecelia's Church in Ashland was the school chaplain.  He came into the school and ran a last period assembly in the auditorium, leading us in prayer and reflection, and bringing comforting words to all.  I was so emotional and upset about 9/11 that I marveled at what a great job he did!  I later told him that and he said, "Well, coming from you I take that as quite a compliment!"  It kind of reminds me of a scene from Robert Duvall's 1997 film, The Apostle.  Robert Duvall's character, a charismatic minister, is traveling in the Louisiana bayou area and sees a Catholic priest blessing a fishing fleet in French.  Duvall's character enthusiastically and happily says, "You do it your way and I do it my way, but we get it done, don't we?  We get it done!"  Yeah, Father Sheridan "got it done" on 9/11 and I will never forget it!

I will also never forget how gracious Religion teacher Colm McGarry (a native of Northern Ireland) was to have me in many times as a guest speaker for his classes.  Sometimes I talked about "The Pentecostal Movement" and sometimes I talked about "The Apostle Paul".  McGarry just couldn't understand why I would have left Catholicism for Protestantism, but he loved me and I loved him.  It was also a pleasure for my daughter Amy and I and a bunch of kids to join Mr. McGarry one evening in serving a meal at Boston's Pine Street Inn.

There's a fairly new documentary called, "Big Sacrifice, Big Dreams" .It's about the important role of faith-based schools in America.  You can find it on Youtube.  If you do and then scroll to around Minute 17, there's roughly a five minute piece about Marian High.  I hope you'll watch it;  it's great!  And, incidentally, a number of famous people attended Marian, including Attorney Jay Carney (Whitey Bulger's lawyer!) and the late teacher/astronaut Christa Corrigan McAuliffe.

At Marian, kids are often told to, "Reach For the Stars"!  That's a direct quote from Christa McAuliffe!  They're also told to live out their faith in practical ways.  I learned last night that the President of this year's Junior Class at Marian, Brendan Seitz has started a "Go Fund Me" page to try to save the school.  You can read about that at:

http://framinghamsource.com/index.php/2018/04/03/marian-high-junior-launches-gofundme-to-save-framingham-school-sets-goal-of-5-million/

I know.  A lot of people will roll their eyes.  How likely is it that Brendan Seitz will be successful?  The odds are certainly heavily against him.  But his action touched me very deeply.  I can't imagine taking such a step of faith and leadership as a kid of sixteen or seventeen.  But, Brendan Seitz exemplifies exactly what Marian High School is all about!  He's Reaching For the Stars, and he's practicing his faith in a very practical way!   Godspeed, Brendan Seitz!  Godspeed, Marian High School!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

CRIMSON OR CLOVER?

"...be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."  (from Matthew 10:16)

You may think that the title, Crimson or Clover? has a typographical error, but it does not.  Yes, I really meant it to be Crimson or Clover and not Crimson and Clover.  Most Baby Boomers will probably remember that Crimson and Clover was a hit song in the late 1960s by Tommy James and the Shondells.  In fact, I was reading this week on line that Tommy James first wrote the title and then the lyrics of the song.  He chose that title because crimson was his favorite color and clover was his favorite flower.  But this piece has nothing to do with the song, although for those of you who know the song, it will probably be an "ear worm" in your head for the rest of the day!

No, I chose the title for a very definite reason which you'll come to understand as you read this piece.  I looked up the definitions of both "crimson" and "clover".  Crimson is (frankly) the color of blood. It's defined as a deep red color which includes a slight purplish hue.  Clover is a plant and flower in the pea family.  I didn't know it was in the pea family.  There are three leaf clovers and there are four leaf clovers.  I was surprised to find on line the reason four leaf clovers are considered "lucky".  It said that comes from an old Christian tradition which says the four leaf clover represents the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, along with luck.  That's interesting, but I really don't like the whole concept of "luck".  It would take a different posting to explain why I don't like "luck", but I guess I'd rather think of the four leaf clover as symbolizing faith, hope, and love (love is charity, in fact "love" is a better translation of the original Greek word agape than is "charity"), along with blessings.  (Yes, I like the idea of "blessings from God" much more than "luck"!)

Crimson or clover?  How can one person's "clover" possibly be another person's "crimson"?  How can one person's beautiful field of soft green clover, symbolizing faith, hope, love, and blessings possibly be viewed by another person as a horrible gash in one's flesh- the result of an act of hatred and violence- gushing crimson blood?  In fact, that dichotomy actually happens, more than we might like to admit!

I have a friend that I'll call Doug.  That's not his real name.  He was estranged from a couple of family members for quite a long time.  That estrangement was deeply distressing and painful for him.  Doug is a committed Christian.  He has prayed for the miraculous healing and reconciliation of his relationship to the family members again and again.  Just a few days ago, a miracle happened!  In fact, they met, they talked; each of them "let their guard down" and there was a wonderful, miraculous restoration and healing of the relationships!  Doug's a lot like me.  He's very sensitive and he's very emotional.  He "wears his feelings on his sleeve".  As such, he's tended to innocently, "set himself up" to be badly hurt, as have I.  What did Doug do after that miraculous reconciliation?  Well, of course, he posted it on Facebook!  I will have to change the names and particulars of the family members, but his posting went something like this:

"I want to praise God that He has miraculously restored my relationship, not only with my cousin Bill but also with my daughter Renee!  We'd been completely at odds over a financial matter for several years.  We had not spoken.  The situation was hopeless.  But God has totally taken care of the problem. We've talked, and our relationship is healed!  I love my daughter Renee more than life itself!  And my cousin Bill is like a brother to me!  Thank God that He answered my prayers and restored us!"

Wow.  To Doug, that was total clover!   It was heaps of faith, hope, love, blessings and all good things for Bill and Renee.  He meant every word of it.  Doug genuinely loves his daughter and his cousin Bill.   Doug couldn't wait to shout it from the rooftops how much he loves them and how much he loves God!  Less than twenty-four hours later, I received a phone call from Doug.  He was stunned and devastated.  He'd heard from both Renee and Bill.  They were livid!  They viewed his posting as a selfish and mean betrayal!  To them, Doug had spat in their faces; he'd slashed their throats, leaving crimson blood spewing out, and mocking them before the entire world!

I had a heartfelt talk with Doug.  I asked if writing and posting that item on Facebook made him feel wonderful and happy inside.  It did!  I asked about his motives.  They were pure.  He couldn't in a million years have expected the response of Renee and Bill.  Doug was experiencing a crushing hurt that's difficult for me to explain, but I told Doug, I do understand!  Then I told him a story from my past.

You see, I'm also a guy who thinks and feels clover and not crimson!  In telling this story from my past I am also going to have to change some names and some details.  I had a friend I will call Vic.  Vic died four years ago.  Vic had quite a complicated life!  As a young man, he was extraordinarily successful.  He was a highly committed evangelical Christian.  He was very, very successful in his career.  He had quite a charismatic personality.  He had success seemingly just flowing from him!  People admired and loved him in the Boston suburb where he lived.  This was all during the 1980s when he was in his forties.  Later, Vic walked away from God.  Vic divorced his wife and remarried a much younger woman.  Vic moved to another state.  Vic committed a serious federal crime, and spent several years in a federal prison.  Vic later got out of prison and divorced his second wife.  Around the year 2000, Vic "came back to the Lord" as we born-again Christians like to put it.  He worked a humble job until his health failed.  He lived in an elderly housing facility in a blue-collar Boston suburb.  It would take a thousand words to tell of all the particulars, but around that time Vic became close to me.  I went through my own serious life crises around 2010.  That's when the church I'd pastored for years was closed and I nearly had a complete nervous breakdown.  I was in a bad way.  I will never forget, during that time, the day Vic called me.  I was totally distraught.  He spent a long time on the phone with me, just reassuring me and extending to me the love of Christ.  He promised to be there for me no matter what time, day or night.  He encouraged me that I could look to a brighter future and did not have to be despondent.  Even as I write these words, I'm almost in tears.  I can't begin to tell you how much Vic came to mean to me.

In early 2014, Vic died.  He was a very controversial person.  I knew that many people absolutely loved him and that many other people absolutely despised him!  It really bothered me that so many people despised Vic- that so many did not believe he'd really come back to God and died as a kind and wonderful Christian man.  I paid what I believed would be the finest tribute I could give to him.  I wrote a piece on my blog on the day he died- just like I'm doing right now.  I very bluntly stated who Vic was and what he'd done, good and bad.  I wrapped it up talking about what a wonderful friend Vic had been to me.  I consider that the day he spent the hour on the phone counseling me, he saved my life!  I ended by writing, "Vic, I love you!"

I must admit, I was so proud of that piece!  It was one of the finest things I'd ever written!  I was so glad to get the definitive word about Vic out in public!  And, once I put it out on my blog, I did get a lot of feedback.  A number of folks contacted me. They told me how much that piece had meant to them and how positive it made them feel about Vic.  So many were so happy to learn that despite his failures, Vic had died as a wonderful committed Christian and a wonderful friend.

I fully expected to hear from Vic's family- from either his first wife or one of his grown children.  Of course, they'd love what I'd written!  I wondered which part of my post they'd appreciate the best.  I knew I'd probably be asked to say a few words during Vic's funeral service.  Maybe I'd even be asked to read my blog posting at the funeral!  The next day, I received a phone call from Vic's oldest son, Andy.  Boy, was I excited to hear from him!  It did surprise me, though, that Andy didn't sound very happy.  In fact, he was very matter-of-fact.  It was almost like talking to Jack Webb from the old Dragnet television show.  Andy, Vic's son, told me he and his siblings were very unhappy with what I'd put out on the internet.  He said they were getting calls from many of their friends who had no idea their father had committed a crime and gone to prison.  They were really upset.  Firmly, Andy told me to take my post down.

I was crushed.  Despite all I'd been through over several years, nothing had crushed me like Vic's son Andy's phone call.  Honestly, over the past decade, nothing before or since has crushed me like that!  I took the post down.  I seriously thought about making a copy of it to hold onto.  But I didn't.  I did go to the funeral, but I was embarrassed and uncomfortable.  You see, to me, that tribute piece to Vic was clover all the way.  It was faith, and hope, and love, and blessings.  But to Vic's grown kids, I'd just hacked them apart with a machete and spilled their blood all over the Boston suburbs!

This is very unscientific, but I'd guess around 95% of people are more like those who have a crimson outlook in matters such as I've described here and maybe 5% are the clover folks.  Are the crimson and the clover like oil and water?  Can they ever come together?  Can they ever understand and appreciate each other?

I think so.  At least, I hope so!  I do have some thoughts for each.  If you're a crimson, like most people, please try to understand we clovers!  It's O.K. to tell us it was embarrassing and hurtful that we said or wrote something that you found appalling, but please try to do it in an attitude of love and pleasantness and not with anger and hostility.  Please...?  It's O.K. to tell us, and we need to learn from it, but there's a right way and a wrong way to tell us, believe me!  And, if you're a clover like me and like Doug, you've got to pay attention to that Bible verse I opened with.  You know, if Doug's posting had been something like this:

"I'm so thankful for the immediate family and the extended family God has given me!  I love them and I love God for giving them to me!"

I think it would have accomplished what he wanted to accomplish without the hostile reaction that followed.  And if I had used Vic's initials in my piece instead of his full first and last name, or if I'd have given him a fictitious name, but it would have been pretty obvious to anyone who'd known the whole story of Vic that I was talking about him, it probably wouldn't have set off the friends of Vic's children, and I probably would have gotten away with writing and posting it!

Frankly, there's a lot more I could write, but I think I'm going to leave it at that!  I do hope a lot of people read this and I do hope a lot of people will think about this!  I guess this is being very manipulative, but writing a piece such as this is gut wrenching!  And, there's only one thing worse than getting negative feedback about a piece such as this:  That's getting no feedback at all!  I am amazed when I write a heartfelt piece such as this that gets no comments at the blog site or on Facebook, and generates no "likes" or "shares" or personal e-mails to me!  I would love it if you'd comment or "like" or "share" or send me an e-mail or a message, or send the link to this post to friends of yours!  I can't tell you how much I'd appreciate it, and I hope you'll receive that as clover and not as crimson!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

THANKFUL FOR THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF BILLY GRAHAM!

"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise."  (Proverbs 11:30)

February 21, 2018.  On this date, the world lost a great "soul winner"- The Rev. Billy Graham!  I learned from one of my Facebook friends early this morning that Billy Graham had passed from this life into Heaven; and soon thereafter I posted something on my Facebook timeline about the powerful impact Billy Graham had on my life.  After several hours of reflecting about that, I felt I really needed to put something more detailed on my blog, so here it is!

I want to try to be careful as I do write this.  I believe I could very easily be misunderstood.  There is no doubt in my mind that Billy Graham would not want to be placed on a pedestal.  He was a fallible human being just like we are.  He was a sinner, just like all the rest of us, except the Lord Jesus Christ.  I'm sure he had plenty of quirks like most of us do.  Thus, I don't want anyone to think I'm calling for people to exalt Billy Graham; to put him on the level of "Saints" depicted on church stained glass windows; to be venerated as a prophet, or anything of the kind.  No, I'm not for that at all!  But Billy Graham is very important because despite his shortcomings, he humbly said "yes" to God and humbly preached the Gospel and served His Lord and Savior for many decades.  As one of my friends pointed out on Facebook, his personal morality was impeccable.  There were no scandals involving women or money which seem to follow the lives of so many televangelists.  His family and friends, and even many of his detractors confess that when it came to the whole thing of living for God and honoring God, he was the real deal!

I never met Billy Graham "up close and personal".  I did see him "live" at his crusade at Boston's Nickerson Field in 1982.  Mary Ann and I were engaged to be married in those days.  We each served as "Counselors" at that crusade (meaning we were available to pray with people who came forward for prayer and ministry following Mr. Graham's sermon).  I was privileged to attend the Billy Graham School of Evangelism just outside Montreal, Quebec in June of 1990.  Lest the name confuse you, it was really a conference for pastors and active Christian workers which infused attendees with a number of ideas about church growth and creative evangelism.  Billy Graham wasn't there, but a number of his closest associates were actively involved in this conference including Cliff Barrows.  It was a great time!

No, I never met Billy Graham "up close and personal" but he really did touch my life.  I first heard Billy preach on television in late 1969.  I was fifteen-years-old at the time.  Our family were active church-attending Roman Catholics.  I very firmly believed in God, but I honestly can't say I had any "Personal relationship with Jesus Christ".  Honestly, I had a mouth like a cesspool.  With my friends it was "F-this" and "F-that".  I thought abortion was a great idea.  Well, why should you have a kid you don't want?  I thought marijuana was just fine.  Listen, I never smoked it, only because my father would have killed me!  Lest you think I was a very "cool" kid- I wasn't!  I had absolutely no athletic ability at all.  Yes, I was one of those last three or four kids picked for teams in Phys. Ed class.  My father and brother were gifted mechanics- guys who could take any automobile engine all apart and put it back together.  I had absolutely no mechanical ability at all!  I was socially awkward.  My strict father wouldn't let his kids wear "cool" clothes, so I looked like a classic nerd!  I wasn't popular.  Truthfully, I didn't like myself very much!

I didn't meet Billy Graham in person, but boy, that night I felt like I'd really met Billy Graham and I also was introduced to a version of Jesus Christ who was much more than a swear word!  In Mark 1:22 it says the people were amazed at Jesus' teaching because He spoke as one with "authority" and "not as the scribes".  That's how it was for me that night.  I heard a man who preached the Bible with authority- "Thus saith the Lord!"  In all those years at the Catholic church, I'd never heard anything like it!

No, my life did not immediately change, but Billy Graham had given me a lot to think about.  Some months later I became friends with a kid named George.  He amazed me in that he didn't swear, he didn't tell dirty jokes, and he lived what seemed to be a very good life.  The kid turned out to be a born-again Christian.  I asked him scores of questions and he ended up asking his parents for a lot of the answers!  During the summer of 1970, Billy Graham was on television again with a crusade.  In those days, there was no toll free number to call.  If you wanted more information, you had to write to:  BILLY GRAHAM, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA.  I did!

On July 21, 1970, a letter arrived for me from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  It included several pamphlets telling the reader exactly how to repent of your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your Personal Savior and Lord.  I did exactly as the letter instructed!  I still have that letter!  I actually pull it out and re-read it every July!  The paper of that letter is starting to deteriorate a bit and show its age, but I read it each year to rejoice in my salvation and to marvel in what God has done!

In my early days of being a born-again Christian I used to devour the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's Decision magazine each month, I read a number of Mr. Graham's materials, and I listened faithfully to The Hour of Decision radio program every weekend.  One of my fellow pastors (Pastor Phil McCutchen) called Billy Graham his "hero" on Facebook today.  Well, he's been a "hero" to me, too!  I wish I had time and space to tell about how I eventually went to Bible College, became an Ordained minister, won souls to Jesus Christ, and all sorts of other things.

No, my life has not always been easy!  There have been some very low points, but I have never regretted that simple prayer I prayed on July 21, 1970 and I can say that the Lord Jesus Christ truly saved me and changed my life!

No, I don't want to turn Billy Graham into a god or into anything that he isn't!  I know he'd tell me (rightly) to look to God and worship Him, and that's exactly what I intend to keep doing.  I will say, I was very moved by a post placed on Facebook today by Billy Graham's daughter Anne Graham Lotz.  What a great piece she wrote about her dad, but she also challenged every pastor and Christian leader to "pick up the baton" and go out and minister for Christ with faith and enthusiasm just as her father did.  I want to do that!

Billy Graham was so humble and so obedient to God.  He wasn't some slick huckster.  He wasn't in love with himself, he was in love with the Lord!  He didn't stupidly waste time, he lived his life for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our country is in such a mess right now!  In my humble opinion, the last thing we need is more "in your face" demanding of our rights, whether we're on the political left or on the political right.  That's the last thing we need!  We need more men and women who'll give their hearts to Jesus Christ and live humbly for Him, just like Billy Graham did.

The church fellowship I belong to is the Assemblies of God.  We don't usually officially celebrate Lent as we're really not a "liturgical" church, but during some recent years I've tried to do "something special" for Lent, anyway.  It was one week ago today that Lent began, on Ash Wednesday, and we don't usually observe that, either!  But I prayed and asked God if He wanted me to do something special for Lent this year.  I prayed and I prayed, and I just didn't get any direction about it.  A couple of hours ago, I thought about Lent again, and I decided that from now until Easter Sunday, at the end of every personal e-mail that I write and at the end of every personal letter that I write, below my signature, I'm going to write, "Thankful for the Life and Ministry of Billy Graham!".  I'm honestly hoping some people ask me about it, and then maybe I'll get a chance to "witness for Christ" to them.  It's something I'm going to do, but maybe you'd like to try it, as well.  It's just a suggestion, but it might be a way for some of us to begin to fulfill Anne Graham Lotz's challenge!

Monday, February 5, 2018

THANKS, KEN, FOR THE MOXIE!

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  (Philippians 1:21)

Yesterday, I taught an Adult Sunday School class at Bread of Life Church (Westminster, MA).  The material we were studying was Paul's Letter to the Philippians, chapter one, and so we spent some time talking about the above verse.  It also seems most appropriate to use Philippians 1:21 here as I share some thoughts about the late Rev. Dr. Ken Beres who passed away unexpectedly this past Thursday, February 1.

Ken is the third of my pastor friends who has died within the past year.  I wasn't as close to Ken as I was to the other two.  Nevertheless, Ken Beres definitely made an impact on my life!  I've been reflecting about that over the past few days.  Ken pastored First Congregational Church at Lund's Corner in the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts.  Ken was one of several pastors I got to know from attending the Pastors' Prayer Retreats that were held each November at Pilgrim Pines Conference Center in West Swanzey, New Hampshire, under the auspices of Vision New England.  There were something like eighteen of those prayer retreats held there during the 1990s and 2000s.  The first was in 1992 and the last was in 2009; if my count is correct, I attended a total of nine of the prayer retreats.  Depending upon the year, the retreats attracted anywhere between forty and eighty pastors for the three and a half day events.  We'd meet in a beautiful yet casual rustic chapel facility.  We'd arrange our chairs in a big circle the the meeting room- well there were so many pastors that it was usually two circles, a front row and a back row.  We'd spend at least an hour a day signing worship choruses.  Probably two hours or more would be spent in group prayer from the entire gathering.  Sometimes we'd break into groups of about 3-6 for more specific prayer.  At times, we were allowed private time to walk around Swanzey Lake and pray, or to read and pray in our rooms.  These were not days of fasting!  Some very strong friendships were built around the tables of the dining room during the wonderful mealtimes we had, and each evening there was a Communion service in the chapel.

There were a few pastors I really "clicked with" at those retreats.  Honestly, all my life I've been kind of "different".  I have often not felt comfortable with my peers and not always been well accepted by them.  My personality, my style, and my interests, are...well, "different".  One time I told my friend Pastor Dick Germaine that I was "weird".  He got pretty upset with me for using that term, and bluntly told me I should never call myself "weird" again- and I don't think I have done so!  I also used to describe myself on this blog as "eccentric".  I had some family and friends who took great exception to that term, so I toned it down to "unconventional".  But all you have to do is an on-line search for Bob Baril and you'll find a number of very serious Bible-based writings and video teachings, along with some very secular, silly and (dare I say it) "crazy" and comical video pieces and similar things I've posted in writing.  I've noticed that most ministers never post anything on-line and never put any videos of themselves on-line except for material that's very serious, and very pastoral.  I admit that at times I've thought that long after I'm dead someone may check out my "stuff" on-line and have no idea what to make of me!  Well, I didn't mean for that to be such a long interjection, but I said all that because I think one of the reasons I got along well with Ken Beres is that he was also "different".  He was not exactly like me, but he was definitely not your typical Congregational minister just as I've been definitely not your typical Assemblies of God minister!  Now, I'm an introvert, but at the prayer retreats, Ken was very much an extrovert!  He was not shy about sharing his opinions and saying what was on his mind.  It was obvious he was not worried about what others thought of him; and I had to admire that.

Ken had moxie!

Well, he had moxie in more ways than one!  He had moxie and he had Moxie!  The dictionary defines "moxie" as "Force of character, determination or nerve".  I learned today that the word comes from the Yiddish originally.  A big piece of the camaraderie at the prayer retreats in New Hampshire was the unusual carbonated drink known as Moxie!  An older pastor from Maine (his initials are W.C.) used to bring a whole cooler full of cans of Moxie to each retreat.  If you've never had Moxie, I'm not sure I can adequately describe it, but I'll try.  If you would take an eight ounce glass and fill it about halfway with Dr. Pepper, then fill the other half with root beer, and finally take a tablespoon of any really bitter-tasting liquid and pour that in and stir it all up, then drink it - well, that's about what Moxie tastes like!   It does leave quite a bitter after taste.  W.C. looked for brave souls who'd like to join him in drinking Moxie.  There were probably about eight or nine of us who regularly did, and his biggest supporter was Ken Beres.  In fact, it's been a number of years now, but as I recall, at the last prayer retreat or two that I attended, Ken also brought a supply of Moxie to share with others.  This may sound very unspiritual, but we'd sit there during the worship and prayer times, worshiping, praying, and drinking our Moxie!  As I've been thinking about Ken, that's what I've thought about.  In fact, I'm seriously thinking of picking up some Moxie to drink this week just as a fitting way to remember him!

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, you see, Ken demonstrated to me that it was O.K. to be the person God had made him to be and to be the pastor God had made him to be, regardless of whether that fit into other people's ideas of what a minister should or shouldn't be.  So, I shouldn't feel embarrassed that I've written on-line about my favorite secular songs or about my favorite secular situation comedy on network television, or that I've sung a couple of silly and comical songs on youtube pieces I've posted; just as I shouldn't feel embarrassed about writing on-line that I'm a highly committed Pentecostal Christian, that I'm a social conservative, and that honoring God and His Word is the most important part of my life, and that I don't happen to believe that everybody's going to the same place when they die.

I only visited Ken at his home one time.  It was right about this time of year in 2010.  Vision New England had put out a letter saying they'd decided to discontinue holding the annual prayer retreats in West Swanzey, New Hampshire.  Ken contacted Vision New England, then he contacted a few other pastors including me asking if we'd be willing to help facilitate bringing back the annual Fall prayer retreats, or help facilitate putting together some sort of alternative annual prayer retreats.  My friend Pastor Ed D. from Cape Cod and I met at Ken's home in New Bedford one weekday morning to try to hash that all out.  I remembered that Ken lived in a very beautiful and very well-kept old house.  I'm not sure if it was church-owned or if he owned it.  We had a great time getting together, but right after that, the decision was made to close the church I was pastoring in Framingham.  That whole event took so much of my time and energy that I had to forget about helping Ken regarding the prayer retreats.

The last time I remember having on-line contact with Ken Beres was just a few weeks ago.  He'd posted a memory on Facebook of his involvement as a young man in Civil Air Patrol.  I posted a comment that my late father was a Major in the Civil Air Patrol!

Yes, each time a friend is taken from this life to Heaven, it stirs up a lot of thoughts and emotions.  I hope you've been able to follow what I've written here and that somehow it honors Ken's memory.

My deepest condolences to Ken's widow and daughter, to all his family and friends, and to the church people at First Congregational Church at Lund's Corner.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

NO, TOM BRADY IS NOT THE MESSIAH!

"And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David:  Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest."  (Matthew 21:9)

At the start of this piece I want to make it very clear, "...perfectly clear" as the late President Nixon used to say, that I like Tom Brady very much and I like the New England Patriots very much!  I join with most New Englanders in being happy that they will be playing in another Super Bowl game in just a few days!  This is not an anti-Brady or anti-Patriots piece in any way, shape or form!

But...

I must say I was dumbfounded watching the mid-day press conference a few days ago; I believe it was on Monday.  And, to be more accurate, I've been rather dumbfounded at all the hype and the announcements telling us, "We interrupt this program to bring you breaking news," only to be followed by reports of the Patriots shopping at the Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis and statements and press conferences by Coach Belichick or Tom Brady or other Patriots which go on, (Dare I say it?) "ad infinitum".  A few nights ago viewers of Boston's channel 4 were treated to a lengthy piece about sportscaster Levan Reid going to the Mall of America to get his ear pierced!  Well, I think I'm making my point, but let's get back to the mid-day press conference on Monday.  Pretty much all other news of the day went out the window while reporters asked Tom Brady question after question after question after question, yes "ad infinitum".  Sure, some of them were appropriate questions about football and the upcoming game, and yes, Tom Brady is an amazingly positive and likable guy.  I began to be puzzled, however, when the questions left football entirely and reporters were not only asking Brady about his family and his personal life but about how he copes and decompresses when away from the Patriots, how he quiets himself down and meditates, how he prepares himself to give his all to his wife and kids, specifically what music he likes (after he told the audience that music is very important to him) and other such questions that frankly bordered on the spiritual, mystical, and philosophical.  Honestly, I felt kind of uncomfortable.  Maybe I'm the one with the problem, but I almost felt like I did about the smart-mouthed girl in the 1990s who asked Bill Clinton, "...boxers or briefs?!"

I've been chewing on this for the past few days.  Again, I like Brady, but it also felt like it does with people who literally worship Elvis Presley; and there not only were people who worshiped Elvis during his life, but there are people who treat Graceland as a shrine and who literally worship Elvis at present.  In all fairness to Elvis Presley, he didn't like that!  At one concert a highly emotional female fan cried out, "You're the king!" Elvis abruptly stopped the concert and bluntly told her, "I'm not the king; Jesus Christ is the King!"

I'm don't know if Brady likes that sort of thing or not, but for his sake, I hope he doesn't.  No, Tom Brady is not the Messiah.  And, in case any of my readers don't know this, "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew word, "Mashiah" which means, "The Anointed One".  The title "Christ" a transliteration from the Greek, means the same thing.  Jesus Christ is the Messiah who rode into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday almost two thousand years ago.  And, incidentally, that word "hosanna" that the crowd yelled literally means, "save now!".


I find it fascinating that so many well-educated people of our day who virtually never crack open a Bible, seldom attend church, and frankly can hardly answer a Biblical question correctly on a show like Jeopardy are ready to sit at Tom Brady's feet and have him pontificate, answering the spiritual and philosophical questions of life!  Monday even felt a little bit like I could have been listening to Tom Brady on Krista Tippett's On Being program on public radio which airs early Sunday mornings.  She usually interviews poets, theologians, writers, and journalists, but after Monday, I'd seriously recommend to Krista Tippett that they book Tom Brady for a program.

Was Tom really ready for all these questions?  Well, he must have said, "you know" seventy-five times over the course of a half hour- maybe more than that.  I'd have to say that if a speaker keeps saying "you know" or "umm" or "ahh"  it may mean they're uncomfortable.

This piece may make people angry and it may get me in some trouble!  But you know it's what I'm thinking!  Come to think of it, I'll close by quoting the words of a female young adult from Bread of Life Church (where I attend) that I heard her happily say one Sunday morning this past autumn:  "Sunday means church - then football!"  Hey, that's fine with me!  Honestly, for me in the fall, Sunday does mean church, then football!  I know most of us will be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday evening.  For so many of you who have spiritual and mystical and theological and philosophical questions and the very human struggles of balancing family and career that so many of us do have- well how about starting your Super Sunday at a church service near you?!

Friday, January 12, 2018

AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP

"...and who knoweth whether thou are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"  (from Esther 4:14)

Dear Mr. President:

Greetings!

I want to say right up front that I like you, and I voted for you.  And, I still like you.  Today, I felt so strongly I needed to write you this letter.  Instead of sending it to The White House by the U.S. Postal Service I decided to post it as an open letter.  I sincerely hope a lot of people will go to this link; that the letter will be brought to your attention and that you will read it.

My name is Bob Baril.  I'm sixty-three-years-old.  I'm an Ordained minister, although currently I'm not pastoring a church.  I've worked several secular jobs over the past few years, and I'm currently unemployed.  Honestly, I've had kind of an unpleasant week; and over the past few days, I'd sunken into an attitude and a pattern that's not healthy:  I began focusing on all of the "negatives" in my life, and I began very much "feeling sorry for myself".  Ironically, it's the prompting and urgency to write you this letter that has lifted me into a much more positive and hopeful attitude, and so I thank God for that; and in a sense I even thank you for that!

During the early days of your campaign for the Republican nomination for President, I very much didn't like you!  I thought you were, to use a line from the film, Beverly Hills Cop, a "foul-mouthed jerk"!  In fact, at the time, I wrote a very strong anti-Trump piece on my blog saying that no evangelical should vote for you.  I had some verbal disagreements with friends about this, but I was adamant that I would never vote for you.  I certainly forgot the old admonition to, "never say 'never'!"

Eventually, I became quite embarrassed and ashamed that I'd written and posted that piece on my blog, and I took it down!  The biggest factor that turned me from an "anti-Trumper" to a "pro-Trumper" was your choice of Mike Pence as your running mate.  The second biggest factor was your speech at the 2016 Republican convention accepting the nomination.  Yes, there were still a number of things about your demeanor that I didn't care for, but I came to see that what you stood for was far superior to anything that Hillary Clinton and the liberal Democrats were advocating.  I became convinced we needed you in The White House.  Yes, it was rather ironic that I cast my vote for Trump-Pence that autumn!

It certainly seemed like there was no way you could win that election!  I believed the polls which said Hillary would win in a landslide.  But, there was also something else in the back of my mind.  Way back around the time I'd posted that anti-Trump piece on my blog, a fine man that I know- a farmer in his seventies who is also named Bob- told me emphatically that God had spoken to him and clearly revealed to him that Donald Trump would be elected President.  Bob Muzzy is one of those, "salt of the earth" and "give you the shirt off his back" kind of guys!  There's absolutely no "flakiness" in that man.  And, yes, he was proven right!

In the final weeks of 2016 we heard all of that, "Not My President" protesting.  A female activist in Canton, Massachusetts wrote not one but several letters to the local newspaper denouncing you.  And, I did something I never thought I would be doing:  I wrote the paper a rebuttal letter in support of you.  Yet, you remind me of that little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead that some of us remember from our days of listening to nursery rhymes.  Like her, when you're good, you're very, very good; and when you're bad you're horrid!

Again, Mr. President, I like you.  And, I like you enough to tell you the truth.  I don't think you're a racist and I don't really think you're all the bad things that your enemies accuse you of being.  But that whole, "s - - thole" thing was, well, off the wall!

That verse I quoted from above comes from the Book of Esther.  It was a line that Mordecai, a wise and mature Jewish man spoke to his young cousin Esther who was the Queen of the Persian Empire.   The fate of the Jewish people hung in the balance.  He was letting her know that if she did nothing she wasn't going to just skate by, as it were.  She had to have amazing courage and she had to have amazing faith and she had to have amazing wisdom and she had to have amazing class- that's what it would take to save the Jewish people.  Our only Savior is truly The Lord Jesus Christ, but He does use human vessels.  If you saw how little I have in my retirement fund, you'd probably laugh.  But you're a wealthy and successful businessman.  You're a smart man.  You're a man who has accomplished much in life.  You're a man who has accomplished great things in the past.  But you've got to remember something that comes from Matthew chapter sixteen verse ten.  That verse exhorts us to be, "...wise as serpents and harmless as doves".  Mr. President, that "s - - thole" thing and other remarks like that just don't fall into the category of  "...wise as serpents and harmless as doves".  If I were your pastor, I'd recommend you sit down with Vice-President Pence and a couple of copies of this letter and ask for his input and prayer.  No matter what your detractors say, you can end up being the greatest President this country has ever had!  I'm serious.  But you've got to function as God wants you to, and not the way you're used to functioning!

I hope this will be helpful to you.

And, since this is an open letter, I will say to all Americans:  Please don't bash President Trump.  Instead please pray for him.

In Christ's love,
BOB BARIL