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?!