Saturday, April 11, 2009


“And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” (Genesis 2:3)

I posted an entry not long ago entitled, “The ‘S’ Word” in which I wrote about the meaning of a “Sabbatical leave”. I am scheduled to take two months sabbatical leave in 2009 at the strong recommendation of my District Superintendent (like a Bishop in many denominations). There are a number of reasons for that, many of which are probably too personal to go into (even for me!). One month will be for total rest and will be from April 13 to May 10. The other will be for personal enrichment and will be sometime later this year. “Sabbatical leaves,” that is, time off for rest, refreshment, and renewal, are common among the more theologically liberal denominations and churches. The more theologically conservative groups have been slow to embrace them. We come from more of a tradition which has tended to extol the virtues of someone who “burns out for Jesus”. Even the more Bible-based evangelical churches are coming to see that there’s little that’s commendable about “burning out for Jesus”. Jesus Himself deliberately took time for rest and renewal to be alone with His Heavenly Father.

A Nazarene pastor friend has encouraged me for several years to take a sabbatical and I’ve been very resistant to it. In 22 years, the longest I’ve ever been away from the church at one time was 12 days in 2007 at the time of Amy’s graduation from college. She was graduating from 2 schools (Evangel University and Cox College of Health Science) as she was in a joint nursing training program so I needed to attend the graduations which were one week apart. Mary Ann and I took a “big” vacation in 2002 which was a trip to Alaska, but even that was only 8 days. You may chuckle, but typically I only like to be away about 5 or 6 days at a time. I think I was away for 5 days in a row on our trip to Pennsylvania last summer. SO, for me to be gone for a MONTH is huge. On this month of total rest I will be in southwest Missouri. Mary Ann will be with me for the first week, but due to her work schedule can’t stay any longer than that. One thing that will be interesting is that I’ll be staying for several days in late April at a non-denominational retreat facility which is located on a lake about 60 miles north of Springfield, Missouri. It’s FREE for clergy. I will bring in my own food, but pretty much be left alone with God for several days. There are other things planned for the trip which, again, are probably too personal even for me to share.

This has all been a struggle for me. My late father was an intense perfectionist and a work-a-holic. I remember that years ago when I was on staff at a large church many of my coworkers would have been considered work-a-holics. I was faithful to do my job, but I wasn’t one to go crazy over it. As amazing as it is, that’s something that’s changed in me over the time has gone by, I’ve become more and more of a perfectionist, and more and more of a work-a-holic. I’ve become more and more of a person who has to have my finger into everything. I’ve done my best to be a multi-tasker. Scientific studies have concluded that women (who DO have “different brains”) are much more wired to be multi-taskers, and that men who try to multi-task are much more likely to fail at that. Yes, I’ve reached the point where (in many respects) I need to stop, reflect, get in touch with God, and be open to change.

I started writing the blog over three years ago. It’s NOT a typical minister’s blog, and I’ve taken some criticism for that. Some believe my entries should always be very inspirational, very Biblical, and very Christ-centered. Some have been disappointed that I’ve written about things such as how to plant a good lawn, or when analog T.V. ceases, or what the history of carbonated beverages is. But that’s who I am! Most ministers are people of various talents and interests. Most criticism came from those who didn’t like when I complained about getting bad service from an airline or an auto shop. Maybe that complaint has some validity; I’m not sure. A complaint which I suppose WOULD have validity is that while some of my posts are outstanding and certainly good enough to be published as newspaper columns, some are pretty poor and read like a high school kid’s assignment that he didn’t want to do. One of the rules of public blogs is that you’re not supposed to write stuff just for the sake of doing it; you’re supposed to have something important to say. I’ve been of the frame of mind that I wanted to post at least three times a week so if people checked the blog out, there’d always be a recent posting. NOW, I’m not planning to write anything on the blog until at least May 12- maybe a little longer. I have worked very hard to build up a readership of this blog. No, I don’t have THOUSANDS, but I DO have “scores” (that’s groups of 20) and even having scores of people who regularly read your blog (I probably have close to 100 regular readers) is pretty cool! My pride is worried that if I don’t post anything until May 12 or later, that when I come back, I’ll maybe have 4 readers. SO, I hope you’ll pray for me while I’m on sabbatical leave...and I hope you’ll remember, that (like Arnold!) “I’ll be back!”

Thursday, April 9, 2009


"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

I was one of the fewer than 4% of registered voters to vote in the Framingham Town election this past Tuesday. I would have completely forgotten about it if I hadn't gone out after supper to do an errand. Suddenly, the thought hit me, "Isn't this a voting day?" After leaving Walgreen's, I headed over to McCarthy School where Precinct 13 votes. I was the ONLY voter there at 7:15 p.m. Most of the positions were uncontested. I voted for a few folks I know (directly or indirectly). When I turned in my ballot, the female poll worker told me I was only the 38th person who had been in to vote that day. Today's MetroWest Daily News has an article about the low turnout. It speculated that those who DID vote chose to do so to make a statement that they support free elections and the whole concept of voting. I guess maybe that's one reason I voted, but the main reason was to say "thank you" to the volunteers.

I am amazed by the commitment these people make to our community. If you ever watch a Selectmen's meeting, a Town Meeting session, or a Planning Board meeting on Cable TV, you'll see what I mean. I realize these programs don't do well in the ratings! My own family groans when I put one of these Town sessions on, and they insist I change the channel! Thus, I usually end up watching this stuff alone. I became interested in watching the Planning Board meetings a few years ago when Great Brook Valley Health Care was proposing building a large facility adjacent to our church building. It always struck me how alert and energized and knowledgeable and well-spoken the Planning Board memebers were- most of whom had worked a "real job" that day and were conducting a meeting late in the evening. One night around 11, some angry woman in the audience got up and lambasted the Planning Board members. They handled the situation with total grace and class. I was so impressed that I sent them a card with a note thanking them for their service to Framingham. I got a nice reply from Planning Board member Sue Bernstein. Most of these positions pay nothing monetarily. I know in some towns, Selectmen get a stipend of around $1000 a year. I don't know if that's the case in Framingham. Even so, it's the voluntary hard work and sacrifice of many dedicated ordinary people that makes our community work. I know some will complain and say our community ISN'T working, but if you feel that way, YOU should run for Town Meeting Member or for some other position.

It's also volunteers who largely determine the success or failure of non-profit organizations, especially churches. If there were no lay volunteers, our church would close immediately. Most pastors lament that 20% of the people in their churches do 80% of the work. I'm not sure how that statistic works out at our church. I'd say we do better than average, but once again, it's committed volunteers who make or break our churches and our society.

If you're mostly a couch potato, I hope you'll think about volunteering for some good cause! Then, I hope you won't just THINK about it, but I hope you'll DO it!

I was thinking today about the ultimate volunteer. The ultimately volunteer is the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not have to be born and grow up to die for our sins. He could have said, "Forget it- I'm not going to do that. Why should I?" And, in fact, He'd have had every right as the Second Person of the Trinity to say that! Instead, he chose to be born into this world for us (See John chapter 1 and Philippians chapter 2) and chose to give His all for us. In Gethsemane, He struggled with the cost He'd have to pay, but out of love for the Heavenly Father, and for US, He went through with it! That's something to think about on this Holy Week!

Back in my early years at First Assembly of God of Framingham, there was an elderly man named Frank who used to be one of our ushers. Frank died at least ten years ago of Alzheimer's Disease, but twenty years ago, he was a 79-year-old usher. I used to think that maybe all the standing he had to do was too much for him. One time I asked him about it. Frank replied, "After all the Lord has done for me, it's the LEAST thing I can do for Him!"

Yes, thank God for volunteers with good hearts who serve faithfully where and when they're needed!

Monday, April 6, 2009


“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

It’s funny that certain verbal expressions can grab your attention and even bring back unexpected vivid memories. Such has been the case for me over the past few days with the expression a “stick in the mud”.

Friday night as I taught our Bible study, one woman who has been struggling with extreme fatigue lately was yawning, struggling to stay awake, and frankly (what I call) “isolating” during the Bible Study. Several times as I tried to discuss Mark chapters fifteen and sixteen I asked her if she was O.K. and she assured me she was. After our closing prayer, the woman apologized and said, “I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud!”

That expression “grabbed” me because it had been SO long since I’d heard it used. My mother used to use that expression. If someone was cold, distant, and boring, she’d remark, “So-in-so is a real stick in the mud”. It’s got to be an expression of my parents’ generation (or earlier) because I don’t use it, and I rarely hear anybody under forty use it.

Ironically, the VERY NEXT DAY, I was talking to a gentlemen who does not regularly attend our church but who had dropped by for our special Saturday “Day of Prayer and Fasting”. He got to chatting with my wife and me and commented that although he sees great spiritual growth in others, something is holding him back from being all he can be for God.
“I guess I’m just a stick in the mud!” he exclaimed.

Wow. Two uses of “stick in the mud” by two different people; two situations and conversations totally unrelated to each other less than twenty-four hours apart. Kind of weird, if you ask me!

This evening, I’ve been racking my brain to try to remember who had last used the expression “stick in the mud” in my presence before last Friday. After much reflection, I remember who is was. It was a woman at our church in the Fall of 2006. At the time, I was using a video series in Adult Sunday School which (unfortunately) ended up being quite controversial with some people. The series was the PBS documentary, “Country Boys”. I wrote about it on the blog several years ago. It’s an amazingly good and powerful documentary, shot in rural eastern Kentucky roughly between 1999 and 2003. Most of it focuses on two “at risk” teenage boys who attend “The David School” a private evangelical Christian school with a ministry of teaching and motivating such kids. One of them also actively attended an evangelical church and was considering going to school to become a pastor. The documentary in no way puts down evangelical Christianity. In fact, evangelical Christianity and a very conservative view of the Bible are presented in a very positive way in this lengthy documentary. But the main thing that upset people is that virtually every 30 minute segment that I showed in Sunday School contained at least one swear word, and some as many as five or six swear words. The documentary also presented the hypocrisy of the young people who loved and praised Jesus and yet engaged in premarital sex and smoking.

I had thought I could bleep the swearing my hitting the “mute” button, but on the equipment I use at the church, it automatically shifts into closed captioning. There were people who felt this was totally unacceptable in a Bible-believing church. I tied in relevant and powerful Bible passages as well as important and relevant discussion questions about what we’d viewed...and frankly I got a LOT out of this documentary and these classes, but it created such controversy I don’t think I’d be quick to use something like that again.

Now, back to “stick in the mud”. We had a visitor one Sunday- a thirty-ish guy who was originally from Alabama and had just moved into the MetroWest area. He angrily walked out of my class, complaining of a pastor who’d show “a movie with cuss words in it”. Later, a woman said to me, “Don’t let it bother you. That guy seemed like a real stick in the mud!”

I’ve been one who hasn’t shied away from secular humor and stories in the pulpit. (Don’t get me wrong, nothing dirty or anything like that!) I think talking about secular television shows, movies, etc. can be powerful sermon illustrations. For example, in his day, Billy Graham referred to “All in the Family”, “Jaws”, and “Laugh In” in a number of his sermons. In fact, he actually went on “Laugh In” as a guest, smiling and saying, “Sock it to me!” I think Graham realized that you need to find common ground in which to relate to people.

In an Assemblies of God ministers’ meeting last Fall, the speaker (one of our District Leaders) used the television show, “Desperate Housewives” as a powerful sermon illustration. I sat there thinking, “Boy, do I wish I could have some of our church people here ‘cause I’d probably get killed for doing that!”

Today, I attended an important Southern New England District (of the Assemblies of God) meeting at our largest church facility in the state (Bethany Assembly of God in Agawam). The main speaker was our General Superintendent George Wood from our national headquarters in Springfield, Missouri. (I guess it would be like the Pope for Catholics!) We had some business sessions, and some informational sessions, and then a question and answer session.

At the end of the day, our District Superintendent (like a “Bishop” in many denominations) Bob Wise made an announcement in a serious tone.

“The District has put together a six minute video clip to give our ministers some help and insight in the area of counseling people,” he said, “Let’s give our attention to it at this time.”

To my amazement it was a YouTube clip from MadTV of Bob Newhart and Mo Collins! It was hysterically funny and ministers all over that church sanctuary were laughing delightfully. Once again, I wondered if I could ever get away with doing that at our church, and I wished some of our people were present.

Is the church sanctuary such a place of “holiness” that things always have to be as morbidly solemn as a Gregorian chant, or is there a place for levity...even secular levity there? Is there a place to run a clip from MadTV during a church meeting?
I will absolutely state that twenty-five years ago that would NEVER have been done, and if it had been done, there would have been dire consequences. Those were the days when Assemblies of God ministers could be called in on the carpet and reprimanded for going to a theater to see a “G” rated movie, or for playing a soft rock cassette or 8-track tape in their car. Today, the General Superintendent from Springfield, Missouri sat and watched the MadTV clip and laughed right along with the rest of us.

I frankly DON’T see anything wrong with what Bob Wise did. It was a lot of fun.

But for you New Testament scholars, this DOES become a Romans chapter 14 issue. And if you’re not familiar with Romans 14, you ought to read it. At what point do we take liberties and “lighten up”? And, IF someone IS made uncomfortable by secular videos and levity, does that mean they’re a “stick in the mud”?

Don’t be so quick to jump to a conclusion on this one. It may NOT necessarily be all “cut and dried”. True, I enjoyed it, but on the other hand the Apostle Paul said he wouldn’t even eat meat if it offended somebody.

I’m interested in people posting their comments on this one.

Incidentally, the MadTV video is at:

Thursday, April 2, 2009


"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (Galatians 6:7)

If you're a Massachusetts resident and don't know what "The Marian Walsh Deal" is, you must have been in a coma for the past three weeks! About three weeks ago, Governor Deval Patrick named State Senator Marian Walsh (from Boston's mostly "nice" West Roxbury neighborhood) as his new associate director of the Massachusetts Educational and Health Authority. This "associate director" position had not been filled for twelve years! In other words, when the Commonwealth declares a "state of emergency" and says, "all non essential personnel do not need to come to work", THIS job would be considered a "non essential personnel" job. Ms. Walsh's starting pay on the new job was to have been $175,000!

This announcement produced what Ms. Walsh herself called a "tsunami"! It was not only political right (such as Michael Graham and Howie Carr) who were outraged- many on the left including Channel 2's Emily Rooney, were shocked, as well. Marian Walsh had been a big Deval Patrick supporter from the time he announced his candidacy for Governor. This was obviously a patronage payback. But what a time for a patronage payback! The Governor has been asking the citizens of the Commonwealth to prepare to sacrifice, to expect toll increases, fee increases, and tax increases. People around the state are losing their jobs and are upset about the economy. So, the Governor gives Ms. Walsh a $175,000 job. It made so sense.

A few days later, Marian Walsh announced she would ONLY take an annual salary of $120,000 for the position, and the Governor said he had a committee looking into what salary levels for various state jobs should be.

Earlier this week, Marian Walsh announced she is NOT taking the job. She will keep her State Senate seat. Is it likely she will be vulnerable if and when she runs for reelection? I'd say it's very likely.

Many have argued that Marian Walsh is a nice person and a hard worker. That may be true. I have nothing personally against Marian Walsh. But as I reflected about it this week, my mind was drawn back to early 2006. At that time, Marian Walsh proposed legislation requiring any religious body which brings in over $100,000 a year to submit to a formal annual audit. (This IS required of all non-religious non-profit organizations.) Walsh proposed that legislation as a slap against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston in reaction to the "priest sex scandal" which included misuse of funds and all sorts of other shenanigans. Walsh pushed this legislation with a vengeance. The problem is, Marian Walsh does not understand small and medium sized Protestant churches and how they are governed. She had no idea how many churches would be badly hurt and would even CLOSE had this legislation passed!

Readers may be thinking, "What's the big deal? What does a formal annual audit cost?" If you're thinking such an audit costs three or four hundred dollars, THINK AGAIN! A rather cheap annual audit can cost $3000. A much more typical annual audit can cost in excess of $10,000! Say you hire an accounting firm to do your audit and this takes them 30 hours of work. If they charge $100. an hour, that would be $3000! Perhaps you can understand why so many small church pastors and Boards were alarmed about this proposed legislation.

At the time, a number of clergy from the Framingham Interfaith Clergy Association met with State Rep. Tom Sannicandro (who represents Ashland and much of the southern part of Framingham) to express our concern. We were largely successful in changing his mind (in our favor) on the issue. Many pastors and concerned laypeople got on the phone and wrote letters and e-mails to their state reps. and state senators. Ultimately, Ms. Walsh's proposed legislation went down in flames.

I'll never forget watching Marian Walsh on Channel 2's "Greater Boston" debating her proposed legislation against State Rep. Byron Rushing from Roxbury. Rushing had obviously heard from pastors of small Baptist and Pentecostal churches in his community and he had his facts straight. Walsh came across as a condescending elitist who had no sympathy for struggling religious groups.

Hindus believe in "karma"; you know, the whole thing of "what goes around comes around". I want to be careful because I'm NO Hindu, and in fact I strongly disagree with at least half of what's taught in Hinduism, but I think we can see the point of "what goes around comes around". I find that it's not ALWAYS true. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and vice-versa. And, while there is no Bible verse that says, "What goes around comes around", the closest thing to it I can find is the verse I quoted above- Galatians 6:7. It's the whole thing that "what you sow, you'll reap". If you're generally a nice, generous person, people will tend to be nice and generous to you, for instance. If you're generally a mean and selfish person, people will tend to not care much for you. If you're lazy and irresponsible, you'll tend to reap poverty and problems. If you're diligent and responsible, you will have some setbacks, but you'll generally be successful.

In 2006, Marian Walsh had NO sympathy for struggling churches and pastors. NONE. Again, I don't know Marian Walsh and I have nothing personally against her. But I see a principle here: when you try to come against God's people and ministries and make things hard for them, no matter how "good" your motives may be, you can expect to reap problems and disappointments down the road.

Sorry, Marian Walsh, but that's the deal.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


“It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32)

America On Line (which I will call “AOL” for the rest of this posting) decided to celebrate April Fools Day by having the AOL logo on their website appear upside down, then turn into LOL, then become AOL with a foolish jester hat on top of it. I really wasn’t amused because March 31 was not a very good AOL day for me.

I’ve been an AOL subscriber since my beginning of going on-line in April 1996, although at present I’m connected to high-speed internet at both my office and at home through Verizon and then I get on AOL through their website. In the old days, AOL was very user friendly, especially for people who knew nothing about computers. AOL also had good customer service and numerous features. (For instance, AOL invented “Instant Message” technology and in its early days, it was only available on AOL.) My blog was originally set up as an “AOL Public Journal” in February 2006. Another feature on AOL were just scads and scads AOL Message Boards. I mean you NAME the topic, and there was a message board for it. There were numerous message boards for “faith groups”...just NAME a “religion” and it had a message board. I first checked out the Assemblies of God message board probably about ten years ago. I’d take a look at it from time to time just to see if there was anything interesting on it. Up until late July of last year, I’d probably only posted on the AOL Assemblies of God message board about 5 or 6 times. Some of you know that I went through a difficult emotional time during the final 6 months of 2008. There was a lot of stuff I was trying to figure out. I posted a question on the AOL Assemblies of God message board, and got some replies, especially a couple of very poignant ones from W. Martin Hughes, an AG pastor (and “Presbyter” which is a leader over other pastors) from rural Kentucky. Martin also sent me some e-mails, and we began communicating quite a bit by e-mail. I also met Tony, an AG pastor from northern California. Tony e-mailed me his phone number and we had a long talk one evening. I discovered there were 6 or 7 people who posted frequently at the message board, and once in awhile someone else would pop in with a question or a comment.

I was one of those teenagers who got into the Citizens Band radio craze back in the early 1970s. In those days before home computers, the C.B. was a way for lots of kids to communicate each evening (even though 75% of our communications did not meet F.C.C. guidelines). This AOL message board reminded me a lot of the C.B. radio days of almost forty years ago. Well, why is it that good things don’t seem to last? Last October I was quite shocked when AOL decided to pull the plug on quite a bit of what they offered on AOL People Connection. That included all blogs (which they called “Journals”) and quite a few message boards. I’d say at least half of all AOL message boards were eliminated at the end of October 2008 along with the blogs. They set up a deal with blogspot where you could transfer your blog along with its archives at that time. Overall, that’s worked out well for me. My blog LOOKS much better on blogspot, and it has a much easier URL address. The Assemblies of God message board people were kind of sweating the situation out. There were rumors that our board could disappear at any time.

My son Jon actively posts on the AOL “Lost” television show message board. Jon told me a couple of weeks ago that the “Lost” board was notified that AOL was discontinuing all television show boards in the near future. On the Assemblies of God board, we heard nothing. On March 31 the Assemblies of God board was gone. Martin Hughes e-mailed me along with several others to say he just couldn’t get on the board. I tried and tried as did others, and NOTHING. I finally (through a convoluted on-line process) accessed a LIVE on-line AOL customer service person. She identified herself as “Maureen”. I asked about the AOL Assemblies of God message board. She had to “check” on it. Maureen got back to me and wrote that “it appears the Assemblies of God message board has been decommissioned”. I sent a mass e-mail to the people from the board, and felt sad. One wrote that he was working on setting us up as an “e-mail group” elsewhere on-line. Last night, just on a whim, I tried to get on the Assemblies of God board, and IT WAS BACK! I sent an excited e-mail to the folks from the board. My son checked and the “Lost” board was also back.

Today, the boards are GONE again. Now you can see why I was not amused by the AOL April Fool’s joke. It’s true that if the AOL Assemblies of God message board IS gone...or if it’s soon to go, we CAN find a meeting place somewhere else on-line. It just seems so COLD however. While the board WAS back last night, I posted an entry titled something like AOL ARE YOU READING THIS?
I suggested that if they need to temporarily or permanently shut down the boards they should at least post something letting us know...AND they should at least let their customer service people know! I’m one of those people who stuck with AOL when EVERYBODY said I was crazy to! I’ve had my bad experiences with AOL, too. The WORST is that my account has been SUSPENDED three times. The last time was about 18 months ago. It’s awful when they suspend your account. You have to phone them (and these days THAT’S quite a feat) talk to somebody in India and have to set up a new password and read a condescending e-mail about how you violated AOL community standards. My last violation of AOL standards was beginning a mass e-mail and asking that people forward it on. It wasn’t dirty. It wasn’t a chain letter. It wasn’t something stupid or foolish- in fact, it was Christ-centered and uplifting, but TECHNICALLY by asking people to forward it on, I “violated AOL community standards”. I have started a number of mass e-mails since then, but I’ve tried to send them to under 50 people at a time (the one that tripped them off went to 102 people) and I NEVER ask them to forward it on (even though I VERY much want them to!). I mentioned much of that in my posting last night. It seemed to me if AOL was reading my e-mail, even though I’m one of millions, then they could certainly communicate with people on their message board!

So, I don’t know if the message board has been decommissioned or recommissioned! But I definitely DID make an “AOL People Connection” that was very helpful to me during some turbulent months, and THAT’S NO APRIL FOOL!