Monday, January 31, 2011


3rd Time’s a Charm? **(see footnote at bottom)

“And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here [am] I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.” (I Samuel 3:8)

A day or two ago as I was contemplating writing this blog post, I assumed I’d open it with sort of a disclaimer saying that it deals with matters of internal Assemblies of God policies and proposals that would be boring to non-Assemblies of God people. I was going to recommend that non-AG people skip it. BUT, upon further reflections, I realized that while many of you may NOT be all that interested about internal Assemblies of God matters, there are principles and parallels that you WILL be able to relate to. In this post, I’m largely exploring the issue of MERGERS and whether you think mergers are mostly good, mostly bad, or are you indifferent about mergers, or do you have mixed feelings about them.

I received an e-mail from the Assemblies of God national office a few days ago stating that the Executive Presbytery believes we should begin the process of merging three of our most important educational institutions. They are Central Bible College, Evangel University, and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, all located in Springfield, Missouri. (Springfield, Missouri is also where the national headquarters of the General Council of the Assemblies of God - that’s our formal, official name - is located.)

This is not the first time such a merger has been proposed. The news release stated that the merger was first talked about in 1977. I was at Central Bible College at the time, and I honestly don’t remember that. (My friend Ed Duddy, also a CBC student at the time says he DOES remember such a merger being talked about in those days.) I have a feeling the merger was loosely considered at the time, but I don’t think there was any formal proposal forthcoming. As I recall, the first formal and serious proposal of a merger came forth in 1989. All Assemblies of God ministers and churches in America received booklets from the headquarters detailing the proposal and advocating it. In 1989. they wanted to merge FOUR schools: the three I mention above AND Berean College of the Assemblies of God. Berean was the undergraduate level correspondence training program for ministers and prospective ministers. In ‘89, it was proposed that all four schools merge into one institution known as “Assemblies of God University”. The AG leaders made a strong pitch, but it went down in flames.

The opinion of the majority of AG ministers at that time was that each school had its own mission, philosophy and flavor. Central Bible College was founded in 1922 for the “training of ministers and missionaries”. There were some distinguished alumni of CBC including David Wilkerson of “The Cross and The Switchblade” fame. Other (more controversial) alumni included Finis Dake, author of the study notes in the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible and sensational independent Pentecostal healing evangelist R.W. Shambauch. Evangel (originally Evangel College) was founded in 1955 as “a college of the arts and sciences”. The AG deliberately avoided using the term “liberal arts college” although that’s exactly what it was and is. Some in the Assemblies feared Evangel as being “liberal” and counter to the mission of our organization's Bible colleges. Others felt that having an institution of higher learning which would train teachers, engineers, scientists, counselors, and others was a wonderful idea. Academics were often looked down upon in the Pentecostal movement. Many believed that the more educated and academic a person became, the more ungodly such a person would also become. Graduate education tended to be seen as suspect. Seminaries, derided as “cemeteries”, were seen as bastions of cerebral pride which “kept out the Holy Spirit”. Thus, ministers who were educated beyond the Bachelor’s degree level had often been looked at with suspicion. It was with a certain amount of fear and trembling that the Assemblies of God officially began a seminary in 1971. Knowing that the name “seminary” would likely go over like a lead balloon, the school was originally called, “Assemblies of God Graduate School” and for its first twenty years or so, occupied one floor of the Assemblies of God headquarters complex.

Sometime after 1989, Berean College of the Assemblies of God was merged with International Correspondence Institute. (ICI had been primarily a correspondence school offering Bible courses to laymen while Berean focused on those training for professional ministry.) The new school was known as Global University, and even offered (and still offers) several Master’s degree programs. The AG hierarchy has no longer desired merging the correspondence education (now featuring many on-line and video courses) into the other schools.

In 2005, the issue of merging Central Bible College, Evangel University, and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary was put back on the table. As in 1989, slick literature promoting the merger as well as other changes in the Assemblies of God was put forth. One got the feeling the leadership believed the merger’s time had come, and that it would be better received than it was in 1989. In fact, I’d say the proposal WAS better received. Even so, there was a strong vocal opposition to the merger in certain quarters. Dr. Opal Reddin, the very sweet and very spiritual but highly outspoken and opinionated “Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Central Bible College” wasn’t shy in her public opposition to the merger. Reddin was also highly critical of what she saw as the Assemblies of God leadership’s lapse into downplaying our “Pentecostal distinctives” and wanting to be more like other evangelicals. The popularity of Saddleback Church’s Rick Warren (a Southern Baptist) in Assemblies of God circles deeply disturbed her. I did not always agree with Dr. Reddin, but she’s a Professor I thoroughly enjoyed sitting under at Central Bible College and that I highly respected. We exchanged a few e-mails at that time. I fully supported her stance that Central Bible College remain as its own entity and that the schools not be merged. In 2005, the proposal came a LOT closer to passing but once again did not make it.

In a way I was a little surprised to see the proposal come up again, but in another I was not. The Assemblies has its big, national convention every other year, in the “odd” years. In almost thirty years of serving as an Assemblies of God minister, I have never attended a General Council. They’re usually in the midwest, far west, or in the south. This year’s is in Phoenix. This year the merger will be voted upon once again...for the 3rd time. A strong argument in this proposal is the economy; also the elimination of duplication of services. Apparently, there has also been a slight drop in Bible college enrollments.

This next part may get even more confusing, but Central Bible College and the others are NOT the only colleges and universities in the Assemblies of God. The distinction of the Springfield, Missouri schools is that they are owned by the national organization. They are like WCBS channel 2 in New York and WBZ channel 4 in Boston- owned and operated by the CBS network. Most CBS stations are “affiliates” but the network does not actually OWN them. We have a number of “affiliated” colleges and universities. Their Board members are Assemblies of God and probably 99% of their faculties are Assemblies of God. Ironically, there is a very strong Bible College in Massachusetts of all places. It’s Zion Bible College in Haverhill. For decades, Zion was located in Rhode Island. Through a generous donor, it was able to buy the beautiful former Bradford College facility and move there just a few years ago. CBC was always seen as a much more academic school than Zion and Zion was seen as a much more spiritual school. In recent years, Zion has been growing and improving in every way and although I hate to use the word, it’s giving serious “competition” to Central Bible College.

This time, I’m really not sure how I feel about the merger. There’s so much going on in my own life and situation that I don’t have the luxury of giving too much thought or energy to this issue. Were I going to Phoenix this summer I don’t know how I’d vote. It’s possible I would vote for the merger. Except for a name change or name changes and elimination of duplication of services, I don’t think there’d be any REAL changes in the schools for at least a couple of years. I honestly don’t know which is best- merger or non merger. Really, the best thing is whatever is healthiest for all three schools and whatever will be of the most help to them.

Through the years, I’ve watched mergers of all sorts. Some have been good and some have been not so good. My father lamented the day the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles police force (called “Inspectors”) was merged with the Mass. State Police. The State Police were dominant in that merger. This was done by Republican Governor Bill Weld in the early 1990s. Dad felt it would weaken the Registry and its mission. I think it did. If my Dad knew there are now “civilians” giving the driving tests, for instance, he’d turn over in his grave!
The MetroWest Daily News (formerly the Middlesex News) merged with the weekly Framingham TAB. The TAB had more of a tabloid look and format, and was a completely different paper with a largely different approach. The current Framingham TAB is a broadsheet which looks exactly like the Daily News. It’s just a weekly version of the Daily News, and I frankly don’t see why they keep it up. Chrysler merged with American Motors in the late 1980s- mainly to get the Jeep brand. I think Chrysler did a lot for Jeep’s sales and image, and that was a good merger. In 1991, Natick’s Leonard Morse Hospital merged with Framingham Union Hospital to become MetroWest Medical Center. At the time, Leonard Morse was the better hospital of the two. Today, Framingham Union, officially the “Framingham Union campus” is the better facility of the two. Leonard Morse has tended to focus more on certain specialties. Natick residents were devastated when they dropped obstetrics, so now babies can not longer be “born in Natick”, for instance. Experts said there was no way that BOTH hospitals could have survived without a merger. I’m just kind of ambivalent about whether that merger was good or bad. In New England, we’ve seen loads of bank mergers. We now have far fewer bank brands than we did twenty years ago. I think overall the bank mergers have not been good.

So, will the merger of the Assemblies of God schools take place and will it be a good thing? It will be interesting to watch.

What do YOU think of mergers?

** From THE PHRASE FINDER: “The belief that the third time something is attempted is more likely to succeed than the previous two attempts.”

Friday, January 28, 2011


“Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. “ (Isaiah 47:13)

Can it really be twenty-five years?

January 28, 1986 is one of those days stamped on my memory- like November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001. It’s the date of the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

I do NOT remember exactly what day President Ronald Reagan announced the plan to put a teacher into space on a shuttle mission,but the whole country was excited about the prospect and hundreds of teachers applied. Christa Corrigan McAuliffe was the perfect choice: pleasant, friendly, smart, charismatic, inspiring, engaging, physically and mentally fit. I mean this with no disrespect but she was SUCH a perfect choice it was almost like she came out of “central casting”. But she was the real deal, and America fell in love with her. New England was proud of her, too, especially Concord, New Hampshire where she lived and worked as a schoolteacher, and Framingham, Massachusetts where she’d grown up.

I did not live in Framingham at the time, nor was I familiar with Marian High at the time. I do recall that the first time I’d ever heard of Marian High School (her alma mater) was seeing a television clip on the evening after the explosion. The video showed a nun leading a classroom full of kids in the Lord’s prayer immediately following the explosion. That morning, I was working in my office at Christian LIfe Center church in Walpole. Shirley the secretary took a brief phone call. Sounding stunned she announced, “Betty Nickerson says the space shuttle just blew up!” That just didn’t sound possible. Immediately I flicked on a portable radio in my office which was reporting that something terrible had indeed happened at Cape Canaveral.

Denny Seler, another pastor on staff burst into my office and said, “Bob, turn your TV on!” I had forgotten my tiny analog black and white television set. I did turn it on, and several of us crowded around looking at the clip of the Challenger explosion as it was replayed over and over.
Of course, my family and I later moved to Framingham. All three of my kids went to Marian High School and now my wife has worked there for several years. During the years I when my kids were students, we were on “financial aid” so I was required to volunteer at the school one day a week. (It was THAT or helping run the Saturday night Bingo games, and there was no way I was going to do that!) One of my most interesting experiences on a volunteer day was overhearing a student interview the school nurse who’d been in Christa’s class (1966) at Marian for a school project. The nurse had all sorts of interesting stories about Christa as a student. Hearing it all was like watching a segment of “60 Minutes”!

As I pondered these things earlier today, I also remembered Dave Maynard’s premonition. I debated writing about it, and I almost didn’t. Evangelical Christians are very leery at best of speaking and writing about matters which would be classified as “psychic” or “E.S.P.” or “fortunetelling” or anything of the kind. And rightly so. There are a number of Old Testament passages which absolutely condemn anything that stuff. And, it’s also true that probably 80% of what’s passed off as “psychic” and “supernatural” is total bunk. Even so, there ARE certain things that just can’t be explained away and are difficult to understand. Again, I’m not ENDORSING psychic phenomena or anything like that. Many devout Christians believe such stuff is “of the devil” and I think a lot of it IS. The late evangelical Chinese Christian mystic and philosopher, Watchman Nee, had a different point of view about “psychic phenomena” believing most of it was not specifically “of the devil” (as Western Christian culture does) but in a much more Eastern way wrote that such things are tapping into areas that humans were designed to have before the fall of Adam and Eve but that NOW such stuff is forbidden by God. We learned in Bible College that Adam was a “supra natural” being. Not SUPER natural but SUPRA natural. He was created with incredible intelligence and abilities, far beyond what we could imagine, but that God closed that supranatural stuff off after the fall. Thus tapping into it, or trying to tap into it is very much a rebellion against God and should not be done.
I Samuel 15:23 in the New King James Version says:
“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”

Nee explains that some people are prone to this stuff from birth, but that they should NOT explore it or feed it. I know this is a very long introduction to Dave Maynard’s premonition, but I felt it needed a lot of clarification. Anybody who grew up in the Boston area in the 1960s and 1970s knows who Dave Maynard is. He was a major personality on WBZ radio and television. In the 1970s he hosted the corny talent show, “Community Auditions”, Dave’s still alive. He’s in his 80s and I understand he is legally blind. Dave Maynard also hosted the morning drive show on WBZ radio for at least fifteen years.

In the middle 1980s, I used to have our bedroom radio set on WBZ. This was mainly because it was a 24-hour clear channel station. It didn’t go to static once it got dark the way most AM radio stations do. At night, we’d often fall asleep listening to the Larry Glick show, and we’d wake up to “Maynard in the Morning”. About two months before the Challenger disaster, Dave announced he was having major feelings that something significant was going to happen “in the sky”. He said this happening would be huge. He did not know what it would be or when it would happen, but it was coming. He seemed to think it had particular significance for Boston, and might well be in the skies over the Boston area. Dave announced this premonition a number of times over the final few weeks of 1985 and the first few weeks of 1986.

One morning during that time, there was some sort of a strong and unusual meteor shower over the Boston area. There was a lot of talk about it. At least one caller to the show asked Dave Maynard if that meteor shower was the fulfillment of his premonition, but Dave flatly said, “NO that wasn’t it.”

When I was watching the news reports, and the comments of President Reagan on January 28, 1986, Dave Maynard’s premonition was the furthest thing on my mind. The next morning, as you could well imagine, Dave’s show was jammed with callers weeping, talking about their grief, how they’d been affected by the disaster, how bad they felt for Christa’s family, etc. Throughout all this, Dave did not mention his premonition.

After a number of calls, Dave Maynard took a call from an emotional male caller. “Dave?” the guy started off with a nervous, trembling voice, “THAT was the thing you talked about in the sky, wasn’t it?”

With a very choked up voice, Dave Maynard said, “Yes, that was it.”

January 1986. How could we ever forget it?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


“...many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” (from Daniel 12:4)

That verse from the book of Daniel is often pointed to by prophecy buffs as pointing to our day of rapidly increasing knowledge and technical advances AND of the ability to rapidly travel throughout the world. There IS a flip side to the rapid travel thing, though. If you’ve been involved in “total gridlock” traffic situations, you know what I mean!

I am not sure WHY, but this morning in the Boston area- specifically in the MetroWest suburban area- the traffic was, well, awful! There was light snow falling this morning. We maybe got an inch, or perhaps just a bit more than that, but it was snowing lightly and not really a problem. The main roads were all down to wet pavement. I’m a real “baby” about driving on snow and ice, and this stuff was FINE. No problem.

I’m off from VIP Answering Service this morning, and I had an appointment in downtown Arlington- maybe a 23 mile drive from downtown Framingham. That trip can usually be done in 45 minutes...sometimes a bit less than that. This morning it took 45 minutes to go from downtown Framingham to DOWNTOWN WAYLAND! At the most, that’s 7 miles, and I’m not sure it’s THAT far! I usually take Route 30/Cochituate Road in Framingham to the MassPike. Then I get on Route 128 (now numbered Interstate 95) and take it for a few exits to Route 2. You follow Route 2 for a couple of miles, and take an exit into Arlington. Then it’s a “hop, slip and a jump” into downtown Arlington. There was to be no hopping, skipping, or jumping to Arlington today. On second thought, I would have had FAR more success if I HAD hopped, skipped, or jumped to Arlington! The ramp to the MassPike was totally clogged and backed up onto Route 30. I decided to forego the Pike and take Route 30 to Route 128. On Route 30 I was going 3 miles per hour WHEN I was moving and that was not very much. After a half hour on Route 30, I had NOT even reached the Route 27 intersection yet! (It took a half hour to go 2 miles!) I decided to take a left onto Pemberton Street, then take a right at the end and pick up Route 27 north to Route 20 west. By the time I got to the 20/27 intersection in Wayland, another 15 minutes had gone by. There was no sense in keeping the appointment. It was already past the starting time, and I was still not even out of Wayland.

Turning around, the traffic moved a bit faster in the opposite direction, but I was driving past stopped traffic on the other side of the road AS FAR AS I DROVE! Even onto Hartford Street Natick, the traffic was all in a line and stopped heading east. It looked like “mall traffic” 2 days before Christmas. It was now almost 9:30. The snow was NOT bad. What caused all the traffic to come to a standstill for miles and miles and miles?

There is a really poor quality Grade B film from 1962 starring Ray Milland entitled, “Panic in the Year Zero”. It depicts a family trying to escape from metro Los Angeles after a nuclear attack on the city. All the roads are completely jammed with traffic as far as the eye could see. In the film, Ray figures out the only way he, his family, and their 1962 Mercury sedan can get across a jammed highway at an intersection. He gets out a gasoline can, and lights a fire. As cars are bursting into flames in front of him, he leaps into the Mercury and drives across. That behavior, as my mother used to say, is “dog eat dog”.

When you see that a very minor snowstorm paralyzes the roadways as it did this morning, you really wonder what would happen if there was a REAL disaster. I guess it really would be like, “Panic in the Year Zero”!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24 King James Version)

“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (John 7:24 New Living Translation)

One of my favorite comedy films is an ‘80s flick starring Chevy Chase entitled, “Funny Farm”. In the film, Andy Farmer, the character Chevy Chase plays, quits his job as a New York City sportswriter to move with his wife to rural Redbud, Vermont and write the great American novel. The unfortunate Farmers have one horrific and hysterically funny escapade after another. Andy ends up getting very depressed, quitting writing, and drinking and hanging out with two “neer do well” guys named Lon and Dirk - the Criterion brothers. It’s ironic that they were named “the Criterion brothers”, because the word “criterion” (which comes from the Greek) indicates the right and proper way that something should be done.
The plural is “criteria”.

I can still hear the Assistant Principal (and Science teacher) at Canton Junior High School passionately asking, “What’s our criteria?!” He would also sometimes passionately ask, “What’s our purpose?” Listen, “What’s our purpose?” stated with his Rhode Island accent sounded QUITE FUNNY! But when it comes to churches, we could well ask, “What’s our criteria?”

As many of you know, I pastored a small church which was closed almost a year ago for a number of reasons. Probably the two most significant and important the church was closed by the denomination were 1.The church was not bringing in enough money to support itself...not even close; and 2.The attendance had declined to the point that we often had fewer than 20 people present on a Sunday morning. Those are probably the two biggest criteria used in America to determine the health and worth of a church. Granted, if there are very few people, a church really cannot sustain itself. The Jewish rule for a synagogue is that they must have 10 MEN regularly attending. Well, Reform Jews say 10 MEN AND WOMEN is O.K. Although there IS that verse in Matthew where Jesus talks about the Lord being in the group’s midst if two or three are present, it is really tough to “DO CHURCH” with fewer than ten people present. And, much as “money” can feel like a dirty word to some people, a church has to pay its bills.

I’ve had occasion to visit several churches of various types over the past year- sometimes as a guest speaker, and sometimes as just a guest worshiping in the service. The church I generally attend is a “decent sized church” by New England standards. It’s got a good sized multipurpose building on a spectacular site. The teaching and preaching is good. The music is excellent, and there’s a lot to do for people of all ages. There IS a strong emphasis on seeking the Lord and on prayer. I like that. I’d have to say that stuff IS important criteria, and my overall grade for this church is quite positive.

A few weeks back I visited a startup church. It’s the English-speaking service of a Baptist Portuguese-speaking Brazilian congregation. The Brazilian church, like most Brazilian churches, meets on Sunday nights, so the English service is on Sunday mornings. The attendance at the English service was low- I think it was around 5 or 6 that Sunday, and my understanding is that they usually have fewer than 10. We worshiped to prerecorded music. The pastor preached as though a hundred people were present. I felt for him, as I’ve “been there” with a small crowd and trying to present a positive image.

I’ve preached 3 times at an independent Pentecostal church in the 495 belt which meets in a room which was part of an old mill complex. It’s not the “prettiest place” but they’ve got a pulpit and some “churchy decor”. I’d say (including children) they probably have around 35 people in church on a Sunday morning. The pastor has a full-time secular job. The dress tends to be pretty casual. But the pastor and leaders are obviously very sincere people who love God. The thought has struck me when I’ve been there that this is the type of church that could risk being shuttered if it were part of a denomination. It lacks the trappings and feel of “success” and has a small attendance. But for someone who wants to meet with God and be touched by the Holy Spirit- this is a good church to attend.

Most evangelicals (and especially Pentecostals and charismatics) can’t imagine that God could POSSIBLY be working in a “liberal church”. I’m not so much talking about politics here. I’ve visited a large, African-Americian church, for instance, where the politics is very liberal but the theology is very conservative. I mean that most could not imagine that God could be working in a theologically liberal a church were they likely dismiss large chunks of the Bible as being mythological and in error, where Jesus is often seen as much more of a good man and prophet than as God in the flesh, and where almost ANY spirituality is accepted and embraced as good. Even so, I spoke recently at a liberal church and I worshiped recently at a liberal church. I can tell you, the Holy Spirit was absolutely at work in these services. I have a friend, an elderly African-American who is thoroughly Pentecostal, who worshiped at a very liberal Congregational church for quite awhile. She told me God sent her there and that she had a “Holy Ghost sit in” as she went to church every Sunday- praying for the pastor and the church, and reaching out to them in Christian warmth and love! I also have an Assemblies of God pastor friend who is now retired and serves as interim pastor for churches of a very liberal denomination. He loves the people and they love him. Are there people in the liberal churches who are seeking God and hungry for God? At one time, I would have flatly said “no” but the answer is “yes” and God is there to meet them!

I’ve written in a previous post about the wonderful Assemblies of God church where I worshiped and spoke last Sunday morning. There was a mightily move of God in this church- such as one seldom sees even in Pentecostal churches today. The congregation is well under a hundred and the building is nice but not real fancy. But God was there!

So “What’s our criteria?” regarding churches. Do we make too much of elaborate buildings and scads of programs, and big crowds and lots of money. Listen, there’s nothing wrong with that stuff. If you have big crowds coming, more people can hear the gospel and if a lot of money is coming in, you have the opportunity to invest that into missions and helping meet people’s needs. But if our only criteria is “How many people showed up?” or “How much money came in?” then I think we’ve missed something really important.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


“And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.” (Genesis 3:20)

In the Bible, names are very significant and important. Frankly, I’m hard pressed to think of any place in Scripture where a baby (or a geographic location) is given a name with no particular rhyme or reason for the choice. Names of people indicated their character and attributes. The name “Jesus” for instance was actually the name “Joshua” or more accurately “Yeshua”. It means “salvation” or “Jehovah is salvation”. Jesus is the SAVIOR of the world, hence the name is most appropriate. The name Adam comes from “Edom” or red earth. Adam was created from the “dust of the ground” or literally the “red earth of the ground” and hence, his name.

In modern American culture, there are fads and cycles of boys’ and girls’ names. Over the nine months that I’ve worked at VIP Answering Service, I’ve taken countless messages which require me to write down a caller’s name or a patient’s name. And, I’ve noticed a pattern which frankly troubles me. The names which Americans are giving their kids today, and which they’ve been giving their kids for the past twenty years or so, are just plain WEIRD. I know that may sound harsh, but hear me out!

When I take a call from a nursing home about the medical condition of some person in their 80s or 90s, you can pretty well figure the person’s name will be George or Anne or Thomas or Emily or Andrew or Elizabeth. If it’s a call about a baby boomer, the name will be Carol or John or Richard or Marilyn or Peter or Susan or Frank. But, take a call for somebody born since 2000, and you’re going to be typing a name such as Kaetlynn or Tthhoommess or Jaycen or Reighleigh-Ann or Heaven (no kidding) or Messiah (no kidding) or Pink or Noelcarter or Aandersenn or Wetwalk or Noahark or E-lie-juh or Jobsfriend or Steffanieluv.

We do answer for a lot of callers from the African-American community as well as from the Hispanic community and the Indian (Asian) community. Typically kids from these communities DO tend to have some unusual names. But honestly, I’m finding the names of kids from mostly white affluent suburbs are no more or less unusual than are the names from those minority communities. Most of the sampling of names I have listed above represent children from white suburban communities.

I remember that back in 1961 when I brought home my black and white five by seven first grade class group photo, my mom got really frustrated as she wrote kids’ names on the back.

“Who is this boy?” she’d ask. and I’d answer “T.J.”

“Who is this girl?” and I’d say, “Rainey”.

Mom was puzzled. Well, “T.J.” stood for “Thomas J. Breheney” and “Rainey” was “Lorraine” but I didn’t know their full names in those days!
Even so, I can sort of relate to my mom’s dilemma of fifty years ago. I really feel sorry for the first grade teachers of today. Many times, they’ll be little construction papers of the students’ names displayed on a bulletin board. How would a teacher feel trying to learn to say and spell Jaycen or Reighleigh-Ann or Heaven or Messiah or Noelcarter or Aandersenn or Wetwalk or Noahark or E-lie-juh or Jobsfriend or Steffanieluv?

There’s a HUGE trend toward giving girls masculine names and boys feminine names. HUGE. I’m COMMONLY asked when I call triage for a certain medical practice and rattle off the kids name, “Is this a boy or a girl?” If I say, “You know, I’m not sure,” they’ll say, “make sure you ask”.

Just this week I got a call about a Karen with a weird sounded like Karen but it was something like Kahorenn. When I asked the mom,
”what are her symptoms?” she QUICKLY corrected me to say this was a boy. And, you’ll commonly get Tyler or Charles or Dylan who turn out to be a GIRL. I’ve had to bite my tongue SO many times with callers. I really WANT to say, “You gave your kid THAT name...WHAT were you THINKING??!!”

I’d say about one in fifteen kids has a “normal” name, or what would have been a normal kids name when I was a child. I’ve also had to hold my tongue, because I really wanted to say to the parent, “THANK YOU for giving your child a name they won’t have to feel uncomfortable about.”

My father’s birth name was Eugene Armand Baril. “Armand” is a very common French-Canadian man’s name. I’m not sure why his parents chose “Eugene” for the first name. Dad really didn’t like his name all that much. He went by “Gene Baril” but was uncomfortable because it sounded like “Jean”- a girl’s name. Dad was determined that his kids not have names like that. At the time I was born, my father was a Boston Police officer. He was good friends with a fellow cop at the precinct there on Hyde Park Ave whose name was Bob O’Toole. That sounded very masculine. So Dad named me “Robert”. That’s where my name comes from. When my brother Eddie was born, Dad was just newly on the Registry of Motor Vehicles force. He commonly worked road enforcement with Eddie Ford, so he named his next son “Edward”. Dad’s favorite girl’s name was Diane and my mother’s was Anne. Thus when my sister was born she was named Dianne. Admittedly, Dianne is somewhat of a nontraditional spelling...especially for fifty years ago. Some of the family thought the spelling was kind of strange, but they gave her “Marie” as the middle name...the name of my Dad’s mother, so that made the relatives happy.

My daughter Amy is having her first child (and our first grandchild) in just three months or so. I want to stay out of the naming process, and I’ll love the child dearly no matter what name she picks out. But (admittedly) I hope she and her husband don’t choose one of those weird new baby names!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


“And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.
(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)” (Numbers 12:1-3)

I am so privileged and blessed today! This morning, I was guest speaker at New Hope Community Church (Assemblies of God) in nearby Marlboro, Mass. The pastor, Rob Woods, is a good friend and a great guy. Over the past couple of years, he’s lost fifty pounds and he looks great. I think I GAINED some of those pounds! I don’t wear suits so much anymore. I had a tough time getting into my gray suit pants today! (At least I didn’t split ‘em in the pulpit! I’ve been known to do that sort of thing in the past!!)

Rob’s been at New Hope for about 12 years. When he came, the church was down to a handful of people. For the first years he was in Marlboro, the church really struggled. When he introduced me today, he recounted that about 11 years ago, as a show of support to them, we canceled church at our Framingham church and all came over to Marlboro. Our worship team led the music, I preached, and I insisted we all write our offering checks to the Marlboro church. Rob remembered that in those days the Framingham church had over 50 people and the Marlboro was barely running 20. We packed out their church that day and gave them a great encouragement.

Today, I felt like they returned the favor in so many ways! Now, THEIR church runs around 60 or more in attendance. Their worship team did a great job. As the old chorus says, there was “a sweet, sweet spirit” in that place. There was a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. There was an utterance in Tongues and Interpretation and a couple of Prophecies. That stuff used to be commonplace in Assemblies of God churches. Today, it’s getting pretty rare and uncommon. Rob opened up the altars in the middle of the service and called people in the congregation to move around and begin praying for one another. There were at least 9 people in the service who at one time or another were active attenders at First Assembly of God of Framingham. For us, it was like a reunion, and, well, more than that, it was like when you’re a kid and you’re invited over to see your Uncle, Aunt, and cousins, and they make you feel SO loved and welcome. There were beloved friends from the Framingham era crying tears of joy during this special altar part of the service.

When it came time for the sermon, I almost felt unworthy to get up there. God had moved SO powerfully. What could I possibly add to the service? Well, of course, I could add very little, BUT God anointed the words. I took my sermon from Numbers 12...about when Miriam and Aaron murmured against Moses because he’d married a black woman. (That fits really well on a Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.) But I didn’t just preach against racism...although I DID that. I preached about the importance of the Order of God as taught in the Bible and the importance of not violating the order (principles/standards) of God’s Word. Have I ever done that? Oh HAVE I?? And the consequences are always bad. I urged these folks to NOT make a lot of the stupid mistakes of getting out of the will and plan of God that many (including me at times) have made. As always, there was a lot of humor and a lot of laughing during the sermon, but there were also some very hard hitting points. I honestly wondered if I was too hard on this congregation.

But Pastor Woods later said, “no”. The church has a theme for the year 2011 and Pastor Woods told me this sermon was right in line with their theme. He told me the sermon was NOT too hard...that it was exactly what the church needed. Several other church folks also told me the same thing.

I was excited to talk to a guy at the coffee and fellowship time after the service. Bald, and probably in his late 30s, he looked SO familiar. I figured I must know him from some church or Bible study. When I approached him, (“Jason” is his name) he told me, “I’ve been in your home before!” Then he reminded me, he’d done several plumbing jobs at our residence. I laughed and remembered him replacing an outdoor shutoff valve one winter. Jason told he he was NOT a born-again believer then...he was a secular Jew. He came to the Marlboro church and to faith in Christ through his wife, a Brazilian evangelical Christian woman. He was working for a big plumbing company when he did that work at our residence; now he’s opened his own plumbing company. Jason was excited to tell me, “I’m a MESSIANIC BELIEVER!!” To see a “regular” blue-collar guy give his heart to Jesus and be SO excited about it- wow- that just does your heart so good!

Eleven years ago, our congregation came over to Marlboro to give that small struggling church hope. Today, to use an old expression, they “blessed my socks off” and gave ME hope. So the name is very appropriate: “NEW HOPE CHURCH”!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


“And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.” (Mark 3:21)

I posted on the blog for my first time in 2011 last night and behold here I am posting again, this time on 1/11/11.

That above verse where somebody’s FRIENDS said their buddy was “beside himself” (or nuts, or crazy) was said about Jesus Christ, by His own friends. I wonder if you knew there are passages in the Gospels where not only Jesus’ friends but even His family thought he was a little “off” at times. For those of us who tend to march to be beat of a different drummer and tend to be thought of as “off the wall” that IS kind of comforting.

In the past, I’ve written one or two blog pieces about why I forward certain mass e-mailings and why I’ve even originated certain mass e-mailings. I’ve decided to do that again today. For the many of you who typically say, “I NEVER forward anything on e-mail”, or “I would NEVER begin a mass e-mailing”, or even, “I NEVER open up a forwarded e-mail”, well I hope to give you a different point of view today, and I hope you’ll genuinely think about it, and if you’re a committed Christian, even pray about it.

Each day in the newspaper I like to read the little almanac section where it tells you who was born on that day and what important events happened on that day. One day in the past week, the paper said that on this day Thomas Paine published his famous pamphlet “Common Sense”. I was stunned to read that he’d printed 100,000 copies of the 1700s no less! That was SOME feat in those days! It would probably be like ten million today. That document is said to have had a HUGE impact in the Thirteen Colonies and was a vital component in the American Revolution. One of the literature arms of the Assemblies of God (“Light For the Lost”) used to use as their motto, “A drop of ink will make a million think”. That’s SO true!

Let me tell you about Princess Davis. No she’s not a Princess like Diana of the U.K but that’s her birth name. Princess Davis is an African-American woman who was born in rural Arkansas some seventy plus years ago. She came to the Boston are in the middle 1950s. In the ‘60s Princess gave her heart to Jesus and became a born-again Christian. A passionate and avid writer, she used to write one page articles which sometimes addressed politics, sometimes addressed spirituality, and usually addressed a combination of the two. During the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, Princess probably wrote at least fifty of these pieces. She’d go to a copy center and pay to have piles of the articles printed. Then, she’d mail them out to friends, hand them out at church, and most commonly, go to public locations in the city of Boston and hand them out. At times, I’ve helped Princess hand out her articles. And, during the 1980s, I helped her edit a few of them. Sure, a lot of them got thrown away, BUT there are scores of people today, not only in New England but all over America whose lives were affected in a big way by one of Princess’ articles. Princess is not technically savvy. She doesn’t have a computer or an e-mail address, but a couple of years ago, she mailed me a piece that was SO good that I asked her if I could put it out on the internet and send it out as a mass mailing. She agreed to it, and I did it. I explained to Princess the power of the internet...that I might send that out to 50 people....then they might send that out to another hundred a week, it may have gone to 2000 a month it may have gone to 100,000 people....and so on. That’s a whole lot more than the 500 she would have touched by handing them out in downtown Boston.
Imagine if Thomas Paine had something like the internet available to him. Imagine what he could have accomplished, and how many trees would have been saved ‘cause most of “Common Sense” would be in cyber space!

I’ve sometimes been laughed at, criticized, and even ridiculed for “sending out e-mails to fifty people at a time”. I know Princess would not laugh, for she also understands that principle of “A drop of ink will make a million think”. I have a friend I’ll call “Melvin” and that’s NOT his real name. He got kind of perturbed with me last summer- saying I sent out far too many e-mailings. Ironically, Melvin is a very smart guy who holds two Master’s degrees and has some very passionate political and theological opinions. I told him what I’m writing here...that he’s failing to consider the power of the internet. I also told him that if he wanted to write a powerful and passionate article about something and wanted it mass distributed, I’d be happy to put it out as a mass e-mailing and to encourage people to forward it on. I don’t think he’d ever seen it from that point of view before. As I told him, one person on their home computer who sends out a mass e-mailing to 50 people has the potential that one day that will have been read by over a million people and (IF it’s good enough and important enough) could even be talked about one Sunday morning on those Sunday “talking heads” shows.

Listen, I’m not just taking about stuff I write! I’ve already told you of mass promoting a piece by Princess Davis. My friend the Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell wrote on her blog a couple of months ago about how upset she was with those offensive Toyota Highlander commercials featuring that bratty little kid who makes fun of other people’s vehicles. I’d also found those ads offensive, but I’d frankly never thought about organizing a mass campaign to have people write letters to Toyota in opposition to those commercials. But Mindi DID think of it! So, I sent out a mass e-mailing with a link to her blog urging people to read Mindi’s article and follow her suggestion.

I know, I know. There’s a lot of spam on the internet. There’s a lot of junk on the internet. I read something in the paper the other day about a guy who has started a business and website with the goal of eliminating all spam on the internet. I did not realize that 90% of the e-mails on the internet are spam. You know, the stuff about a Nigerian prince who wants to give you a million dollars, or about Viagara, or about a million other silly things. And we DO need to get rid of that stuff, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Not all Forwards and mass e-mailings are bad!

Now, here are some examples of Forwards and mass-mailings that I don’t recommend and that I don’t forward:

1. Any e-mailing that promises a happy money angel will show up and give you a lot of money within 24 hours if you just forward the e-mail on to 10 people.

2. Any e-mailing that tells you to send it on to 10 people including the one who sent it to you, or it means you’re not that person’s friend.

3. Any e-mailing that’s dirty.

4. Any e-mailing that makes racist comments about the President...that sort of thing.

5. An e-mail that supposedly contains “facts” that seem outlandish and can’t be proven...such as “aliens from another galaxy landed in Maryland in 2003” and are just about to take over the world.

BUT, there is a great value in some mass e-mailings and forwards. My friend D.G. has begun an outstanding e-mail newsletter for pastors and Christian leaders that he mass e-mails every month or so, and he encourages we recipients to forward it on, and usually I do.

Well, I don’t know how much more I can say about this, but I hope it’s caused you to see what a great tool the internet can be, and to see the value of writing and mass e-mailing on line.

Monday, January 10, 2011


“Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.” (Psalm 150:6)

I don’t regularly read most newspaper comic strips, but I almost always make sure I check out Bil Keane’s “The Family Circus”. In today’s, Dolly is sitting with an open book and puzzling what to write on its pages. She asks her mother, “I’m behind in my diary- what have I been doing since January 1?”

I started the blog (originally on the old AOL Journals) in February of 2006 and purposed to write in it three times each week, and for the most part, I did that. I realize that here it is, the evening of January 10 and I haven’t posted anything yet in 2011. Maybe part of it is that I’m now on Facebook, and although I’m trying to NOT let that take up TOO much time, I suppose it has cut into the blogging a bit. I’m also working more hours at the answering service, which is good, and I’ve got all sorts of “life responsibilities” I’m trying to attend to.

SO, like Dolly- what have I been doing since January 1?

There’s so much I could write about tonight that I just can’t decide, so I’m rambling at the keyboard and believe it or not, on the computer I’m listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden”. I guess some people would be quite shocked at my eclectic taste in music, books and film. It’s frankly all over the place! Tonight, I’m in a mellow mood, and this music kind of fits.

Everybody’s talking about the shooting in Arizona. I don’t know what the answer is. Well, actually I DO. As the bumper stickers from the 1970s proclaimed, “CHRIST IS THE ANSWER”. And Christ IS the answer to the problems of life. But I remember my father telling me, a very idealistic and enthusiastic born-again Christian in his 20s back in the late 1970s that “not everybody is interested in religion!” and “you can’t make everybody be religious”. I wouldn’t phrase it QUITE that way, but I do get his point. In those days, I thought all you had to do was pray and pull out a Billy Graham salvation sermon and people would fall on their faces and get saved. Well, some WILL! Thank God! But Jesus Himself said “narrow is the way” and “few there be that find it”. Jesus actually agreed with my Dad! And at fifty-six, I do, too. Don’t get me wrong. We need to pray for America. We need to pray for revival. We need to pray for miracles. But some folks just have a deliberate bent toward hate and violence, and God isn’t going to FORCE them to follow Him. Was this shooting the fault of Sarah Palin and the far right? I don’t know. Some who knew the shooter said he admired Adolph Hitler and read “Mein Kampf”. It’s very sad. I know some will say, “take all the guns away”...and frankly, then all the killers will just use knives or something else. My heart goes out to the victims and their families and friends. They need our prayers.

I had a lot of fun yesterday. I preached at Framingham’s Grace Church UCC. It’s a theologically liberal church. I remember Grace Church’s pastor from when I first came to Framingham. The church was much bigger in those a big stone building downtown. Back in 1987 and 1988, I frankly don’t think I’d have preached at a liberal church under any circumstances. Listen, I know that when it comes to a lot of the deeper areas of theology and philosophy, there is a lot of difference between me and Grace Church and its pastor, Brad Watters. But I can also tell you Brad Watters is one of the nicest and finest people you ‘d ever want to meet. Grace Church now meets in a converted house on Salem End Road. It was a Communion service and I preached on Communion -specifically “The Three Graces of Communion”. Honestly, it was a very nice communion service and I had a great time. A good friend of mine visited the service and later commented that to him the church came across as much more “orthodox Christian” than he had expected and that he’d thoroughly enjoyed the service, too. I have a friend who used to limit God to certain sort of fundamentalist characteristics and ways. I often told him, “you can’t put God in a box!” My friend learned that over the years, and so have I. It’s so easy to say God can’t be moving in a Reform Jewish synagogue or God can’t be moving in a liberal Congregational church or God can’t be moving in a Catholic church and it goes on and on and on. There are extreme “fundamental Baptists” (who make up only a small fraction of all Baptists) who would say God couldn’t possibly be moving in an Assemblies of God church and that anybody who speaks in tongues is going to Hell (that would include me, incidentally). No, thank God, we can’t put God in a box. He is full of surprises, and yet He is always faithful to His Holy Word.

January 12 will mark the 51st anniversary of my maternal grandfather’s death. I wrote about that on the blog last year. I vividly remember the night that phone call came to our home in Canton. It just plain stuns me that I’m now a somewhat gray haired 56-year-old who will become a grandfather in April. Living far away from my grandson will be difficult for me, but I hope to somehow have some kind of influence and legacy on his life. I think about that.

Control is a difficult area for me. I’ve often been criticized for being a “control freak” and for wanting to control everything. For me the past twelve months or so have felt very out of control, and that’s very scary. Listen, it’s NOT that I’m some sort of dictator or that I want to rule the world or something... anything but that. I’m actually happiest when I’m by myself, and for a pastor, that’s a trait I’ve greatly struggled with. God has gifted me as an outstanding public speaker and storyteller. When I speak in public, it’s absolutely energizing and invigorating; and when I know it’s blessed and helped people, it makes me very happy. And, I do have a crazy sense of humor. But I really value solitude. And quiet. The whole “be still and know that I am God” thing. The house I grew up in was always cluttered with all kinds of “stuff”. By the time my parents died, in some of the rooms were boxes and piles from floor to ceiling and you could barely enter them. I actually have an aversion to “stuff”. I’m one of those who is very quick to throw things away...and I’ve had to learn to be careful, because SOME things are quite valuable. The automotive collectibles my father left, for instance, have brought me some needed income at times. I used to not understand why anyone would want to go to the remote areas....where it’s hot and where there’s no flush computers...

I’ve been there twice, and I do understand why people like to go there. There was a freedom there...with all that “stuff” gone...and just the most simple conditions. I’m not saying I’d want to live there all the time. Here I am writing at a computer, using electricity...but I do like that simple life. I think people who DON’T have a lot of “stuff” are probably better off.

My cousin Peter wrote a piece on his blog about George Bailey and being starry-eyed and idealistic. Peter strikes me as pretty much liberal and Democrat and I’m Republican and much more conservative. But I’m also starry-eyed and idealistic like George Bailey. Listen, don’t think Pat Buchanan and Bill O’Reilley would admire Mr. Potter...they’d aspire to be like George Bailey! It’s kind of like the conversation I had one day at the Stop & Shop checkout line. The guy behind me said he absolutely refuses to use the automatic “express check out” because that facilitates people losing their jobs. He was a union member, labor activist, and liberal. I told him I also absolutely refuse to use those lines for the same reason, but that I’m a fairly conservative Republican who thinks we ought to be making opportunities for people to work and not taking them away. We came to the same conclusion for totally different political reasons!

A few days ago, I almost wrote a whole blog piece explaining the difference between the words “you’re” and “your”. For some reason, that’s a big pet peeve with me! One of my supervisors at work wrote me, “your doing a good job”. I was really glad for the compliment, but I had to restrain myself from telling her it’s “you’re” and not “your”. And, it drives me crazy when people write, “your welcome” when it’s “you’re welcome” so I got that off my chest.

One of the passages I preached from yesterday was I Corinthians 12. That talks about how God made people in the Body of Christ DIFFERENT and yet He makes it that they all work together in harmony. Back to the control thing...I wish I could make people be a little more sensitive to others....a little more forgiving.... a lot less materialistic ...a lot less arrogant .... a lot more interested in spiritual things but a lot less legalistic and judgmental ... a lot quicker to listen and a lot slower to speak.

I know that sometimes I fail miserably in these areas, but they are a lot of what I aspire to. So I guess they’re resolutions for me. Seriously, a big New Year’s Resolution for me for 2011 is to honor the Lord’s Day, which really is from sundown Saturday evening to sundown Sunday evening. That doesn’t mean I can’t work at my job if necessary, for because we answer for medical practices and hospitals that’s truly “work of necessity”. But I want to treat that time as much more sacred than I have. Hey, I’ll still watch a Patriots game and have fun... I’m not a Pharisee! But I want to somehow make it a sacred and distinct time...more than I have in the past.

Well, what have I been doing since January 1? Laundry, and taking out the trash, and trying to keep up with phone messages and mail, and working, and trying to keep God at the center of my life, and struggling with how to do a lot better in my relationships.

Sorry for all the hodgepodge, but that’s where I am on this January 10 at night.