Thursday, April 24, 2014


"And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten." (Exodus 13:3)

This month of April 2014 has been marked by probably the most intense focusing on the Boston Marathon (here in Massachusetts, particularly) that I can ever remember.  It was exciting that the race took place on Monday, April 21 without any negative incidents taking place.  During the 1990s and the 2000s I missed very few Boston Marathons.  In that era, I had Patriots' Day off.  I'd set up my outdoor chair in front of Dunkin' Donuts on Route 135/Waverly Street in Framingham, and I'd spend several hours watching the race and cheering on the participants.  It was always very exciting; really watching those Marathons was a big highlight of each year.  Now that I have a secular job which usually requires me to work on Patriots Day, I can only slip out to watch the race for about twenty minutes or so.  I was glad to make one of those "cameo appearances" on Monday.  There definitely seemed to be more crowds in downtown Framingham than usually showed up for the Marathon in the past, and the atmosphere was just electric with excitement and enthusiasm.

Now that we've gotten past the one year anniversary of the 2013 bombings and past the running of the 2014 Marathon, there has been some discussion about the slogan "Boston Strong" and whether it's time to retire it.  Some folks feel (no pun intended) that the use of the "Boston Strong" slogan has run it's course and that it's been way overused.  Others feel it's a great slogan and should continue to be proclaimed and promoted.  One Boston news commentator (Jon Keller of WBZ) has written a short piece in favor of not retiring "Boston Strong".  Another radio personality (Bradley Jay, also of WBZ) has weighed in, saying he would not completely eliminate it, but that it has been very much misused, and that the commercialization and trivialization of "Boston Strong" is something that needs to stop.  He'd like to see the "Boston Strong" slogan narrowly used in the future, with the focus being on the Marathon first responders and heroes of the 2013 Marathon.  One male caller to WBZ's overnight "Bradley Jay Show" said that while he has a "Boston Strong" tee-shirt, in the future he intends to wear it only on Patriots' Day/Marathon Day to honor and remember the heroes and victims of the 2013 Marathon bombings.

I last wrote about "Boston Strong" on my blog almost a year ago when the slogan was new.  At that time, some of my evangelical Christian brothers and sisters had posted opinion pieces on-line in strong opposition to the slogan.  They believed "Boston Strong" was a statement of great arrogance, pride, and independence that was at best inappropriate and at worst sinful.  I wrote my piece to say that I did not agree with those sentiments.  I felt (and still do) that "Boston Strong" was part of a healing process- it was like the people of Boston (and really all of eastern and central Massachusetts) saying, "We're hurting, we're in pain, this is very difficult, but we're not giving up, and we're going to get through this, and we're believing there's a good future ahead for us."  In my piece from last spring, I did frankly admit that maybe "Boston Strong" (which could come across as arrogant) was not the very best slogan to have chosen, and that perhaps a better one could have emerged after careful thought; but that now that it was the slogan, I was pretty much O.K. with it.

A year ago, I never imagined how pervasive "Boston Strong" would become!  In walking through shopping malls and public places in Massachusetts you see it everywhere.  "Boston Strong" is on tee-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, and even an occasional tattoo!  It's also found its way into corporate advertising.  Just yesterday as a Pepsi truck drove by I noticed that "Boston Strong" lettering was displayed on the truck along with the usual Pepsi corporate advertising.  If you do an on-line search for "Boston Strong" the first links that come up are those to buy "Boston Strong" merchandise.  Now, I know that in many cases, the proceeds of the "Boston Strong" merchandise go to charities; but the whole merchandising thing frankly leaves a sour taste with me.

I am mindful of what happened with the whole "W.W.J.D." emphasis of the late 1990s.  You may recall that "W.D.J.D." stands for "What Would Jesus Do?"  Many of those reading this piece probably do not know the origin of that question or of what the promoters of the "W.W.J.D." bumper stickers and tee-shirts were really trying to accomplish.  Believe it or not, "W.W.J.D." comes from an 1896 novel by the Rev. Charles Sheldon.  The novel is entitled, "In His Steps".  I've read "In His Steps" a couple of times.  The book is a fairly easy read with a very positive and challenging message.  In the story, the minister of a medium-sized Protestant church in a small mid-western city  challenges his congregation to take one year of their lives and for that year endeavor to live as much like Jesus Christ would want them to live.  Prior to any major decision, and really prior to many minor decisions, as well, they are to ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?" and then act accordingly.  As I recall, not everyone in the church congregation makes this commitment, but the majority do.  Such radical Christian discipleship radically impacts and changes the church and the city!  The newspaper editor asks the question when trying to consider whether Jesus would want the results of a big prizefight published, and he leaves it out of the paper!  All sorts of matters like that take place.  People who previously ignored the poor and needy now have their consciences pricked and begin to help them.  The way people spend their leisure time and their family time radically changes.  For them, Christianity became something they were living out at all times and not merely a matter for Sundays or special occasions.

Yes, that's challenging!  Would Jesus drive like a maniac down Interstate 95 cutting in and out of traffic even if late for a meeting?  Probably not!  Would Jesus work "under the table" or cheat when filling out a 1040 tax form?  Definitely not!  Would the twelve-year-old Jesus who taught the scholars in the Temple become physically intimate with a middle-school girlfriend?  Or, would Jesus use illegal drugs?  What do you think?!  Would Jesus be a "saint" in church on Sunday morning but live like the devil on Saturday night?  Of course not!

Back in the 1990s, the intent of promoting the slogan was to accomplish what Charles Sheldon tried to accomplish with his novel.  Regrettably, "W.W.J.D." became so commercialized and trivialized that it became a common butt of jokes on sit-coms and late night talk shows.  Ultimately, nobody took it seriously.  The intent was good, but the outcome was horrible.

I see a definite parallel with "Boston Strong".  I think radio's Bradley Jay is onto something with this.  I would also like to see companies stop using "Boston Strong" for promotional purposes; and I'd prefer that the shirts and caps be reserved for Patriots' Day and for events that honor first responders and victims of the 2013 bombings and their families.  (I chose the above Bible verse about Passover because it was a once a year remembering of Israel's miraculous exodus from Egypt.  Passover was remembered once a year- not trivialized by being done all the time, and not forgotten, either.  I think that's how it should be with "Boston Strong".)

Finally, would Jesus' wear a "Boston Strong" tee-shirt or cap anytime and anyplace?  Well, I'll let you think and pray about that one.

Friday, April 11, 2014


"Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted."  (Matthew 5:4)

There are so many fulfilling and exciting aspects to serving as a full-time minister at a local church.  The wedding ceremonies can be stressful, but they're usually very happy and exciting.  Baby dedication services (in our tradition, we do baby dedications and not infant baptisms) are full of hope.  Baptism services are also joyful- you get very wet in our tradition, but the baptism by total immersion in water marks a new beginning and is a joyful service.  Even funerals of very elderly saints can be positive and joyful experiences as the life of some 90ish Christian is honored and celebrated.  Most of my readers know that I've been on an extended period away from pastoring (after almost thirty years of doing so) and for the most part, I miss full-time ministry very much.

There are also deeply painful, heartbreaking, and seemingly senseless tragedies that every full-time minister has to grapple with from time-to-time.  I must confess, I don't miss those at all.  Several such tragedies were featured as news stories this week.  The one I am focusing on her is the death of little four-year-old Lily Quintus as she sat innocently at a table in a Winter Park, Florida daycare center.  The reckless and irresponsible driver of a speeding car had smashed into another vehicle causing that vehicle to immediately go out of control and slam into the daycare center.  Several little children were seriously injured and Lily Quintus was killed.

Yesterday, Lily's mother, Nicole Quintus was featured on the CBS Evening News broadcast.  In Boston, that television news program is simulcast on radio on WBZ-AM.  I was driving through Medfield, Massachusetts and listening at the time.  No I did not see  Nicole Quintus, but there's something so intimate about radio that to paraphrase the words of a famous ex-President, "I felt her pain."  I really did.  She asked how she could be expected to ever go back to a normal life's routine again, and essentially expressed that she can never get over this terrible and unfair loss.

Young adults graduating from Bible College tend to be so idealistic.  You see the hopeful smiles on their faces.  They've got their leather bound Bibles under their arms, and their Bachelor's degrees, they'll soon be Licensed and later Ordained Ministers, and they're fully ready to take on the world, the flesh, and the devil, and all the problems those entities could possibly throw their way.  And, they're fully expecting to have all the answers and to work miracles.  I know.  I was exactly like that thirty-five years ago.  Now, please don't misunderstand me.  I absolutely believe in miracles!  I absolutely believe in the supernatural!  I absolutely believe in the power of God!  I absolutely believe in the Word of God!  But I also know that there are aspects of life that are unfair, that don't make sense, and that will never make sense.  There will be times when the finest and strongest men and women of God will not know what to do and will not have the answers; but they'll just have to trust God and press on- though they may be privately and inwardly terrified. 

In the thirty-five years since I graduated from Central Bible College (now part of Evangel University), I have experienced a number of answers to prayer, and probably about five genuine supernatural miracles.  Seriously.  I guess that works out to be about one genuine supernatural miracle every seven years or so.  The thing is, when I was graduating from Bible College, I fully expected I'd be experiencing at least five supernatural miracles a month!  I never really expected to face a crisis in my personal life, in my family, or in a church I was pastoring that God would not solve without a mighty supernatural miracle- and quickly for that matter!   That was before my twenty-seven-year old brother Eddie (who'd just become engaged) collapsed, went into cardiac arrest, was put on life supports, and rapidly declined in the course of a few days- before my parents made the agonizing decision to remove all life supports.  That was before my father's Alzheimer's Disease which landed him in a nursing home on the level of (maybe) a one-year-old.  That was before my mother's bone cancer and her terrible depression and telling me on a daily basis that God had "abandoned" her.  (My mother was honestly the most devout Roman Catholic I have ever known- and yes, I was a Catholic before I was a Protestant.)  Those phone conversations tore my heart out!  I remember sobbing in bed to my wife and lamenting, "I can't rescue her!"

If Nicole Quintus has a pastor, I don't envy that clergyman or clergywoman.  Conducting the funeral service of a little child is horrible, and trying to answer the questions of her grieving mother is, well, pretty much impossible.  But, here's what I'd say if I were her pastor:  Grief is a process.  It's part of life; probably the toughest part of life.  I have not experienced the death of a child nor of a grandchild, but I have experienced loss.  The closing of the church I pastored for over twenty years, followed by some serious personal problems, followed by moving out of the house and community I'd lived in for over twenty years, followed by employment at very basic entry-level jobs that I actually found challenging and did not do very well at; followed by "dark nights of the soul" - of intense weeping and self-doubt, and of honestly feeling exactly like my I'd been "abandoned" by God.  Yes, I know loss.  I do.  And, for me, some of that is still going on.  I'm still out of the pulpit and out of doing what I really love.  I still have days where I don't have the strength to get out of bed and function but I call upon the name of the Lord, and somehow through His strength- I do it.  And, for Nicole Quintus, she's been thrown into a mess that's unfair and undeserved and will go on for a long time.  It's not right for people to say things to her like "move on"!   Those words were the worst for me:  "move on"!  I know people meant well, but please don't ever say that to someone going through catastrophic grief and loss.  Just be there for them.   You don't necessarily have to say anything to them.  Just listen.  And love.  And be present.  And care.

I think of John Walsh.  His little boy Adam was horribly murdered thirty years ago.  He went through horrific grief and pain.  He turned that into a positive; most of us know the story of America's Most Wanted and all the good Mr. Walsh has done.  It may take several years for Nicole to really get through the worst of it.  She will never forget.  Elements of the pain and loss will always be there.  But, she will get better and she will feel better.  There will be a normalcy that will return- it will actually be a new normal.  God may open up a whole ministry and a very rich fulfilling life for her down the road- something she never would have desired or chosen.

Pray for Nicole Quintus.

Remember that Jesus Christ Himself was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief  (see Isaiah 53:3).

Have compassion on those who grieve.

Friday, April 4, 2014


Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  
Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’  
And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.   (Matthew 18:32-35  New King James Version)

In the above Bible passage, Jesus proclaims a parable to teach the danger of unforgiveness.  There is one man who owes his "master" a huge sum of money which is impossible for him to pay.   It would be the equivalent of something like ten million dollars in modern America.  He begs for forgiveness.  Amazingly, his master has compassion on him and totally forgives the debt!  That same guy goes out and finds a guy who owes him money.  Now, when I've heard preachers tell this story from the pulpit, they will say something like, "He found a guy who owed him five bucks."  That really is not 
accurate.   In fact, the man was owed the equivalent of several thousand dollars of modern American money, but this would still be a tiny amount compared to ten million dollars!   The guy who had been forgiven the ten million dollar debt grabbed the one who owed him money by the throat, demanded payment, and took legal action against him!  There were other "servants" who'd witnessed this thing and just could not believe it could have happened!  They report to the master what the (forgiven) man had done.  The master gets so angry that he puts the million dollar debt back on his head!   The most disturbing part of the parable is its ending.  Jesus says that if we do not forgive, then God the Father who has forgiven us a great debt, will put that debt back upon us!  Now, for all you Calvinists out there, does that mean you'll "lose your salvation"?  Well, you tell me.  It's sobering.  The bottom line is, we want to be forgiven, but too often, we refuse to forgive others; and it ends up hurting us.

I have two powerful stories about unforgiveness to share.  Each is a true story.  The first story was told to me over fifteen years ago by a woman I will call "Sally" (not her real name) and the second story was told to be by a man I will call "Angelo" (not his real name) a little over a year ago.

Sally came from a good home and had good parents.  I have seen her parents a few times.  They seem like very nice people.  They also seem like very well-mannered people who would always behave in a dignified, proper manner.  One evening at dinnertime, Sally's brother was acting silly the way boys are sometimes apt to do.  I don't know how old Sally and her brother were at the time; I'd guess maybe somewhere between ages 9 and 12.  Sally's brother insisted on talking like a robot at the dinner table.  He spoke every word as though he were the Lost in Space robot.  It may have been entertaining at first, but it quickly grated on Sally's father.  Sally's Dad got so upset that he placed a pretty extreme punishment on Sally's brother:   For one month, he had to talk like a robot.  We can all think of so many other ways this situation could have been handled.  Perhaps the brother should have been sent to his room with no supper and no television that night.  Some parents may have made him write two hundred times, "I will not talk like a robot".   Some parents may have grounded him for a couple of days and given him extra chores to do.  But, to be made to talk like a robot for one month?? Sally shared how disturbing that punishment was.  It had obviously had a profoundly upsetting and lasting effect upon her.

Now, it's interesting that Angelo's story also involves someone getting upset and dishing out a one month punishment!   I can't remember if the man was a friend of Angelo's family or if he was a relative...I think he was a relative.  Anyway, the guy worked with the public works department of a small town on the outskirts of the Boston area.  This happened probably forty years ago.  There had been a bad storm.   There were large tree limbs and branches partially or fully blocking some streets.  I will call the angry man in Angelo's story, "Mario".  Mario had gone to the front of a residence and cut up and moved to the side of the road a bunch of tree limbs and branches.  As I recall, some of them may have been left partially on the homeowner's property.  The homeowner came outside.  In a condescending manner, he asked Mario, "You're not going to just leave those limbs and branches on my property and in front of it, are you?"   Mario was offended and embarrassed.  He told the homeowner,  "Sir, of course we don't just leave branches and limbs laying on or in front of people's property.  Right now, we're trying to clean up the storm damage all over town.  I am not able to take this stuff at the moment, but someone will come and clear it away within a few days."

In fact, someone did come and clear it all way within a few days.  But Mario was furious.  He did not even receive a "thank you" from the homeowner.  Instead, he had been spoken to as though he were a slave, and a stupid slave, at that!   Mario told Angelo, "I will show you how I will get back at that guy!"   Mario then got a full box of Kleenex tissues and a small plastic bag.  He tore all the Kleenex tissues up into little chunks.  Then, he placed all the little chunks of tissue paper into the small bag.  He drove by that homeowner's front yard, and let the chunks of tissue paper go flying all over that homeowners yard!   As bad as that was, he repeated this every day for thirty days!  (I am not sure if he drove by at night or during the daytime!)

I almost quoted Hebrews 12:15 at the beginning of this piece.  It speaks of a "root of bitterness" which will defile many people.  When you have to carry on an offense and an act of revenge for a one month period as each "unforgiver" in the above stories did- well, there's just something wrong with that.  Tell me, who acted more petty, stupid, and immature:  the boy who talked like a robot or his father?   Tell me, who acted more petty, stupid, and immature:  the condescending and ungrateful homeowner, or the guy who had chunks of Kleenex blow over that lawn every day for a month?

Do you hold grudges?
Do you have trouble forgiving?
Is it worth the kind of actions the two "unforgivers" were guilty of? 
Have you ever acted like the "unforgivers"?
Would you want to have been one of them and then to have to explain those behaviors to God on Judgment Day?
It's sobering, isn't it?