By Fred Comella
Less than five weeks out from probably the most important election in our nation’s history, and things seem to get worse with each passing hour. You know, it’s really saying something when a political junkie like myself, hesitates to turn on the T.V. or pick up the tablet in the morning for fear of what I’ll see. Truth is now the new hate speech. Modern media/press, professional sports and the entertainment industry have embraced a morally corrupt narrative which flies in the face of everything this “Christian in training” believes. And it all can be overwhelming to say the least.
But I have my Savior, and I pray to Him quietly on the long dark journey to work every morning. I listen to the Bible by way of my handy iPhone app plugged into the Jeep’s radio. It allows me to search the Word for answers and meditate on what those answers mean for our fallen nation and the world. More and more every day, as the battle I predicted for the soul of this country rages, I find myself “arming up” if you will, with Scripture, and the irrefutable truth and clarity it brings to the discussion.
Now I knew my life was going to be different back in 2014 when I went from being just a simple believer who didn’t read or really understand the Bible, to accepting the body and blood sacrifice of my Savior Jesus Christ as penance for my sinful life. But not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how quickly the world would turn for the worst, and consequently, how wholly dependent on Him I’ve become through it all. Needless to say, this time of crisis is fueling a desire to know more, to get closer to God, to understand the “Holy Trinity” and how it applies to the Christian mindset, especially when everything else around you smacks of human frailty and failure.
So once again, my journey in search of a “more perfect union” with my Lord and Savior has brought me to someone with knowledge of that which I seek. I spoke with Pastor Robert Bernier, of Christian Life Church in Rehoboth, MA, about his recent efforts to bring “Life in the Spirit” to his church, and ultimately, the power of baptism in the Holy Spirit to bear in these difficult times. But we’ll talk more on that in a minute.
Pastor Bob and wife Dianne are the parents of four and have four grandchildren also. He has an educated heart for God which impressed me greatly right out of the gate. You know, my Dad used to pound it into my head, (literally sometimes), don’t hang around with dumb people. Hang around with smart people and learn something. Well, I certainly learned a few things after speaking with this man of God.
Raised Roman Catholic, much like me, Pastor Bob went the road of a young Catholic, as an altar boy along with all the other symbolism. And also like me, he believes in unifying and not dividing the faith. Lord knows we have enough division in the world today. We really don’t need any coming out of the Christian communities. I just never could understand that. But in our short conversation, this pastor went a long way to helping me better interpret what I’ve been seeing all these years.
Pastor Bob spoke of his time at college in Rhode Island in the late 1970’s, where he met “spirit filled” classmates/friends whose faith seemed unshakable, and who spoke of their faith with a palpable confidence and pride. It was during that time the seeds of faith were planted in Bob, seeds which would take root in his life in ways he couldn’t have imagined. A few years later in 1982, Bob gave his life to the Lord when his friends took him to a tent revival in Middletown, Rhode Island. There, an Irish pastor from Nashua baptized him in the Holy Spirit, thus watering the aforementioned seeds of faith in “good soil” and changing Bob’s life forever.
As the years went by, Pastor Bob told me of his love and studies of Architectural drawing at Rhode Island School of Design, and how a now married man starting a family never shrunk from his responsibility as husband, father and provider. There was work, family and responsibility along the way and Bob enjoyed putting his studies and skillsets to the test. Nevertheless, shortly after that first experience back in 1982, Bob did search for a church and the learned faithful who could help him along his faith journey.
He eventually landed at Christian Life Church in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. There he learned of the Scriptures and how to interpret and apply them. Pastoral leaders guided him as he experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the context of a broader Church community. He would go on to serve as usher, deacon, elder, and trustee, and was ordained as associate pastor in 1996. In 2004 he became lead elder until he was permanently installed as Senior Pastor in 2006, with his wife Diane now Directing the Children’s Department. They describe their church as “worshipful and warm, welcoming to all, and passionate for Christ”. Pastor Bob envisions a congregation that loves God, loves each other, and who are all a part of building His church. In the end, there would be only one stop for Pastor Bob, and it was Christian Life Church. He continues his graduate studies in Divinity, at Regent University today.
As we continued our talk, Pastor Bob explained that his parents and in-laws were all touched by God in the Charismatic renewal of 1967, in part because of the effectiveness of the “Life in the Spirit Seminars”. These seminars are a product of the teachings and writings of Stephen B. Clark, a disciple of the Cursillo Movement, the original three-day retreat, where Christians are trained up to be effective leaders.
From Michael Shaughnessy’s tribute to “Steve” Clark: “In 1967, the charismatic renewal began in the Catholic Church. Steve was among those first to be “baptized in the Holy Spirit. He became one of the renewal’s leading spokesmen and authors, writing Baptized in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, Finding New Life in the Spirit, Growing in Faith, and Knowing God’s Will”.
From there Clark, along with like-minded believers, began to meet on Thursdays in Ann Arbor, near the campus of the University of Michigan, with attendance growing exponentially, to the point where they began adding additional days. Thus began the first “charismatic covenant community”, a place where you could take your faith, add the power of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and realize the promise of God’s plan for your life. In this way, Pastor Bob tells me, you can enjoy that unshakable confidence that comes from principled knowledge, and that he saw in his college friends all those years ago. And all while taking your own faith to the next level.
The emphasis for Pastor Bob seems to be in realizing your true faith potential when the Holy Spirit fills your heart and is part of the equation, and the wonderful things God has in store for you when that happens. He also spoke passionately about letting the light of the Holy Spirit shine through you to others as well, thus creating a stronger and more capable Christian community, able to do His work and spread the Gospel. “Too many have become almost robotic in their faith, simply going through the motions”, Pastor Bob explained. It’s not a matter of being less faithful, but rather missing a driving mechanism which can help the believer to a better application of their faith. Being filled with the Holy Spirit simply fills you with soulful purpose and direction.
We discussed his desire to bring the “Life in the Spirit” seminar to today’s church, in order to help folks learn about the Trinity and how important it is that Christians experience and understand the love of all Three. We also talked about how while many Pastors are generally receptive to the idea, change is often difficult. But he quoted John the 23rd, who desired to “have all the windows of the church open to the Holy Spirit”, and Psalm 78:4 4 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. Pastor Bob also noted a Barna Group study, citing the “Providence to New Bedford region as one of the least Biblically literate in the nation, as well as one of the most post-Christian in makeup”. This came as no surprise to me, that’s for sure. The need for the Holy Spirit in our area is great.
Pastor Bob believes people don’t realize Christianity is not just about attending church, though it’s important. Nor is it about following rules, even though God made rules (like the Ten Commandments) to be followed. It is however, the Holy Spirit who guides believers in their lives. Jesus promised to send a Comforter, an Advocate, to help guide the Church. The Spirit helps Christians both individually and collectively. Continuing his conversations with area Pastors, Pastor Bob found that they were by and large in agreement that, “There is a pressing need to speak to a new generation about what God has done in their lives, and what He will do for those He loves”. Accordingly, he’s decided to offer the Clark seminar, “Life in the Spirit” at his church, inviting designees from other churches to learn about what the program could offer and bring that information to their church communities. Pastor Bob also felt that we need to be making this about the whole of the church community, and not just about the individual. In that way, the effect is magnified and thus the results.
Living a full life in Christ is our goal. On this I believe we can all agree. Pastor Bob also believes, and I concur, being filled with the Holy Spirit is the means to that end. Knowing is one thing, but understanding is quite another. And while many of us develop a sense of security in what we think we know of the Word and our own level of faith, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts, and taking down the barriers humanity puts up in our lives, will allow us to live as He intended and to spread that new and fruitful understanding to others.
Pastor Bob and I wrapped our conversation with a little more talk of Christian unity and how a common knowledge and faith in the Holy Spirit will ultimately serve the greater good of the Christian believers collective. He spoke of the Bible story in which Paul found some disciples in the Ephesian region and asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Discovering that they had only a rudimentary knowledge, Paul instructed them; they were baptized; and when Paul prayed for them, they received the Holy Spirit, began speaking in tongues and prophesied. He also reflected on the fact that we should not be “hiding our light under a bushel”, but rather we should be a light to all those around us, as an example of what the Holy Spirit can do in a person’s life.
As we said our goodbyes, I confessed to the Pastor that this is where I feel I am in my walk. I still have so much more to learn. I still have to give up more of my silly human control mechanisms in order for God to work seamlessly in me. I still have to put down the sword and pick up the book. Then the struggles I’ve taken up and can’t put aside will all wash away as I receive that greater understanding. Truth be told, this is already happening for me, and I’ve had several discussions with my Pastor about recent events in my life where I could feel the Holy Spirit working in me, and how it felt beyond my control, (in a good way). Pastor Dave patiently explained to me, “It’s the Holy Spirit Fred. Don’t fight it”…
Mindful of the current pandemic and guidelines, Pastor Bob is working through how he and his church will promote the seminars, doing their best to get it out to all who are interested. This will likely involve first making the seven lessons available to church leaders who can then disseminate that to their church bodies. Please see the ad in this month’s GNT calendar for information on October dates at Christian Life Church in Rehoboth.
Be well and be safe… God bless…
If you’d like to learn more about Life in the Spirit and Pastor Bob Bernier please visit clcrehoboth.com. Pastor Bob will be speaking at the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Luncheon on October 3rd at Chello’s – Warwick and a Zoom meeting for the Providence chapter on the 14th. Reservations and more information is available at www.fgbmfi-ri.org.