Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Preachers' fellowship

On Monday, the South-Eastern North Carolina Baptist Fellowship had its meeting at Bible Baptist Church.

Now, for those who don't know many preachers, or who have never seen preachers get together for fellowship, this might be imagined as a reserved, restrained gathering, with all fun being checked at the door. Or depending upon your preaching acquaintance, and since a good bit of the time was spent preaching to each other, perhaps the time would have seemed angry -- lots of furious shouting about hellfire and how bad some group or another is.

Those are all so far from the truth it's hard to describe the distance.

Preachers have fun. Probably sometimes too much fun. Counting church members and family, but mostly consisting of preachers, we had a solid 80 people in the church. And the auditorium rang with laughter when it wasn't echoing with amens. Get a few preachers together of like faith and practice, and you've got a recipe for a riot -- the fun sort. Maybe it's because we're forced into such restraint before our congregations normally (and rightfully so -- a preacher must be blameless, always striving not to give offense with word or deed, unless it be from the truth which he speaks, and even then, the offense had better be unavoidable). Maybe we're this much fun all the time, and no one notices. But some of the craziest groups I've ever seen in action were made up of preachers.

Not to say that we were out of control; there was a sense of dignity to all the proceedings. But that didn't stop the joy and enjoyment at all.

The other thing I think is neat about preachers' gatherings like this is the astonishing array of backgrounds men enter the ministry from. You meet some amazing people. One man was a WWII veteran, who spent three and a half years in Europe, notably fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He still had all of his faculties, as best as I could tell. We heard from a missionary to Romania (for those of you who are Dracula fans, he lived on Strada Transylvania), who used to be concert musician, I think. Now he lives close to the border, ministering to Hungarians, Romanians, and Gypsies. One preacher called himself a walking miracle -- after his body was literally shattered in a wreck, the best doctors in the state told him he'd never walk again, or really have good use of any of his body, I think. But he walked, and now he's going back to the hospital where he was treated to play the piano (he's also a composer) and preach -- at their invitation, I believe. Our last preacher was an ex-biker drug addict, now transformed and preaching the gospel that changed him. With LOTS of enthusiasm. When he got up, I marvelled at how athletic he looked -- he had the kind of build that usually comes from running a few miles every day, and spending hours in a weight room every week. Then I saw him preach, and realized that was quite likely all the exercise he needed!

Just like everybody, we've got our weaknesses over which to weap, our in-jokes over which to laugh. But most of all, we've got our Lord. And that's reason enough for joy.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Some days, you catch the up swing

Well, after last Sunday's struggles with the buses and the children's programs, I didn't know what to expect coming into this week. I'd been out to visit the driver who missed, and our songleader who's been absent, but didn't know what would come of both visits.

Attendance in my adult S.S. class was low last week, too, and so was Sunday night attendance.

This week, we had a guest piano player here for both services, an old friend of the pastor's. She has been blind from birth, but is a truly remarkable pianist. We were also scheduled to have a missionary with us tonight. With guest music and guest speakers, you never know what to expect from the services. My choir was going to be very shorthanded, but two people I thought weren't going to be able to sing (my best tenor and his wife, my best alto) did manage.

Well, this morning, there was a solid turnout for the adult S.S., even with some regulars still missing. The buses came in, and the children's classes were jammed. The music mostly went well, and the service went superbly, with a good response to both message and music. The bus driver showed up, and the songleader even came to the morning service.

Tonight, we showed up for music practices, and all went pretty well -- with this guest piano player, we managed a pretty good variety of music tonight. But as the evening service approached, the missionary hadn't shown up, even 15 minutes before the service. At about three minutes before the service, the pastor came up to me and let me know that he'd caught the missionary on the phone, and found out that due to a scheduling mixup, he wasn't coming, and I was preaching.

Fortunately, I've been keeping a sermon in my Bible. With pastor's health difficulties, I never know when he might start a service, but not be able to preach.

Considering the circumstances, the service went well, and a family who has been attending for a while came forward to join the church. He would love to work with the children's ministry, and she wants to sing in the choir! Woohoo!

Now, tomorrow, there's a preacher's fellowship at the church, and apparently at this get-together, the moderator can call on any preacher in the audience to give a short sermon. Guess I'd better have something ready, even though I'd just as soon not give another impromptu message.


Yesterday started pretty well. The bus crews look like they're back on track, for the time being, at least.

I got music squared away at the church while they visited, and got some prep work done for my premarital counseling session in the afternoon.

Then Pastor Gibbs and I headed over to the Pender County Jail (due to a funeral Friday afternoon, he and I weren't able to go at our regular time). There the Lord allowed me to lead a 17-year-old young man named Robert to the Lord! It seemed genuine, that he was really ready for a change in his life. Of course, the real test will come when he gets out.

But the day only got better, monumentally better, even. After the counseling session, I was working on my Sunday School lesson when my daughter came in to talk with me.

She had questions about her heart being black and when Jesus was going to come into her heart. I talked with her for a good little bit; we've had lots of opportunities to pray with her about getting saved, but I haven't been convinced that she understands. We didn't just want her parroting some words -- we wanted her to understand that she is a sinner, that Jesus is God's Son, that He died for her sins, and that all she has to do to have a relationship with God and go to heaven is trust in Jesus. After talking with her for a while yesterday, I was convinced that she understood. I led her in a prayer, and she trusted Christ!

Her face was simply radiant. She had a huge smile that lasted all night (and is still flashing from time to time this morning). She called her grandmas to tell them, and wants to tell all her friends that she got saved. Praise the Lord!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pinning Down Autism

My good friend from Staten Island, Jason Bross, and his wife Barbara decided to try to do a fundraiser for autism research a while back. (Their son is autistic.) With Jay's background in wrestling, he organized a takedown tournament.

Thing is, interest blossomed. The event actually grew into a foundation. They've got a neat website up, with the help of a top-notch U.S. wrestler, and it looks like things are really rolling along.

A friend from our church in Staten Island also sent me the clipping of a neat article in the Staten Island Advance about them.

Here's the website for the foundation:
Pinning Down Autism

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Flashing again

Woowee! Do to the hecticness of my schedule, it has literally been months since I wrote something a) I wasn't being paid to write and b) fictional and fun.

This weekend, I finally got back into a Liberty Hall flash challenge. The story was terrible; I wasn't even close to finishing it when time ran out, so I just had to slap something on and submit it right under the wire. Nonetheless, it appears to be doing okay in the category voting (things like best hook, dialogue, setting, and whatnot), while being deservedly spanked in the overall voting by a story that actually makes sense as a whole.

I'm rusty, but it sure was nice to be writing again. My wife tells me I'm supposed to be taking a little time each week to write and to practice piano. Both are in pretty bad shape these days. We'll see -- I'd like to think that with the degree of control I have over my schedule that it won't be impossible to at least stop losing ground in both areas.

In any case, it sure was fun to write again.

My kingdom for a CDL!

Well, okay, so my kingdom probably ain't worth a CDL. But I'd give a couple of church pews -- how's that?

Sunday morning, I got to church about 7 a.m. to see one of our bus crews off. These guys have a load of dedication -- out every Saturday visiting their route, then at the church at 7 on Sunday morning to run it. (Shucks, you can't get most people out of bed in time for a 9:45 S.S. or 11 a.m. morning service!) Unfortunately, one person on the crew didn't show up. The driver. We had no notice until I called his house and found that he wasn't just running late -- he wasn't coming.

We had a plan B. The church songleader is a professional truck driver, and he's ridden the route before. But he's been MIA for a few months now.

Down to plan C (see, we're not totally haphazard here.) Plan C is the regular driver for the other route (which uses a van). We could have him drive the bus, and send someone else with the van on that route. Unfortunately, he has bronchitis. Since we were desperate, I called him anyhow. And caught him on the way to work -- he was on call this weekend, and they called him in too, in spite of the bronchitis.

So we were only able to send out the van on one of the routes. Very frustrating. We've got a couple of possible solutions circulating, but all of them will take months to implement in full. Time to do some praying, I suppose.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What I don't get about the push to withdraw from Iraq

Okay, I can see some of the arguments for withdrawing our troops from Iraq. I don't know that I particularly agree with many of them, but I'm pretty good at grasping what the other guy is getting at. As it happens, some actions of the Bush administration concern me enormously, particularly when you look at their potential long-range ramifications.

But here's what I don't understand.

Remember back in the justification-for-the-attack stage? How weapons of mass destruction actually weren't the only reason for going to war? I know, as a member of the media not too long ago, it's easier, and often necessary, to boil a person's arguments down to their strongest points, and keep those in prominence in the articles. But a key reason for going to war in Iraq was because it was merely one front in the campaign against terrorism -- Bush's crew claimed first that Sadaam had ties to Al Qaeda, then backed off to the safer claim that he and his administration had definite ties to terrorist organizations.

And, since the United States was (and supposedly still is) at war with global terror, if the Commander and Chief figures that the next best place to launch an attack on global terrorism is Iraq, I can definitely see the point in going to war there, especially if a government with known terrorist proclivities and animosity toward the U.S. might possess or develop WMDs.

As it turns out, WMDs never did turn up in quantity. But terrorist connections -- oh, my. The initial evidence that Hussein and his administration had ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations has never been refuted, to my knowledge, and has only been added to. And now, our trops are dealing with Al Qaeda and other terrorists practically on a daily basis.

So, let me get this straight. We, the United States, are at war against global terror, with a special bone to pick with Al Qaeda. We know exactly where Al Qaeda is operating in force -- in fact, our troops are constantly in contact with our sworn enemy, and frankly beating the pants off of them at every turn, because our boys are the best.

And now, with the enemy in sight and taking losses far heavier than our own, we want to retreat, effectively handing an entire country of potential allies over to our enemies to destroy and subvert. Why would we do that to our military? "You're winning, guys, in conflict with the mortal enemies of our country. Now come home quick!"

Our military exists to go out, find, and combat the enemies of our country. They have gone, they have found, and they are combatting. Yes, it's complicated. Yes, there have been losses. I have a brother in the National Guard, and I have friends who have been in Iraq and are on their way there, and I'd hate to lose any of them. But they're doing the job they signed up for -- fighting the enemies of our country. In the process, whether by coincidence, some other factor, or because of intel gained by our military while keeping the enemy engaged in his own territory, neither Al Qaeda nor any other terrorist organization has succeeded in any terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.

Why in the world would we run away from Al Qaeda? That's what we would be doing by pulling out of Iraq. I do not understand why so many in the United States would want us to retreat from the very terrorist organization that attacked our country.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Christians and Politics

The death of Jerry Falwell has brought some attention to the role of the religious right and the Moral Majority. As a pastor, a person who takes the Bible seriously and believes it means what it says, I guess I'm expected to say that what Falwell did was great. I've got friends who are pretty politically involved, and people bringing petitions to Bible Baptist here in Burgaw to get involved in pushing for Bible classes to stay in the schools (more on that later, maybe). So how politically involved will I and my church be? Should we jump on board with the Moral Majority, possibly the single most powerful political group in the last 50 years?

I think abortion is murder. I believe marriage should be between a man and woman (and just one of each!) and that homosexuality is wrong (I don't see how anyone can read the Bible, take it seriously, and not come away with that understanding). I'm opposed to adultery and pre-marital sex, I think drunkenness is wrong, and I'd be pleased as punch if nothing opened on Sunday until 1 p.m. at the earliest, and just fine if most never opened at all on Sunday. I've read my Bible, and I see that it says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord," and, "Righteousness exalteth a nation." (As it happens, I think that a lot of things that don't get talked about so much on a national stage are sinful too, just as much sin as homosexuality or adultery -- things like pride, arrogance, and backbiting.)

But there are some things I don't see in the Bible. Though I see Him telling people how they ought to live, I don't see Jesus telling the Romans what laws to make. Although it was a government that was corrupt in many ways and would eventually kill him, I don't see the Apostle Paul trying to change the Roman government, not through political means, anyhow.

And there's the key. Today, in spite of the remarkable number of people who would tell pollsters that they are "Christian" or have been "born again," it's pretty apparent that in America today, God is not the Lord. And we won't change that just by making laws. The fact is that you most definitely CAN legislate some aspects of morality. Much of morality is made up of how we treat each other, and by enacting laws and penalties, we can affect how people treat each other quite a bit. But you most definitely cannot legislate spirituality -- that is entirely between a person and God.

I'd love it if abortion were abolished in my country, if homosexuality were unheard of, if adultery and fornication were once again socially unacceptable. But I don't think I, or my church, can do the most to accomplish those things by marching on Washington, D.C., or on Raleigh, or even on our county commissioners. I think we are most likely to effect outward change through inward transformation.

Since the Moral Majority began its work, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of both people and dollars, countless man-hours, and tremendous energy toward making America a more Godly nation, has the situation gotten that much better? I don't think it has. Of course, one could say that it might be far, far worse had they not gotten involved, doing the things they are, but there's no way to say what might have been.

Suppose instead that those thousands of people with all their man-hours and money had set out with that kind of single-minded purpose to win people to Jesus Christ. I think we'd be a lot better off, as churches and as a country. And that's where the focus of my ministry and my church will be. I think God is far more concerned with our eternal destiny, and how we live on our way to it, than He is with what laws we get passed. I think He would rather see me win a soul to the Lord, helping that soul to walk in righteousness through the power of Jesus Christ, than have me get a law passed that makes the person do something right against his will.

We could abolish homosexuality, pass laws against the occult, legislate away abortion, place draconion penalties on drug sales and use -- but not one of those things would save a single soul. People don't go to hell because they use drugs, or engage in sodomy, or dabble in witchcraft, or perform an abortion. They go to hell because they don't believe in Jesus Christ. ("He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.")

I figure it's more important for me to reach out with the gospel. Once they're saved, then God can start working on them from the inside, instead of me trying to force a change on their outside.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Christians shouldn't vote their conscience. I'm going to vote for the candidate who most closely reflects the direction I'd like this country, this state, this county, to go in. I'm not saying I'll never say anything about politics -- I'm still a citizen of this country, and if I was called on to do so, I think I would die for it, so I figure I've got as much right to free speech about political things as anyone. Where legislative and political issues come into contact with the Bible, I don't see any reason why I can't address them from the pulpit. That just isn't going to be my focus from the pulpit.

I'm thankful for every real Christian who is involved in politics (who isn't just trying to use his "religion" for political gain -- God can tell the difference even when we can't). I figure we'd have a lot less corruption in politics if we had more politicians who actually took things like "Lie not one to another, brethren," seriously -- people who might have actually tried to read the Bible and apply it to their job.

God doesn't lead all Christians to be pastors. That's a good thing. His body has a lot of different kinds of members, and I'm sure He leads some of those members to be involved in politics, and I'm thankful for their effect upon my nation. But the purpose of the Body of Jesus Christ is not to fix a government -- it is to call attention to the glory of His grace, walking in good works ourselves and reaching out to others with His gospel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Daughter's first fish

One of the beauties of the combination of pastoring and homeschooling is that there is a measure of flexibility to a schedule. In theory, Monday is my day off. But my wife was babysitting, so I spent a goodly portion of late Monday working ahead on my S.S. lesson, then took some time yesterday afternoon, with my wife not working, to go fishing with my wife and daughter.

I don't know if I mentioned or not, but we'd come across this lovely little path beside the Lower NE Cape Fear River (some men in my church showed it to me) in the Holly Shelter game lands. There's a cypress along the path that is hollow on the inside, and so big a large grown man could stand inside it without even coming close to bumping his head.

There's also loads of birds, frogs, and whatnot along the way; there's a low swamp on the other side of the path from the river. It's a great place for a nature hike.

Well, we went out there with some worms, with the intention of just hanging out for a couple of hours. The river has all manner of fish in it, from two-inch bluegill to forty-pound catfish, and some really strange fish I'd never seen before moving down here.

We tossed my daughter's line in the water for her, gave her the pole, and next thing you know, there went the bobber. She managed to reel in the fish (one of those small bluegill), and she had caught her very first fish on her own. (In the past, we've let her pull in ones that we hooked, or reeled in ones that she hooked, but she'd never both hooked and retrieved one.)

Now, if we can just teach her to bait her own hook and remove the fish herself...Oh, and develop more than 10 seconds worth of patience. It wasn't long before she had pulled all the worms out of the container and was playing with them instead of fishing, deciding that the longest one was her pet.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mother's Day gifting and celebration

The story of how I actually gave a good gift (I think), and was almost late to a wedding because of it.

Last week, I figured I'd try to get my wife something nice for Mother's Day this year. As it happens, I'm usually a terrible gift-giver. I attribute this to an empathy deficiency, and even more to a terrible memory. Besides, the kind of thing I love for a gift is completely different than what my wife (or any other reasonably normal person) would like. (I was so proud of the gifts I got her one year -- I would have loved to have the more-masculine equivalents of the whole lot. Then she pointed out, "But, Sweety, you did all your shopping at the campus bookstore." It didn't even occur to me that this was a bad thing -- I would have loved it if someone had done all their shopping for me at a bookstore.)

Well, this year, she'd mentioned a few weeks ago that she was experiencing an earring shortage. I think there was also some necklace trouble, with one or two having broken.

So I went down to a local jeweler's, where they do a lot of custom work. They'd done some work on a group gift to someone else for me, and always been pleasant. This time, I picked out necklace and earring set and picked the color crystal I wanted in there. Daughter and I went to pick it up on Friday, then stashed it in the house, to await Sunday morning.

But as we were trying to get ready to leave for the wedding Saturday morning, my wife realized that with the last necklace that had broken (this is the problem with putting cheap jewelry on active people), she didn't have any that went with the dress she was wearing. So we changed the plans quickly, and when she asked for pliers to fix her necklace, instead I gave her the new set.

She seemed delighted by the set, and immediately put on the earrings and necklace. But the earrings were of the sort that don't come with any kind of catch on the back -- they just have a long, thin, kind of hooky piece of metal to go through the ear. And whenever my wife would push her hair back, the earring on that side ran the risk of being knocked out of her ear.

Or so we discovered after we left the restaurant we ate lunch at on the way to the wedding, and my wife realized in the car that she didn't have the earrings. Back we went, where we found one outside the restaurant and the other beneath the car seat. Whew. And we weren't quite late for the wedding, in spite of the detour.

Instead of eating out on Sunday afternoon (or, heaven forbid, me cooking -- Mother's Day is supposed to be good for the mother!), we ate at a steakhouse at South of the Border on I-95. In spite of all the trips up and down that interstate, neither of us had ever stopped there before. The meal at the steakhouse was very impressive (good salad, good bread, awesome sweet tea, so-so fish, great steak), and we figure we'll have to run back down there again sometime when it's not late and raining to look over the rest of the place.

Mother's Day itself was kind of low-key for us, since the biggest gift had been given, the meal had been eaten, and I work like a dog for most of a Sunday. I did wash some dishes, though, which is pretty momentous (I know, it shouldn't be all that strange, but this is a blog, where we're supposed to be honest, so there it is.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What a Mother's Day gift

Apparently Mother's Day weekend is a pretty popular time to get married. There was a power outage here in Burgaw the other night, and when we walked out to see what had happened, we found a local florist who had seen the accident which caused it. She explained that this was a terrible time for a power outage -- she had three weddings this weekend to supply flowers for, along with the usual Mother's Day rush.

Well, my oldest niece, down in GA, apparently had the same notion as those three young ladies. So we dashed down to Augusta yesterday for the wedding, then back up here afterward (about 11 hours total drive).

The trip went pretty smoothly, the wedding was lovely (I gave the opening prayer, somewhat spontaneously, since I didn't find out until we pulled up that I'd be doing it), the bride was radiant -- the usual for a Christian wedding. Her new husband is, as I understand it, headed for TX for Air Force flight school. Our best wishes go with them.

Maybe if I get to check in later, I'll talk about our Mother's Day.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Fulfer family

It's a small world.

Back when my wife and I were in Pensacola, with me in seminary, her working for the school, and us poor as dirt, our car broke down. It needed a medium-level repair -- a couple hundred dollars, probably, at a normal shop. But a half-Philippino young man who worked for the school's bus garage fixed it for us for the cost of the part and a few bucks on the side, so we were able to keep on carrying scads of kids to church in our station wagon.

I'd pretty much forgotten about the fellow, Alan Fulfer, and his brother Alex, with whom I played basketball occasionally, I think.

Then Wednesday night, we had a missionary come to the church -- and it turned out to be their dad. He's still a missionary in Subic Bay in the Philippines, running a children's home for the thousands of orphans and street children there. Quite a work he's already done, and continues to do. It looks like our church is going to at least contribute to the construction of a dormitory (most of their buildings were destroyed by storms, and prior to that, by a volcano erruption, as I understand it), and we may take them on for support.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Day off

I had actually forgotten what a day off felt like. My wife mentioned to me today that yesterday was the first day in...neither one of us could remember how long it has been since I had a day with absolutely no demands from a job, or something. But now that I'm no longer trying to work for both the newspaper and the church, I should be able to pretty much take Mondays off, like normal people do with Saturdays, or something.

So we went strawberry picking, went to the mall and got new cell phones (I have to turn back in the work phone at some point; the paper has been gracious to let me keep it this long.)

Just normal stuff -- going someplace for a little bit with my family, watching an episode of an old TV show on DVD, picking up some dress shirts and cell phones from the mall. And it was really nice -- we haven't been able to really spend a whole day as a family for entirely too long.

When we walked by the bookstore at the mall, we saw that they were having a going-out-of-business sale, with everything 40% off. The books were clearly desperate. They dragged us right in there. We fought hard, and managed to escape with only a half-dozen or so books clinging to us.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Whew. I have got to find a songleader.

Well, my first Sunday of doing it all myself is now over. And it took a long time to be over.

Pastor Gibbs was out of town, preaching a homecoming for an old friend, so that gave me a taste of what the ministry here at Bible Baptist of Burgaw can entail on a Sunday.

I met the bus crews to see them off about 7 a.m. Went back home to gather my things for the services and help my wife and daughter get ready. Then the marathon truly began.

I led the singing (our songleader is MIA), made the announcements, taught the adult Sunday School lesson, got the choir ready, led the singing, directed the choir, made the announcements, sang both with a trio and did a solo, preached the morning sermon, and gave the invitation (I barely escaped playing the piano during the offering). Then we went out to eat with some folk from the church and some of their family. Then it was back home to finish up Sunday night's message. And on back to the church to set up for choir, practice with the trio, lead choir practice, lead the men's prayer time. Then the service started, and I again led the singing, gave the announcements, directed the choir, sang with the trio, preached the message, and gave the invitation. Then we went out to Hardee's afterward, as is our custom, to fellowship with some church folk and be available in a casual environment for folk to talk to me and ask questions. We probably left about 9:30 p.m. or so. I can scarcely express how tired my voice and mind were.

By the way, I don't do those things because I love being the center of attention. Actually, I still get stage fright pretty often, and I hate putting myself forward. I sure don't like a service that looks like (cue music!) "The Dan Robelen Variety Hour." But when there are things to be done, people just naturally look for the guy who has the squishy chair in the office.

At least now I can sleep in a bit Monday and take care of family things instead of going in for a 16-hour day at the newspaper.

Okay, to be honest, I do already miss the paper a bit. But man, I don't miss going into a Monday and Tuesday at the paper after even a part of the load from yesterday's church services.

Friday, May 04, 2007

One follow-up

I didn't figure I'd write much more about Pender County issues and whatnot after I left the paper, but I've been meaning to mention this for a while and just haven't gotten around to posting it.

The issue about Bible classes in the schools has continued to heat up around here. The ministerial association has headed up a petition drive that has collected apparently thousands of signatures from people who want the Bible classes to remain (still taught as non-sectarian history courses, naturally).

The superintendent and school board insist that they don't have any choice but to change the classes, and if they can't get them changed in time, they have to cancel them, because they simply cannot legally keep doing them the way they are doing them.

The thing is, the school board is probably right. Currently, the classes are held in the public school buildings as electives, with the school giving credit for them.

But they are funded by the ministerial association, which selects the curriculum (fortunately, the curriculum they are using is probably one of only two major and generally accepted curriculums that pass constitutional muster) and hires the teachers (both of whom are uncertified local pastors, though they both have at least a four-year college degree). This approach to offering the classes could definitely be challenged in court, and would very likely lose a court case based on church-state separation. If the schools offer the classes, hold them in their buildings, and give credit for them, the schools have to approve the content of the course and provide certified teachers.

But it looks to me like the school board went about it all wrong. They have known for nearly two years, best I can tell, that they needed to change this. But they didn't want to deal with this last year, so they kept the advice of their attorney secret and said nothing to no one until this year was nearly over. Then they abruptly announced the cancellation of the classes.

When I talked to the ministerial association and the teachers of the courses, all seemed a little bewildered. The ministerial association says they would be perfectly willing to work with the board to find some kind of compromise, or a system that would work. One of the men teaching these courses says he would be glad to become certified and work through the school, and that he had even started the process of finding what he needed to get certified (the other teacher said he had no interest in certification). He said that given two years, he could have almost certainly gotten certified, and given one he likely could have -- but it's impossible between March and August.

Right now, the school board is scrambling to get a similar course offered through the local community college, or find someone already in its hire who is qualified and willing to teach. People in the ministerial association are scrambling to push off-site classes that they can still control. And the whole scrambled mess could likely have been avoided, if the school board had quietly sat down with the ministerial association, explained the legalities carefully, and worked out a solution when they first learned about the problem about two years ago. There wouldn't be any need for petition drives and constitution-thumping on both sides.

But the school board, in a move all too common in Pender County politics, decided that papa knows best, and it might cause trouble if they told anyone else what needed to be done or what they were considering doing. So now, they have a problem instead of a solution. Their secrecy and uni-lateral action turned a constitutional concern into a county-wide mess.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A one-job man

As of yesterday, I am a full-time pastor, the assistant pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Burgaw until July, when, Lord-willing, I'll take the reigns. It's been a long time coming. I spent 5 years as an intern at Tanton Memorial Baptist in Pensacola, while also going to school and working for the school. After graduating with my Master of Divinity, it was off to South Baptist Church of Staten Island, where I worked as assistant pastor for the next three and a half years, while working part-time, first in appliance repair and then in a bookstore. Here in Burgaw, I have been the assistant pastor for almost a year, working for the Pender Post on the side.

But at last, I can now focus on just one job and my family. It has been so nice the last couple of days not to have to divide my attention between the newspaper and the church, making sure that there aren't scheduling conflicts, not having to rush from covering an event to get to visitation, and so on.

It has also been great being able to spend some time with Pastor Carl Gibbs, a tremendous man of God. He's been in the ministry for over 50 years, 18 of them here. In my previous churches, because of having so many family and work responsibilities outside the church, I haven't really been able to just spend time with the pastor, watching how he does things from day to day, listening to him explaining on a case-by-case basis, learning the things that are so hard to teach in Bible college. The next two months should be most instructive.

Although everyone at the paper actually looked kind of sad to see me go (they threw a very nice farewell party Monday), and I really will miss some of it, I love the ability to focus on my calling in life, the thing for which I have spent more than a decade preparing to do.

I think my family will be happier with this too, since I should finally be able to get into some kind of reasonable schedule that includes time for things like regular exercise, lawn-mowing, and time spent doing things with them.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rolling, rolling, rolling

That's what our car is doing, quite reliably now.

And no, it's not the same car we've been driving for a while. With our old car on the very verge of collapse, its transmission needing rebuilding, an inner CV axle needing to be replaced, the air-conditioning not working right, it occasionally being grumpy about starting, and a plethora of other minor problems, we were just trying to limp our way along until I would receive a regular full-size paycheck from the church.

Going full-time with the church on May 1, we went car-shopping last week. Ordinarily, I would have liked a lot more time to make a big-money decision like this, but with the car we were driving making people shake their heads at the miracle that it kept rolling this long with its problems, time was really of the essence, so I prayed and went shopping. Now, I've been researching for a while, trying to find which car would give us the most value for the dollar, something that should give us years of reliability, meet our needs adequately, and still be reasonably affordable.

We settled on the Hyundai Sonata. It's a mid-size, really, though the interior is big for a mid-size. If you go much smaller, it gets cramped if you try to put an extra person or two in it for a ride to church, or if you have to travel a long ways. And with just one child right now and gas prices being what they are, we don't need anything bigger.

The beauty of the Sonata is that it is basically equivalent to the ever-popular Accord and Camry -- but it costs thousands of dollars less, comes with a better warranty, and appears to be engineered well enough to last just as long.

Ours is a 2006 (the 2007s are several thousand dollars more expensive, for basically the same car, and the company re-engineered in 2006, producing a much better car than the 2005 and prior) V6 with about 30,000 miles on it. It used to be a rental car. It's dark blue, with leather interior and most of the gizmos and gadgets. Since we were buying used from a large car lot, the salesman and floor manager didn't seem really aware of the differences (and price difference) between the GLS and the LX (particularly since the company dropped that naming style last year; those two were trying to figure out if this is an SE or LE, the naming style Hyundai went to this year), and we basically got the LX with all the features at the GLS 6-cylinder price. We wouldn't have paid extra for the leather interior, heated seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and whatnot, but when it comes at basically the same price as the 6-cylinder across the lot that didn't have those features, we'll take them.

There's a lot of little things about the car that I really like, like the immense trunk and glove compartment. If I get the chance, I'll post a pic or two; I think my wife already has on her blog.

There is, incidentally, a certain thrill in going toe-to-toe with a classic used car salesman. And it's way more fun when you've done your homework, and know more about the car, its value, its history, and what his company paid for it than he does. (My wife, incidentally, vehemently disagrees -- she figures used car shopping should be like shopping at Walmart: each car has a sticker that is the actual price, and if you don't like it, you go someplace else, do without it, or bite the bullet and buy it anyhow. But where's the time-wasting adrenaline rush in that?)

So far, we're very happy with it, outside and in, design, construction, engineering, and handling. It's still under the 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. Ask me again in 150,000 miles, but at the moment, I think what we've got is pretty good.

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