Minister's Study

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

Thursday, June 28, 2007

WV follow-up

Here's a few pictures from the WV missions trip.

The first is the pastor of the church we were helping and missionary Karl Sapp playing some down-home gospel music at a cookout at the pastor's house. Turns out they're both pretty good and the pastor and his wife are both terrific singers.

The second is our raft headed through one of the better rapids on the Lower New River in West Virginia. That's a class four, folk, and it was a blast. You can just see the helmet of the girl in front of me as she's being submerged. That grin on my wife's face (she's right behind me) is one of the biggest on record for her, I believe.

The last is a river we crossed on our way home, early in the morning.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

All's Quiet on the Economic Front

Strangely quiet, in fact. It's another thing I just don't get, I suppose.

A few elections ago, the Democratic Party ran with the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid." Huh. Funny how political talk these days in major news outlets and from Democrats in general is incredibly silent about the economy.

For an issue that was of the utmost importance a few years ago (while stormclouds were gathering unnoticed in preparation for a war against the United States by Islamic radicals), it apparently doesn't figure very high in Bush's approval ratings these days -- the last poll I saw showed an approval rating of a mere 32%.

Yet right now, unemployment is low, stocks are high, wages are up, and consumer spending is up. All that negative talk about how bad or ineffective for the economy Bush's unusual tax rebates would be has been quiet, as Bush's administration smoothly led the country out of a recession handed to him by his predecessor.

And so, as the economy flourishes practically unnoticed in political circles, Bush's approval rating continues to suffer because he is keeping his word to the nation, the world, and the people of Iraq. Strange -- in my book, it's a good thing when someone, especially a politician, has the guts to keep his word, even if it's unpopular. And if he's able to develop economic policies that bring the country out of recession and lead it into some of the strongest positions it's had in decades, all the better. I've said it before, and I'll go into more detail later, but I have grave concerns about some of the decisions made by the Bush administration. But those concerns cannot negate my acknowledgement of the things he's done well.

I don't know how history will judge this President yet, or what God would say if he stood before His throne. I don't know if Bush will go down as the President who opened the door for unprecedented oppression of state-defined enemies of the state or if he'll be known as the man who saved modern Western civilization by being one of the few political leaders willing to take an active, confrontational stand against global terrorism.

I guess the state of the U.S. economy probably will just be a footnote in the history books when they're written. But I tire of the hypocrisy -- "Give us politicians with character, who will stand for what they believe in, even if it's unpopular -- so long as it is popular with us!" And, "It's the economy, stupid -- and we're glad you're stupid enough to notice that it's only the economy when economic issues benefit our party."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Pastor Gibbs' retirement

Yesterday we celebrated the retirement of one of the most tremendous men of God I have ever known.

After 18 years here in Burgaw, Pastor Carl Gibbs preached his last Sunday morning as pastor of Bible Baptist. He plans to remain in the area, working in the church when he's not speaking elsewhere. I have been blessed and privileged to work under him for the last year, and I can't think of anyone else I would rather have worked under for that time. I mean that.

The services went well. We had a large turnout, both of our people and friends and family of Pastor Gibbs from all over the Southeast. We heard testimonies, and the captain of the jail came out to give Pastor Gibbs a trophy of sorts for his years of work in the jail. At least two or three of the men in the service came because of the jail outreach. Though we had to improvise a bit from time to time, all went well. It was a fitting tribute to the faithfulness of a servant of the Lord, and a greater tribute to the faithfulness of his God, Who has sustained him.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Soaking wet, freezing cold, bone-weary -- man, that was fun!

We're back now from our brief mission trip to West Virginia. As it turns out, West Virginia at night (or on an overcast day while soaking wet) is considerably cooler than Burgaw, North Carolina, this time of year. Strangely, that fact scarcely occured to my wife or me while we were packing.

But that's okay. We had a safe trip going and coming, saw one girl make a profession of faith and hundreds of tracts distributed. We had a good time of fellowship with the people of the church we visited in West Virginia.

On Friday, we went whitewater rafting on the lower New River -- what a blast! We went through class four rapids, and we had a great time. Even my wife, who was threatening to kill me for bringing her, assuming she survived the trip, came out of there with one of the biggest grins I've ever seen on her and called her parents to tell them that they have GOT to try doing that with us.

I may post a couple of pics in the next few days if I get them and get the chance. Tomorrow is Pastor Carl Gibbs' last Sunday as pastor of Bible Baptist Church, so we're having a fellowship and special services in his honor. It's a rotten day for me to be so worn out that I can hardly see or walk straight, so I've got to get some rest for tonight along with finishing up preparations for the morning.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Caution: God at work

I left off on the church reports with last Wednesday, I believe. Well, my wife taught the children's class last Wednesday with the regular teacher absent, and she was privileged to lead another girl to the Lord.

Thursday, a young lady whose life just came crashing in came to the church in need of help with her rent; the church helped her a bit. Thursday night, I went by her house with one of our young men, and she accepted Christ as her Savior.

Saturday evening, we held our men's fellowship at the church. About 25 men and boys showed up, and we had a great time. Missionary Karl Sapp (of North Pole, Alaska, by the way) brought a challenge. One of the men in attendance was my good friend and ex-boss, the Pender Post's brilliant young editor Mike Todd. After the event, he went up to interview Brother Sapp, and wound up being led to the Lord! Mike was in church Sunday night, and we're really hoping he sticks with it.

Sunday morning, a Mexican man joined the church (he's been attending for quite a while now), and he brought a friend who chose to receive Christ. My wife also got to lead another child to Christ after my brother taught the children's church.

This week, we're off to West Virginia with folk from our church and two others on Wednesday to do some tract distribution on Thursday, try whitewater rafting on Friday, then return on Saturday (prior to Pastor Gibbs' retirement ceremony on Sunday).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Father's Day visit

I've not posted on this as much over the last several days as I had been. My apologies, but things haven't actually slowed down all THAT much since I left the newspaper.

My mother and one brother and sister came to visit us over the Father's Day weekend (with Dad no longer with us, they decided to come down here rather than spending the weekend alone up in VA). We had a delightful, though too-short, visit; I couldn't leave all the church responsibilities behind just because they were here.

I'm afraid we rather put my brother to work while he was here; he wound up hanging some airplanes my dad had made from our ceilings and playing general handyman around the house, even fixing my wife's nice mixer (now she can go back to making deserts!)

We also had him play the piano and teach children's church and had my sister sing for the morning service.

My wife and I are going on a church missions trip to West Virginia this week, so when my family headed out, they took our daughter and collie dog with them. We'll re-acquire the two of them when we come back at the end of this week.

This will be the longest time we've been away from our daughter in the five years since she was born. My wife is having a strangely hard time with that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

They keep rolling in

We continue to see people making professions of faith here, as we continue to witness. Last Friday in the jail, Pastor Gibbs had three make professions of faith. (The rascal gave me the wrong guy in the nine-man cell -- he got the one that needed to be saved, and I got the one who needed to deal with assurance and security! *grins*)

Then on Sunday, after a new church member taught children's church as a guest speaker (his family joined the church a few weeks ago, and he'd like to work with the children's ministry), my wife got to lead two girls to the Lord. One was a church girl, and the other was a bus kid. I'm thankful for my wife's discernment; two others had said they wanted to make the same decision, but talking with them, she realized that they simply didn't understand yet.

We're not interested in notching belts here. There have been a number of folk that we could have led or pushed into a quick prayer, but that would have been irresponsible and pointless, if the people didn't understand. We're interested in life-changing decisions, and that only happens when a person understands and consciously decides to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Speaking of life-changing decisions, we're hoping to see more fruit from those who have made professions of faith in the last couple of weeks. We're not seeing much yet. Until you see people start to make decisions that reflect a walk with Jesus Christ, it's a lot harder to tell if they really meant that profession.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sometimes my allies scare me

The other day I got one of those pass-along emails from a good friend. The email purported to be (and may well have been) a letter from an angry woman about those who protest some of what has been done in the name of the war on terror.

In the letter, the woman makes the excellent point that we are supposedly at war with terrorism, on a global scale. She points out, quite accurately, that it was Islamic militants who slaughtered literally thousands of innocents on 9/11, who deride and physically assault practically any religion but their own, who deliberately attack and endanger innocent women and children both on their own side and the side of their enemies. They have used torture and indiscriminate slaughter to attempt to force their will upon the unwilling, and have the avowed goal of bringing down the United States and our allies -- and they are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.

She then objects to our soft-pedaling around that fact. She rails against complaints against the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, saying that we are at war, and it is legitimate to use humiliation, both personal and religious, and even some forms of torture, to get information from our enemies in order to save American lives. To her, the facts of sexual humiliation, denigration of religious items, even the possibility of brutal torture of those being held are no big deal -- because we are at war, and those sworn to destroy us would have no qualms about using those same tactics against us.

There's a problem with that. The very reason we are at war is because we are different than they are. We don't believe that it's okay to deliberately slaughter the innocent. We don't think that just anything goes in order to get our way, or even to protect ourselves. There are moral limits to what the good guys can do before they become the bad guys.

Our goal is not to take over some big part of the world (their long-range goal is actually to take over the world for Islam; the people we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan today have dreams no smaller than Hitler's, and every bit as bloody. I think it's a good thing we're fighting them there rather than waiting for them to come here again.) Our goal is rather to turn the majority of the people inhabiting those areas to our side in opposing terrorism. It's been working -- we get a tremendous amount of our most valuable intelligence from people in Iraq and Afghanistan who are sickened by the oppression and brutality of our enemies. But you rarely make people love you and want to genuinely side with you through torture and humiliation -- you make them fear you, and what people fear, they eventually hate (which is why so many in those countries have turned to us instead of the terrorists or the old regimes). Every story of brutality that goes out to the world does our enemies more good than any car bomb they can set off.

Besides, I'm not sure there's much evidence that it actually works to torture people for information (from what I'm told -- no personal experience here, I assure you). A person who is being tortured doesn't tell the truth -- he says whatever he thinks will make the pain go away. Sure, at some point, he may tell you the truth. But you don't know which time that will be (even if you do actually manage to get it out of him, and there's plenty of people who have died before giving up information).

But even if we assumed that it worked, that we could capture known terrorists and torture them for useful information (and it was morally okay to do that), that makes another assumption -- that the people being held, humiliated, and abused are actually known terrorists with useful information. Now, I have little doubt that the media has successfully blown all out of proportion the misdeeds done to U.S. prisoners, and underestimates the intelligence and ability of U.S. troops -- it's a pattern in the mainstream media these days. I'm well aware that there's no evidence our troops are using blowtorches, acid, and swords on people, and that keeping someone up late or kicking the Koran (however silly that may be) isn't quite the same thing. But some of what I have seen definitely goes beyond any reasonable line of moral treatment. And the information I've seen suggests that the majority of the people being treated in these ways actually were not caught in any terrorist act, have no demonstrable ties to terrorist organizations, and in fact are not actually known to have any really useful information. Maybe they do, and maybe they don't.

I understand the need for protecting our sources of information -- if we had an Al Qaeda informant who was clueing us in on people to grab, and we gave that person's name in a trial as evidence for why we picked someone up, that informant would be most assuredly killed, and probably with far more suffering and brutality than the U.S. has inflicted on any prisoner. But we need some way to identify who we are holding as legitimate prisoners with potentially useful information or demonstrable ties to terrorist groups or activities. And we need to think very carefully before we decide that since we are at war, anything goes -- even the possible humiliation, torture, and killing of the innocents.

How much of that does it take before the good guys become bad guys too?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More of the same (Hallelujah and yikes!)

Bible Baptist Church continues to see people making professions of faith, though some folk cut things a little too close for comfort. A lady in our church had a sister who was dying of cancer (not that old, either). With her sister on her deathbed, the lady from our church was able to lead her to the Lord Sunday night. The sister died Monday morning. Just before she died, our church member and an unbelieving brother heard her saying, "I see Jesus."

On Tuesday night, we went out on visitation, and I didn't expect much from it. I was praying that we'd see someone saved, but we usually don't have many men out on Tuesday, it had just been thunderstorming (which cuts down on our turnout usually), pastor was out of town, and we had enough follow-up work to do to tie up a couple of teams.

To my surprise, we had a good turnout, enough for three teams. I went with David to visit the folk he had led to the Lord last week (some of that follow-up work). Strangely, although he had just bought a fairly new used car, his car was dripping some oil. It didn't look major, so we headed out, and he figured he'd get it checked the next day.

We had a good visit with the first new convert and headed over to the next. There, to our surprise, we found two new young black men hanging out. My throat was really scratchy, so David was doing most of the talking. He launched into the plan of salvation, and by the end of the evening, both of them decided to pray with him. (Incidentally, in case anyone out there in the ether is wondering, we make it a point to leave the decision in people's own hands -- we tell them the truth as best we can without being ugly or unnecessarily confrontational, then let them make a decision.)

Time for, um, coincidence to strike again. David, who has been at the heart of our little revival here, had his car's water pump go out on him. Just for added good measure, when he opened his glove compartment (likely to pull out the manual), the whole glove compartment fell out! (Keep in mind that this is practically a brand new car.)

Well, David drove his loaner vehicle in Wednesday night, and led a teenage girl to the Lord in his Wednesday night class.

We're just really hoping that the decisions these people have made will begin to transform lives. If you're the praying sort, pray to that end with us, please.

A Liberty Hall win

Well, this is nice. Last week, I participated in the Liberty Hall flash challenge again, and my story wound up in a tough, tough group. Although I thought the story was pretty decent, it wound up not winning in the voting for anything. That's a bit of a letdown, of course, given my hyper-competitive nature.

This week, I competed again, writing a science fiction story that is a bit of a homage to an old favorite novel of mine, Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Complete turnaround in the voting. The story won the week's contest, along with almost all of the individual categories. Woo-hoo! (Sorry, it's that hyper-competitive nature coming through again.)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Kooky crooks and coincidence

Things must have been going too well.

Yesterday morning, when the bus crews went to head out on visitation, they found that someone had broken into a church outbuilding and stolen a case of motor oil (10 quarts).

When one of the crews went to take the church van out on their route, they found that someone had all but destroyed the ignition, apparently trying to jumpstart the van.

Stealing in general is bad enough -- but stealing from a church? That's pretty low. And apparently not the work of a terribly smart person, either. First off, the van is one of the most recognizable, worthless things on four wheels in the county. It's a two-tone -- blue and rust, and it's nearly 20 years old. Not only that, but it has the church name emblazoned across the sides -- you can't NOT recognize that van anywhere. (There was a church member's pickup truck, tool box and all, parked behind the church, visible from the van. That wasn't touched. Neither was the brand-new, really nice air compressor in the same room as the case of oil.)

And the real beauty of it is, that when said supervillain bent down to pick up the case of oil, he apparently dropped his wallet. We found it on the floor of the outbuilding. We don't think there was any ID or any credit cards in it -- but a dope-smoking pipe was in there, as were receipts with signatures on them.

Fortunately, when he broke into the outbuilding, he only went into the first room -- the next room held the equipment for the radio station (some of which isn't portable at all, and some of which might have really zapped him had he tried to take it, but some of which could have taken us off the air and cost a fair chunk of money to replace). Also fortunately, although repairs to the van's steering wheel column and ignition would probably cost more than the van is worth, it can still be started -- if we couldn't run it, we couldn't run one of our bus routes.

So if this isn't coincidence that we had this break-in right after the week of salvations that we've seen (and a new family joining the church), I'm thinking it might not be coincidence either that the church's actual ministries were left completely operational.

I will find this truly ironic, though, if he should be caught for that break-in, and then Pastor Gibbs and I get to go witness to him in jail because of it.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Another delivered from prison

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." (Isaiah 61:1)

Yesterday afternoon we went back to the jail. (And yes, it was voluntary, and yes, they let us out when we asked, so get that smirk off your face!)

Missionary Jim Wilhelm went with us, since he's still in town (he'll be preaching tomorrow at the church.)

Last Saturday, by the time I got around to the last one-man cell, I was in a hurry -- time was running short, since we'd spent a long time at some of the other cells. There was a young hispanic man there, whom I asked if he read English. Since he did, I left him some literature and told him if he had any questions, to ask us when we came back through.

Well, this week with Brother Wilhelm, we were able to split up and get more done quickly. Pastor Gibbs led one man to the Lord in the 14-man cell while Wilhelm and I went through the 40-man cell and two-man cells. When we got to Adrian, I asked him if he had any questions from what he'd read. He said, "I read it, and I got to the end, and it say, 'What do you want for your life?' I want my life to change. Can I do this now?"

Fruit doesn't come much riper. I walked him through the plan of salvation again to make sure he understood, then led him in the sinner's prayer. He lives right near the church, so we're hoping that when he gets out of jail, he'll get into church, and he really will have a changed life.

This has been a great week or so for professions of faith. Adrian and the other man made professions in the jail on Friday. Brother Wilhelm led two to the Lord on visitation Thursday, and another pair of men from the church reached a young woman who had just started to descend into Mormonism. (I'm going back to visit her with them today.) This same pair led a boy to the Lord on Tuesday night visitation (one of this pair is actually a young man for whom these were his first two nights on visitation -- he's really fired up now!). I had another profession of faith in the jail last Friday (Robert, who also lives locally, and he and his cell-mate were showing some very good signs this week), and the older man in that pair from our church had another profession of faith last Thursday (mother of the boy they talked to on Tuesday).

Of course, things rarely go this well for long without a little hitch, whether that's just averages playing out, or whether there's something more to the problems. I'll talk about that hitch a little later.

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