Minister's Study

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Missionary missing

We were planning to have missionary David Gates with us tonight in the church service. I knew David from the church we both grew up in. Sadly, he called a few hours ago to let me know that due to some vehicle trouble, he can't make it. We'll try to reschedule him soon. Since the former pastor of the church here, who usually preaches on Wednesday nights, is also out of town tonight, this means I'm scrambling to get a message ready myself. Thanks to the Lord for already-written messages delivered elsewhere that the people here have never heard!

Back to the buses

Okay, now that I've made a post that didn't have anything to do with buses, we return to our regular programming on the blog of the pastor of Bible Baptist Church -- and that definitely involves buses.

It looks like the fellow we sent the bus to in order to have the engine replaced may come through big for us. They had agreed to at least get the new engine running so we could drive it back here. But when our man went to pick the bus up, it broke down again in the same way. Then the owner came out, the father of my newspaper editor. He talked with our man, and apparently told him that if we would bring the old engine over, he would see that it was rebuilt and installed at no further cost to the church (that's a big job, depending on what level of rebuilding is done.)

The bus we purchased is still running fine, although that valve still needs work. The man we bought it from is supposed to come by and fix that sometime this week; he still hasn't asked us to pay him, since the work isn't all done yet. It's possible we can get another bus from him for the same price.

I still don't know if the white bus in for the engine replacement is ever going to run again. But at least we have one that seems in good shape and the possibility of acquiring another. Then if we can get just one of the three clunkers we own into some kind of rolling condition, we should be set for long enough to replace the van, Lord-willing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hey, something other than buses!

Well, there's more to say about the bus situation here. But if I have one more consecutive bus post, I think I'm going to have rename this the "Bus Blues Blog" or something similarly boring, alliterated, and difficult to repeat rapidly. So I'll leave the bus talk for another post.

Yesterday, I went to a pastor's fellowship (the Eastern North Carolina Fundamental something-or-other, or some such). My brother Paul and sister Laura drove down Sunday afternoon to go along. They did special music for us on Sunday evening. I told the congregation it's always nice when they visit, even if they do show me up whenever they get up to sing or sit down to play the piano.

My wife and daughter also got to go to the fellowship with us. The whole thing was a blessing. They even let me preach (I know -- brave people in that fellowship!) for the first time. You never know until you're there whether you're going to preach or not -- the moderator calls people up as he feels led. And for probably the first time in my life, I left my outline in the front of my Bible and preached something completely different.

Fortunately, the Lord directed me to a subject I've preached on before, but it still felt very strange. Typically, I like to be very prepared, with extremely detailed notes when I speak. I usually don't stand there and read from them the whole time, but I like to think through the whole message on a thought-by-thought, word-by-word basis -- so I might as well write it down as I think through it. Then I've got the notes if I draw a blank or have a particularly careful way I want to word something. If I speak unprepared, I often feel like I'm cheating the listeners.

But this time, the Lord led me pretty clearly to lay aside that very pretty outline on that very practical subject and preach on what I called the forgotten command in Fundamentalism -- "Rejoice in the Lord always." Now, I take seriously that verse in Proverbs that warns, "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin," so I didn't preach long ( I hardly ever do.) But the message was well-received.

The rest of the preaching was good. The rest of my sibs' stay was good. God is good. See, I'm rejoicing already!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On the road again

Two buses, that is. For the first time in a while, we were able to run two buses Sunday morning. It's looking more and more like we'll need to simply purchase another used bus, since the one we've had in to have the engine replaced on is looking like a big-time money drain. We're going to have another place look at it, but the prognosis isn't great. That may leave us with only two decent buses for two routes (I'd rather have three working buses for two routes, especially considering that even our best ones will be nearly 20 years old), but that's two more than we've had in a while.

I've spent a ridiculous portion of today trying to get Wildblue internet here at the church working. Literally hours have been spent on the phone with their tech support trying to figure out why it won't work. [Tech whining follows -- if you're not interested, please skip.] On their end, their equipment told them we had great signal and connectivity and everything should be fine. On mine, I had nothing -- the lights were on, but nobody was home. So their first assumption was that the problem is our router -- they don't support routers, though they don't mind if you use one. I tried explaining I didn't think that was it, and why, but they had me plug directly into a computer to work. Of course, it still didn't work. Next assumption was that it was a problem with this computer. I tried explaining that couldn't be it, because the secretary's computer lost connection when I did. If it wasn't the router and wasn't the individual computer, that left their equipment. Along the way, I'd been on the phone so long with them that the battery died, losing the connection. When I called back, of course I couldn't get the fellow I spoke to originally, so I had to go through much of the same rigamorale with the next person. Unfortunately, this one couldn't grasp my process of elimination, so they decided it must be the security software preventing the thing from working (ironic, since I got the security software from them). They sent me to the security software people, who explained why it couldn't be their stuff keeping it from working. Just to make sure, we turned off their software, and sure enough, Wildblue still wasn't working. In order to run a full-system scan, I had to leave the computer for a while. Naturally, the scan turned up nothing. To prove it wasn't a problem with my computer, I hauled the secretary's computer in the office and connected it -- and it worked fine! Double-checking, I plugged in the router and connected the secretary's computer wirelessly -- it worked fine. Then I connected my computer wirelessly -- it worked fine. Then I plugged directly back into the laptop -- and it's working fine. In other words, nothing changed -- the whole thing has just started working again for no more apparent reason than it quit. Since the router is clearly working perfectly (and nothing has changed with it) and both computers are working fine (and nothing has changed with either of them), the only thing that leaves is a problem with Wildblue. *sighs* Since I never found a real solution, I'm not going to be a bit surprised if this pops up again and I'm on the phone again tomorrow trying to explain to someone else who is quite convinced it just can't be their equipment or service that has a problem. [Okay, I'm done with the tech whining. For now.]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New bus

Well, the bus troubles aren't exactly over yet. But we do now have a new (to us) bus parked at the church, titled and tagged in our name, and seemingly running fine. The fellow we are purchasing it from has so far been a delight to do business with. He agreed as part of the bargaining to put a set of rear tires on the bus and change a valve; since he was leaving town for several days, and we needed a bus quickly badly, he gave us the title so we can use the bus until he returns -- without taking any of our money until the work is done on the bus. In a move that frees us up to address either the need for another working bus or to move much more quickly to get the van we need, my mother donated the money for the purchase of this vehicle in memory of my father, David Robelen. This should allow us to at least keep bringing the children we have, as we work toward another operational vehicle.

Speaking of vehicles and operating, the bus that broke down after its engine replacement is back at the shop. The owner of the shop (also the father of my old editor at the Pender Post) has agreed to get the bus running without additional expense to us. (A good thing -- the engine replacement had already run $1,700, and the mechanical guys here at the church weren't impressed by the work that had been done for the price.) It sounds like the bus will still need some work, but it's things the men here can handle, from what they're saying. Thus, hopefully within the next week or two, we'll have two working buses. We're waiting to act on purchasing another bus or moving forward on getting a good van until we see how things will play out with this bus.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bus whoas

Yes, the title spelling is deliberate. The bus on which we replaced the engine broke down already; it's back in the shop, with us trying to find a way to get it operational that won't cost another fortune, or determine that it will cost a fortune and abandon it to buy another cheap one.

We're still on schedule to purchase the newer one we already had planned, but we're not sure if it's going to be ready for us by Sunday. I'm hoping and praying that one of them will be usable for Sunday morning -- the 40-some-odd kids that we've brought in the last couple of weeks are probably too many to get with the van and individual cars.

An unfortunate side effect of all this expense with the buses we already have is that we may not be able to purchase a new van immediately; we've already had to pass on one good deal because we just didn't have the cash for a decent down payment after what we've committed to pay for buses.

On the upside, we had a missionary here last night, Darwin Tolibas of the Philippines, and he did a terrific job (even without his slides and display -- both destroyed when he was rear-ended a few weeks ago) of both singing (while accompanying himself on guitar) and preaching. He has already planted one church in the Philippines, and he is now raising support to return and plant a second. Again with the money sadness -- I wish we had the money to take on every worthwhile missionary who comes through.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Bringing new life out of dying

We are excited to see the Lord still at work here at Bible Baptist Church. Sunday morning, a young Mexican man came forward after the service and made a profession of faith -- the second young Spanish-speaker named Fernando to receive Christ here in the last few months. We had enough Spanish-only and bilingual folk to pack out a pew Sunday.

But that's not all from this past weekend. Remember that fellow from the church who was taken into the hospital Saturday non-responsive, due to cancer spreading to his brain? Well, it turns out that after he recovered from his seizure and was able to communicate again, he led his wife's cousin to the Lord at his bedside. If that man's profession of faith was genuine, this cancer, terrible though it is, not only turned one man's life around -- it also enabled him to reach another with the gospel.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Being a shoulder

I spent a good chunk of today down at the hospital. One of our church members has terminal cancer. He was taken into the emergency room today in a non-responsive seizure. A CT scan revealed the cancer has spread to the brain. Though he recovered consciousness and can now talk adequately now, they have decided to put him into hospice. Fortunately, he's saved (he not too long ago credited the cancer with bringing him to the Lord a few years ago), and confident of his salvation. But that doesn't make this easy on his wife and teenage daughter.

Friday, August 03, 2007

License to spend

It's not permission to spend at will, but we now have permission from the church to seek out a bus and a van for the ministry. The business meeting Wednesday night went off without a real hitch, with voting going unanimously. Since we have a constitutional requirement that a business meeting cannot be held without two weeks notice, and the deacons and pastor aren't supposed to spend more than $500 without church approval (sensible precautions to prevent the sort of dishonest catastrophes that have befallen some congregations), we asked the congregation to authorize the deacons and pastor to select and purchase both a van and bus for no more than a combined $29,500.

My notion at the moment is to get an inexpensive bus that will get us through another couple years, while buying a late-model, low-mileadge van that should be a long-term solution. The van currently runs every service instead of just on Sunday mornings, so it seems like a priority. Once we finish paying for the van, then we can look at acquiring long-term bus solutions.

Unfortunately, repairs on the bus we were having the engine replaced on ended up running over $1,700. That sets us back a good bit in down-payment terms. Fortunately, the Lord has been good and His people have been faithful, so we seem to be pretty financially stable at the moment, in spite of a slight summer slump (which is normal, as people go on vacations, and teachers don't work).

You know, it's things like this bus situation that can drive a young pastor to distraction. We've been taught and given experience in preaching, teaching, counseling, even baptizing and making statements of faith, and so on. But nobody in Bible college or seminary tells you how to tell which bus to purchase (much less which investment to package to use for a former pastor's retirement funds, to name another time-consuming decision), or even where to go to get the information you need for practical decisions like these.

I wish I could have a word or two with the teacher of my church management and programming class, or maybe the deans of the various decent schools out there. The classes are simply not geared toward situations most young pastors are likely to encounter. Oh, well. I guess that's why we've got deacons, the internet, and most importantly, brains of our own. All I've got to say, though, is that after this crash education in bus mechanics, high speed internet services, website development, wireless networking, and investment strategy -- mine hurts.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Crawling the Web

I am pleased to report that I am writing this blog entry from a computer at the church. This means that the church now has high-speed satellite internet. Well, mostly. Or at least sort of.

After a marathon install session yesterday that ended up costing us a couple hundred dollars more than a regular install, and took until about 5 p.m. after starting in the morning (no lunch for me, he says sadly), we finally have reasonably high-speed access to the internet on one computer. Not the one we wanted, since Wildblue apparently isn't talking with Windows ME, but this is better than nothing.

Had it not been for the heroic efforts of a church member who came by to help set up a wireless network here at the church (supplying at his own expense all the components so far), we might still have nothing. Our installation person was clearly a professional at getting the equipment set up outside and getting it into the building -- but actually working with the computers was clearly not his forte, and so when we ran into hitches of various sorts, of which there were several, this meant long delays. Our church member ended up coming back over last night while we went out on visitation (on which at least one profession of faith was made, and a couple of very positive visits, as well), and working until about 9 p.m. to get things with the network as far along as they are now.

This all wouldn't have been so obnoxious a system of delays had yesterday not been our wedding anniversary. Between me having to be here for this install and visitation, I scarcely got to see my poor wife yesterday -- we'll have to kind of reschedule for another day.

Of course, we're not done with climbing into the web here at church. It looks like the Windows ME computer will have to be switched to another operating system (along with having Office put on it, so I can actually produce things like sermons on it), and the secretary's computer still needs some work before it'll recognize the wireless network, or some such. But this is progress. At least now I have the computer and internet connection to do some of my work from here at the church while I wait for the rest to come together.

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