Minister's Study

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

Friday, September 28, 2007

Not keeping up

Whew, how the time flies. My apologies for going over a week without a post.

Last Sunday, the services went quite well with Evangelist Kwame Selver from the Bahamas. He also went with me to a preachers' fellowship on Monday. I like Brother Selver, even if he does make me look short. (Okay, that doesn't take much, but he sure doesn't help!)

When I went to drop him off at the airport for a rental car, it turned out that it would have cost him in the vicinity of $300-$400 for a two-day, one-way rental (you know, before any of the gas expense of the drive!). Ridiculous. He ended up flying out the next day, then taking a train -- and probably still spent a fair bit less.

We continue to try to get three reasonably reliable buses in operation -- one was supposed to be dropped off this morning for us to check out, but I haven't seen it yet. The fellow who was to bring it is the same guy we bought the other one from. He still doesn't have his money (and, to be fair, hasn't pressed for it) because the valve he promised to fix is still making noise. If we buy this new one from him as well, that's well over $6,000 of money we're holding for him -- I'd be hurrying a little more!

We have quietly been looking at places to purchase to get out of the rent-trap, in which your money goes entirely to someone else instead of largely to the bank for interest and a little bit to equity. Our best shot looks like it fell through, but that's probably just as well. What's not just as well is that we also got notice that our rent is going up if we sign another year-long contract, and it's going up more if we stay on, but don't sign the contract. We've been thoroughly disgusted with our dealings with Laney Real Estate, so we're probably going to accelerate looking for a place to buy (preferably not from them!), in order to get as far from their generally incompetent influence as possible. And now I must go turn off a radio broadcast -- I'll try to post again soon to continue with the catching up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Back on the mat

Well, roughly a zillion shots and blood drawings down (with at least two still to go) in order to prove that I'm not about to drop dead or make someone I breath on drop dead, I'm back to helping out the local high school's wrestling squad. Tougher restrictions on coaches have necessitated physicals, background checks, reference checks, and more in order to help with a high school sports team. I should have just applied to the NSA in order to get access to their workout facilities -- it would have been easier to get approved! This is a lot of hastle to stay in shape and help some kids learn a sport.

But anyhow, the doctor vampires have taken my blood and replaced it with whatever they stick in vaccinations, and practice started up last week. I suspect I'm going to have to keep telling myself for the next many practices what I did last week: "Twenty-nine is not old, no matter how you feel."

Actually, I felt pretty good -- a little soreness in the usual places, things that it's tough to really work out without actually wrestling or having access to a good workout facility of some sort. But I wasn't on the mat all that long, and it wasn't that bad. I've been jogging this summer carrying weights (I'm up to five pounds in each hand now), and although that's murder on the old knees and elbows, I'm probably in better shape than any time since back when I was wrestling steadily in Staten Island against tough guys. Either the scales are being kind (I really do wonder about the accuracy of that cheap set we've got), or all those blazing-hot-afternoon jogs with weights and one-arm pushups worked in have actually knocked off the offending five pounds I've been carrying for the last year.

So now I get to go back in there once a week for the time being and try to stay ahead of those high school kids who are just longing for a chance to take down Coach Dan. One of them managed it once last year. We'll see if he can do it again.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Barely bussing

There must have been just enough fingers crossed and wood dented on our behalf yesterday. Actually, it's because God is gracious. Although the buses were in working order yesterday (though that valve I thought was fixed actually wasn't), we almost came up one driver short. At the moment, we only have two drivers for two routes. (Yes, we're working on getting more.) One of them came up with a bad back on Saturday. He wasn't able to go out visiting with the crew Saturday, and he wasn't even able to make it back on Sunday night, but the pain was reduced enough that he was able to drive Sunday morning. And at least two new children who rode a bus made professions of faith in the teen class.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Batchelor Blues, or, How Do Single Dads Do It?

My wife is away for a ladies' fellowship a couple hours from here. I'm happy for her. Really, I am. (No, no resentment at all! Honest!) But man, I'm glad it's only for a day!

We have this wonderful daughter, see, age five. We've looked, but standard equipment on five-year-olds doesn't seem to include a mute button or an off switch. This regrettable oversight in design or manufacture results in a product that can make getting things requiring concentration accomplished even more challenging than usual. Add to that the fact that a National Guard mobilization may be required to handle the cleanup operation every time I attempt anything more complex than frying an egg in a kitchen, and it's not a good thing to leave us alone for all that long. (Yes, I do have a hard time frying eggs -- the accursed things either splatter all over the place when I attempt the cracking, or they don't crack enough to break, resulting in me smashing them into little fragments when I try to open them. I'm not a conspiracy theory kind of person, so I'm refusing to believe that the chickens have it in for me. My repeated devouring of fried chicken, chicken adobo, baked chicken, chicken fingers, and Buffalo wings -- that's pure coincidence.)

On the upside, my daughter tells me that I'm kinda fun. I think she's just trying to console me about the trouble with the eggs, though.

Even a slow week goes by fast

Somewhere around the middle of this week, I was thinking, "Wow, this week has been so much less eventful and hectic than last week -- I'm only a little behind on the myriad tasks I lined up at the start of the week." Now, looking back from the end of the week (with altogether too much of that list remaining undone), I'm realizing the week hasn't exactly been uneventful. In fact, it's been downright normal (which translates as "Insane!" to most, I suspect). I won't try to pack it all into one post; I like to keep posts to under 400 pages, a trait my seminary professors probably wish I'd developed in time for those gargantuan research papers. Here's a few quick updates on what's going on in the ministry here, though.

I don't believe in jinxes, crossing fingers, knocking on wood, and so on. Um, would someone else mind crossing their fingers, toes, pigtails, and whatever else is handy, oh, and banging on whatever wooden objects come to hand? At the moment, it looks like both of our buses should roll tomorrow -- the scary tires on the old one have been replaced, the gizmo on the filter of the new one has been replaced, and even the brake valve on that one is done. This is a good thing, since tomorrow is "picture day," (maybe more details on that after the event?) and that usually brings a whole slew of children, I'm told.

Last Friday on jail ministry, I gave a man a tract and went through the gospel with him. He seemed receptive, but didn't make a decision at that point. When I came back this week, he was still there, and said he had prayed, asking God to forgive him of his sins. Hallelujah! This week, I went through the gospel with a young man (probably older teen), who also seemed very receptive, even moved. But he decided not to receive it while I was there, in spite of the encouragement of his roommate. Those of you who pray, ask God to bring this work to fruition in his heart. Oh, and we're happy on behalf of one of the men we've been working with for about 10 months -- he was finally released, given probation and a suspended sentence. Over those months, he has been tremendously consistent in everything I can see, a genuine believer who is growing in the Lord. We'll have to see if he makes it stick now that he's out. I don't think that what he had was jailhouse religion -- but a lot of men who mean well when they get out slip away once they're back in their old neighborhood, with the same family and friends, habits and influences that helped bring them down in the first place.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bus? Bah!

It was a pretty wild week here at Bible Baptist last week. Along with the two deaths in the church, when Sunday morning rolled around, our new bus still wasn't working. A little plastic lip missing on a piece of a filter housing was allowing air into the fuel and fuel to leak. The men had to run that route using a van and an SUV. I'm beginning to think that bus breakdowns may be a leading cause of pastor breakdowns!

This past Sunday was also my wife's last week teaching the junior church; next week is a transition, and the following week one of our newer families will take over that as my wife moves to a Wednesday night children's class. My wife was praying that she would get to see at least one child saved on her last day. When she finished her lesson, five came forward to be saved. If you believe in spiritual warfare, it shouldn't surprise you that a ministry in which we are seeing such results is having strange mechanical problems. For all the effort and money we've put into getting and keeping the buses running, I don't think we've had a single week since I became head pastor in which two buses worked properly on the same week -- it's always some flukey thing that keeps one of them off the road or makes it break down. But over that time span, I've lost track of how many children who rode in on the bus (or van, or car, or whatever we had to use to bring those who want to come -- we're considering a horse and buggy team at the moment) have trusted Christ and made decisions to live for Him.

Two girls that made professions of faith during the week on visitation also rode a bus to attend Sunday morning, and a couple who came for the first time last week joined the church Sunday morning. They joined the choir Sunday night and said they plan to be here every time the doors are open -- they should be here tonight for soul-winning visitation.

I have preached hard the last two weeks about faith, commitment, and revival. I've been praying for it, and I believe we will see it, and we may already be reaping some of the first fruits.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Funeral franticness

I mentioned in the last post that the graveside-service-only funeral presented a bit of a challenge for me. It definitely went down as a first for my ministry. Incidentally, I posted a couple of posts ago that Brother Larry was the first death in the congregation since I became head pastor; thinking back, there was another, but she died so shortly after I became pastor that much of the funeral was handled by Bro. Gibbs, since he'd been her pastor for so many years. But now, back to Bro. Larry's burial.

For a graveside service, especially one so little advertized, this one was extremely well-attended. A large number of Wilmington Police and city workers showed up (Bro. Larry had worked with their vehicles for years and apparently developed a strong rapport with them.) Wilmington Christian Academy, where the Vann's daughter goes to school, sent a busload of her classmates and teachers -- a really classy thing to do, I thought, and the only time I've ever seen a yellow school bus at a graveside service. There was also a fair number of family members and friends.

One thing was missing -- Bro. Gibbs, who was to sing a favorite song and bring the message. A couple minutes after the ceremony was supposed to start, I reached him on the phone and found out he had gotten lost. (I can't blame him for that -- I had a terrible time finding the place myself; it's a beautiful cemetary, but it's down a small side road without a sign on the main road.) With no sure idea when he would arrive and an awful lot of people shuffling their feet in the NC heat, and the bagpipes stopping their prelude to look at us expectantly (yes, we had bagpipers -- two of them, and two of the best I've ever heard), we decided to go ahead with the ceremony and hope he showed up before time to speak.

So I opened as planned, read Scripture, and looked up -- and there was still no Bro. Gibbs. So I sang a capella a song the family had mentioned as a second possibility (I didn't know the one Bro. Gibbs was going to sing), and went ahead and brought the message.

As soon as I was done, Bro. Gibbs pulled up. I can only think that it was of the Lord -- that there was something in that song I sang instead, or that I said, that He wanted people to get. It's the first time I've ever done a funeral message completely impromptu, and probably only the second time I've preached impromptu at all -- I REALLY like to be prepared with something worthwhile to say before I stand up in front of people. Nonetheless, I suppose God wanted it this time. Since he got there before the ceremony ended, I had Bro. Gibbs speak as we had planned. He tells me (much embarrassed) that it's the first time in his more than 50 years of ministry that he has ever been late for a funeral. Man, I hope my record is that good when I reach that point!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rarely a good thing

Actually, I can't think of any circumstances under which I would be happy to find the police pounding on my door at 4:30 AM. So when that happened this morning, the only good thing I could think of was that it wasn't some local branch of the Klu Klux Klan ready to violently object to my latest Biblically-based diatribe against racism, delivered Sunday night. I suppose another positive was that I knew the officer doing the knocking; he's a good man, and a son of one of our deacons.

As it turned out, to my utter surprise, the wife of one of our other deacons had passed away during the night. The poor man awoke to get ready for work about 4 AM, and when he checked on his wife, found her dead. He had checked on her only a few hours before, and she had said she was fine. Although her health had been poor for quite a while, she had made seemingly great strides of improvement -- this was a complete surprise for all of us. The deacon couldn't remember my phone number (and we got it too recently to be in the phone book), but we only lived a few blocks away -- so the police officers who responded to the emergency call agreed to come and get me.

I spent much of the morning with this deacon and his family; though they are comforted by her faith and by their own (to the differing degrees they possess it), they are all still in shock. Then it was off to do the graveside service of the man who passed away Saturday. I'll have to post later about the funeral fix that left me in.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A death in the family

No one in my immediate physical family passed away last week. But a man in our church family did. After battling cancer for years, my brother in Christ, Larry Vann, passed away on Saturday. He leaves behind a wife and teenage daughter. Fortunately, he, his wife, and their daughter are all solid Christians.

Brother Larry requested a simple graveside service, with no frills and no great fuss, and that service will be held tomorrow. Since Brother Gibbs led him to the Lord a few years ago, I have asked him to bring a brief salvation address; he will also sing a favorite song. The rest of the Scripture reading and prayer I will take care of.

Brother Larry is a unique man, a standout in his profession, and a good husband and father by all testimonies I have heard and from what I have seen of him since I arrived here. Even in the hospital a few weeks ago, literally on his death bed, he led a young nephew of his wife's to a profession of faith in Christ. Larry would say that the opportunity to do that alone makes his struggle with cancer and passing at this time worthwhile. He will be missed here on earth, but welcomed with rejoicing in heaven. I look forward to seeing him again.

As an aside, this is the first death of a person actually in the church family since I have become the head pastor, and the first time I have prayed with a wife and daughter as they sat beside the cooling body that only minutes before held their husband and father. I cannot express how thankful I am for the peace that Larry displayed in his passing, a peace rooted in his faith in Jesus Christ, and for the peace and strength the Lord has granted his immediate family thus far.

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