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I left home this morning in snow that made driving out of Central Iowa a little interesting for about 45 minutes. Then it wasn’t too bad, and closer to Omaha not bad at all.

As I write this I’m in Fort Lauderdale. God willing, sometime tomorrow I’ll board a private relief plane, donated for use by some company, and fly with a pilot who owns a landscaping business in New Jersey — Peter.

I received email today from our friend Jean Michel in Haiti. He indicates the general plan is for me to visit people in the hospital with an interpreter at my side. I probably will also visit people of the Methodist Church…and listen and learn.

I don’t know what exactly to expect at the hospital. I’m praying for a deeper love, and God’s strength and guidance.

Thursday through Saturday the Methodist Church in Les Cayes is presenting worship services. I’ve been asked to present a ‘devotional’ during these services, and specifically not the ‘sermon’. In other words, keep it short!

If the response from the people is that the services are helpful, the church may keep the services going after Saturday. I don’t know yet if these services will be inside the church building or outside.

I do know that people need comfort and hope. I can’t tell the people I know or understand what they are going through…but Christ understands.

Thanks for your ongoing prayers.

Small steps are part of planning for, preparing, and going on a mission trip to Haiti.  One cannot become impatient or surprised when the process goes as it will.  You just have to trust God is accomplishing God’s purposes — which is good for us all the time.

This past week, these are the steps I’ve been able to take:

(1)  Received my second of three immunizations of a series (forgotten which one it’s for).  I’m scheduled to receive the last one of the series on February 16, so I will be going, God willing, sometime after that date.

(2) Made a call to a possible missionary flight organization to check on the possibilities of hitching a ride from Florida with them.  Waiting to hear back as I had to leave a message.

(3) Learned of another missionary flight organization from Floriday and looked up their information online.  As they apparently do not fly directly into Les Cayes and there are other requirements it doesn’t look as promising.  It would be good if I could hitch a ride with them.  They have been flying to Haiti for many years, and when someone flies with them they can take along 50 pounds of ‘luggage’ for the same price as flying with minimal luggage.

(4) Was able through an Immanuel member to meet someone who was in mission in Les Cayes for a number of years, and gained valuable insight into the situation in Les Cayes, as well as some other contacts to make there if/when I go.

(5) Send email to one of those contacts.

God willing, I’m going to do everything possible to fly into Les Cayes rather than Port au Prince.  While it may cost a little more, it might not be that much more than the expense (and the time) it would take for a driver to come to Port au Prince from Les Cayes, and then the drive back — which have to be done in daylight.

How can you pray?

(a) Pray God will continue to open doors for me to go on the trip as soon as logistically possible.

(b) Pray God will prepare me physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the trip.

(c) Pray God will continue to put me in touch with people who can be helpful to the process, and with whom I might be able to be of help in Haiti.

Thanks!

I’ve been to Haiti twice.  I can see and hear in my mind the overload of the senses in the airport at Port au Prince.  The pushing and shoving of desperate men who want to carry the bags for a little bit of money.  The drivers who are clammering for your business.  The airport ‘terminal’ for which there has been no money to update in any way for  years.

I remember the drive from the airport, seeing unfinished building after unfinished building, looking as if they were abandoned….but they were not.  Someone owned them.  The practice, we were told, is people would build as much as they could with the money available, and then leave it until they had more money to do more work.  Of course, in the meantime, storms and now earthquakes would damage them.  It could be years before more work could be done.  Sometimes never.

The mountains in the area around Port au Prince are stripped of virtually all trees.  There’s little work available for people.  And so thousands used to go into the mountains to cut down trees to make charcoal, hoping against hope that they could sell it for a little bit of money in the city for people to use to cook, those lucky enough to have a place to live and food to eat.  Most people cooked on charcoal outside their dwelling.  Electricity was spotty at best, even if you could afford it.

In contrast with much of the city of Port au Prince stood the magnificent Presidential Palace, gleeming white in the sunshine.  Today I saw photos of the palace on tv following the earthquake.  The dome that stood above two floors of the structure looked like it was almost sitting on the ground.  Other parts of the palace were cracked, almost torn apart.

Most of the buildings in Port au Prince are cement, including the second story floor if there is one.  In an earthquake, all the cement would come crashing down — hard.

I think I read that the first global chain hotel just opened in another city in Haiti.  Bad timing.

I felt like getting on the first plane possible to go down there, if only to be someone pulling people out of the rubble.  When there previously, the team that I was with stayed in a mission Guest House, which was more than reasonably comfortable, with its own generator, inside plumbing, etc.  I wonder if it’s still standing.

But to go down there immediately would just be in the way.  It will take days, weeks, and longer for relief systems to be in place, to be able to handle volunteers who want to help.  For years, I’ve wondered and thought about going back sometime.

Now, some day…I must.

God willing.

Often opposing truths or values must be held in tension together.

For example, is it better to make a long range plan, or let life unfold as it will?  For me (and don’t ask me how it makes sense), the answer is both.

The rabbit says to Alice — in Wonderland —  “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter how you get there.”  For the most part Olympic athletes set a goal very early in life to compete in the games.  One doesn’t get to that level without dedicating one’s life to a goal.

Yet, there are a number of successful people who end up doing something they never planned to do, at least full time.  As Garth Brooks put it, “My life is better left to chance.  I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to missed the dance.”

Which is right?  Both.

Do human beings have free will, or is (virtually) everything predetermined by genetics and/or God?  The answer I most often fall back on is, “Yes.”  So much of our lives are beyond our control from before we were born, but I will still cling to the idea that we have free will to choose what we do and become.  It does put God in an awkward position of not being omnipotent in every circumstance. Or does God choose sometimes not to be omnipotent?

Must one be actively connected in a faith community to be a follower of Jesus Christ, or can someone who is not engaged in a faith community/church also be a Christian?  Yes.  My understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower is we are expected to be part of a faith community.  There are plenty of examples in the Bible of that.  Jesus also said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there.”  So how large does that faith community really have to be, and do they have to have all the trappings of an institutional church?  Obviously not.

It’s a lot more confusing and inconsistent to hold opposing views together, but sometimes there’s no other way.

 

 

I have a filter set up in Google News for ‘execution.’  They are going on in the United States somewhere on average about once every other week.  The majority of executions this year in the U.S. have taken place in Texas — 22 so far, including one this past Wednesday.  Did you hear about it?  Neither did I, except for my Google News filter.

The United States is far from number one when it comes to executions, but we’re in the top 10, according to NationMaster.com, a site that collects an amazing amount of statistics —   http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_exe-crime-executions (see list at bottom of post).

The U.S. keeps interesting company in terms of other nations that do more or fewer exectuions than we do.

My reason for writing about this is not to do a rant for or against executions.  Rather, since we are doing executions, at the very least citizens ought to be more aware they are going on.  No, they are not done in secret.  Yes, some news media do stories on them, especially in the states where they occur.  But it doesn’t seem most people pay much, if any, attention to them.

When the state puts a person to death, both proponents and opponents would agree it is a serious matter.  As a nation, have we grown apathetic about capital punishment?  It seems that way to me.

# 1 China: 470 executions
# 2 Iran: 317 executions
# 3 Saudi Arabia: 143 executions
# 4 Pakistan: 135 executions
# 5 Congo, Democratic Republic of the: 100 executions
# 6 Egypt: 48 executions
# 7 United States: 42 executions
# 8 Iraq: 33 executions
# 9 Taiwan: 32 executions
# 10 Vietnam: 25 executions

I hate going to the dentist, and no, I’m not an anti-dentite.

There aren’t too many things I get more anxious about than going to the dentist.  I’m not exactly sure why.  Maybe it’s because of more than one dentist in various communities who prodded and pushed with their dental instruments with little consideration of the discomfort.

Maybe I’m just a wimp when it comes to any pain.  Maybe there’s some other reasons deep in my psyche.

Doesn’t matter.  I hate it.  I came pretty close to not keeping my appointment this morning.  But I went, and I’m glad I did.

No, it wasn’t because it was such a wonderful experience, although today wasn’t that painful.  It looks like I could have quite a bit of dental work ahead of me over the next several months.  I’m not asking for sympathy, but I’m more than willing to accept it.

I’m glad I went in spite of my anxiousness because it’s good practice to do what we should do, at the time we need to do it, whether we want to or not.  I think I read a quote years ago that said doing what we should do, at the time we need to do it, whether we want to or not, is one of the earliest lessons that a person needs to learn, and one of the hardest.  I don’t do it all the time, and neither do you, most likely.

It’s like the old joke told about a man who was lying in bed one morning whose wife said, “Come on dear, get up!  It’s time to go to church!”  “I don’t want to go to church,” the man replied.

“Why not?”

“Because the people there are mean and grumpy, always complaining, and never want to lift a finger to make anything better.”

“You have to go.”

“Give me three good reasons.”

“Number one,” the wife said, “If you are focused on the people, you aren’t focused where you need to, on God.  God is worthy of our praise.  Number 2, not everyone at church is the way you described them.  There are some wonderful people.”

“What’s the third reason?”

“You’re the pastor!”

I’m glad to say that doesn’t describe the church where I serve today.  Don’t ready anything into that joke….except sometimes it’s good for me to do what I need to do, whether I want to or not.

I think that’s one of the key differences between those who ‘succeed’ in life (however you want to define it) and those who don’t.

I don’t want to keep my next dental appointment….but I probably will.

I’ve been at this local church ministry thing for quite a few years.  It’s been a long time since I was a full time seminary student.  They can’t teach everything in seminary, but here are 10 things that I don’t recall hearing, or at least being emphasized — some positive aspects of ministry…and some others.  Not making any claim these are especially insightful or the most important ten things.

1. It’s your job. — Seminaries like to talk about ‘ministry’ and ‘calling.’  It’s rarely if ever called a ‘job’ like other people have.  But it is.  People disagree about exactly what we’re supposed to do, but most of us get paid monetary compensation.  There’s work to be done, and it’s work.  It’s a job as well as a ministry and calling.

2. Local Church pastors are tremendously privileged to be welcomed into the lives of people at important transitions. There aren’t too many professions in which a person is privileged to be involved with people at such important times of their lives — the birth of a child, a marriage, a health crisis, a baptism, at the death of a loved one, and other occasions.  I never take this privilege for granted.

3. In every church a pastor serves there will be some people who aren’t going to like her/him. Hopefully not too many, but a pastor is just not going to make a personal connection with every church member, and a few people overtly are going to dislike you.  Accept it.  Go on.

4. Celebrate small changes and improvements in the church, and personal growth in people. If you ever wonder why it’s so difficult to see change happen in a church, look no further than seeing yourself in the mirror.  Many if not most existing congregations with a history already have a long-standing culture nearly impossible to change.  Okay, maybe only extremely difficult.  Doesn’t mean we don’t try and can’t make a difference, but what some church people say out loud is true:  “Pastor, we were here before you arrived and we’ll still be here after you’re gone.’

5. The ‘rules’ laid out in seminary for the necessary time in sermon preparation are ridiculous. When I was in seminary, I was taught ‘two hours of study for every minute of preaching.’  Maybe the professor didn’t mean it literally.  I’ve heard more recently from someone out of seminary it was one hour for every minute of preaching.  Give me a break.  There’s no way I have time to do that and still have a life…even if I only preached for 12 minutes (which I don’t most weeks).

6. Leave the counseling to counselors. I took a TON of pastoral counseling classes in seminary, and more than a few continuing education seminars since then, but I’m not a counselor.  I can help people in a time of crisis.  I can tell (at this point) most of the time when someone needs more help than I can provide.  I have some insight into relationship dynamics.  But I’m not fully trained or have experience as a counselor, and counseling a person more than 2 or 3 times takes more time than I have, if I’m going to minister to as many people in and beyond the church as I need to.

7.  Not every sermon is going to be a ‘winner.’ I hate sports analogies.  But they’re used because they are true sometimes.  A pastor of most local churches (unless in a specific staff role) gets up to preach maybe 40-46 times a year.  Not every one of them is going to be a ‘home run,’ or even a ‘single.’ Preach it, and go on to the next thing.

8. Some sermon(s) will change people’s lives, by the grace of God. And it may have less to do with you than you would like to believe.  In my own tradition, the Methodist movement’s leader John Wesley felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’ when someone was READING Martin Luther’s Preface to the Book of Romans!  Have you ever come across it or tried to read it?!  But that’s what God used.  It’s a wonderful, mystical privilege to be present when that happens through one of the sermons you preach.

9. It’s not hard to get discouraged, or even bitter in ministry…if you let it happen. Many years ago in my tradition in Iowa when pastors retired they were given the opportunity to address the state-wide gathering.  Some of the comments were painful to listen to.  There were hurt, bitter pastors.  They weren’t the majority, but it happened.  (Maybe that’s why the practice stopped.)  But it’s also possible to CHOOSE not to let that happen.  Fortunately, I’ve known many retired pastors who I’m sure sometimes went through painful situations, but they never lost sight of the positive memories and experiences.  If/When that time comes for me to retire, God willing, that’s the kind of pastor I want to be.

10. There’s life outside the church. That’s true ON the job and off the job as well.  It’s easy to fall into the ‘captivity of the clergy’ and spend most of your time with church people and on church programming and administrative matters.  Big mistake.  Get out of the office and church building.  Spend some time with people beyond your church, and people who don’t go to any church.  Most of them are pretty decent people. And then throughout most of my ministry there’s been a spoken or unspoken expectation that a pastor will take a single day off each week — as long as it doesn’t interfere with something that’s important to someone else in the church.  But there’s life beyond the job — even in local church ministry. A pastor is rarely encouraged to take more time off.  Or if she or he IS encouraged to do it, some people don’t really mean it.  Do it anyway, and don’t expect to be praised for doing it.  But also like your parishioners, find some ways to volunteer that you enjoy, in places other than the local church–and don’t try to pretend it’s just part of your job time.