The Details

It’s funny how God can reveal himself to us through little things that we might not even be thinking about.  For instance, I certainly wasn’t really expecting a revelation of any kind a couple of weeks ago when I took my son dove hunting.  However, since we went God has shown me the intricacy and beauty of His creation in new and interesting ways.

Dove Hunting
It was James’ first time hunting birds, and frankly I hadn’t been in forever.  I am just getting back into hunting in reality; I hunted birds and varmints as a teenager during the summer, but moving around in the Navy and being occupied with work and babies and seminary just didn’t leave time for much recreation.  Now I am trying to make some quality time with my son, and hunting gives us whole days together while allowing me to rekindle an old passion. 

What I have noticed about my renewed interest in hunting is how much more observant I am while out in the world.  We have birds that come near our house because we are near a park, and before we went hunting I just thought of them as birds.  However, now I find that when I see a bird I wonder what kind of bird it is.  (when dove hunting it will not do at all to shoot a killdeer!)  Even within the dove family there are different species that can be discerned by their tail feathers, their colors, their call, and their flight patterns.  How fascinating to see, and how wonderful!  I noticed the same when we went hunting for squirrel and rabbit, in that all the small details began to be important to me.

Now, even when I am not hunting I am paying attention to the animals around me.  While running yesterday I got to see about 3 dozen dove (3 different species!), 2 cotton-tailed rabbits, and a small covey of quail!  Plus I saw killdeer, woodpeckers, sparrows, and a hawk.  I got to thank God and remember what He has told us about His world:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. (Psalm 19:1, NASB)

 
I thought about this today in other areas as well.  How often are we unobservant about not only God’s creation, but God’s people?  How many times do we walk right by someone who is hurting and in need of God’s love, and because we are so preoccupied with our own lives we walk right by without noticing.  How many times do we not know of a ministry need in our church because we are not paying attention to the details?
 
This comes to a real head in Bible study.  As Christians we are told that God’s word is useful to make us who God wants us to be (2 Tim 3:16-17), and that it pierces us to the soul to see what our heart is (Heb 4:12).  When we study it, though, are we really paying attention or are we just confirming our already existing biases? 
 
In A Scandal in Bohemia, Mr. Watson marvels at Sherlock Holmes’ uncanny ability to solve cases using seemingly scant evidence.  When Holmes replies that he uses only what is plain for anyone to observe, Watson retorts that he sees the same things as Holmes and yet cannot solve the case.  Holmes’ reply is telling, “You see, but you do not observe.” 
 
God is showing me through doves and quail and rabbits that the small details matter, and that there are details all around that I have been missing.  My prayer for you today is that you would stop a moment and recover the ability to observe.  Stop today and read your Bible.  Don’t just see it; observe it and see what it truly says.  Stop today and pay attention to what’s going on around you.  Look at your spouse and what’s going on in their life and really observe them.  Same for your kids, and your coworkers.  Do that today and this coming week, and I am willing to bet that you will begin to observe details that will cause you to come to the same place that I have this week.

Sometimes you just gotta laugh

Some posts on ABF are serious and deal with hard-hitting issues relevant to the church and our culture.  Some are just my ramblings.  Hopefully, occasionally some make you laugh.  Like this one.

When your students love you enough to completely spoof you, ala Vintage 21, then in my opinion you have made it as a professor.

I’m John Correia.  I have a beard.  Discussion…over.

Mad props to my students Hunter Combs and Matt “Clubber” Porter for making this.  Hunter and Matt were two of my best students last year and I laughed so hard at spots in this video.  If you’re wondering where their inspiration came from, it’s from a series of videos made by Vintage 21 church in Raleigh, NC.  They spoofed some of the cheesiest Jesus movies ever made by dubbing them over with a voice track to goof on what people think Jesus is like.  Thank heaven He isn’t!

FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!  Number 3 is my absolute favorite.  I laughed and laughed at this one.

Alright all you sinners…come with me, it’s time to pay the piper.

I think that sometimes we get awfully concerned with making sure everything is completely proper without considering whether a good laugh is the order of the day.  I am teaching Gospels right now, and the more I read about the life and ministry of Jesus the more convinced I am that Jesus enjoyed a good laugh with his disciples.  I can see him set them up for lessons, and with all of the other emotions we see from Jesus in the Gospels it would flabbergast me if Jesus didn’t make jokes with His guys too.

So laugh a little today, even if it is at your own expense. 🙂

Rwanda Lesson #4: Relationality

I realized while in Africa what an incredibly task-oriented person I am.  I have pastoral duties to attend to every week, which starts on Monday afternoon with administrative work.  Then I work on preparing my sermon for Sunday, get my Wednesday night class ready, and make time for class prep and grading for Southwestern College and Phoenix Seminary classes.  I have kenpo classes to prepare for and teach, and leaders to train and all that at church. 

Blah blah blah, I am busy, blah blah blah.  You get the drill, but that is emphatically NOT what this post is about.  It is about getting a little LESS busy, and getting busier with more important stuff.

100_0894 In Rwanda God taught me a lesson about being relational.  I have seen the importance of sowing into people for quite awhile as a pastor, but God really shook me up with the relationships we built in a short time in Rwanda.  He began that while we were in Kigali and continued in Gacundezi.   In Kigali we were treated like royalty by the couple in the picture; Jonas and Dorcas brought us to their church and then afterward made us a huge and delicious meal.  They welcomed us into their home and spent the day with us.  That was a big deal because Jonas had other plans that day.  He is wearing his campaigning shirt and hat in this picture, because he was supposed to be spending the afternoon campaigning for his candidate for president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.  Nevertheless, he took the better part of his afternoon to have lunch with us and encourage us in our work in Gacundezi.  He was a gracious and wonderful host.

The same happened in Gacundezi, again and again.  One in particular stood out to me that involved a leader in the area.  Chris and I went one afternoon to the neighboring “town” by Gacundezi to visit with a man who Chris knew when he lived there the year prior.  His name is Kazim, and he is prominent in the milk co-op in town and a leader in the community.  He is also Muslim.  We went to the small restaurant that Kazim runs with his wife, but he wasn’t there.  He was working of course!  However, he heard we were in town and put everything down to come visit with Chris.  He told me (through Paul, our translator) how much he appreciated Chris because of how much Chris loved his kids—the first pic on this link is Kazim’s son Kevin—and his honesty.  Kazim took an hour out of his busy day and the myriad tasks he had to accomplish to welcome us and spend time with us.

This is the Rwandan way.  Deadlines are not as important as people.  Relationships trump timeliness every time.  We saw that in every activity we did, as people showed up when they showed up but always stayed later than you were expecting just to spend time together and get to know one another.

This is the part of the blog post that I am supposed to lament America and our fast pace, and pine for the old days of Mayberry.  I won’t.  I recognize that I get great joy out of doing what God has in my life, and that means focusing on my teaching and preaching ministry.  I like my life, busyness and all!  What this lesson reminded me of, though, is that being relational is important.  Spending time with people is important, be that hospital visits as a pastor (a shortcoming of mine for sure), phone calls, or spending time with my kids. 

The people of Rwanda showed me that in God’s eyes, a shepherd must be involved in the lives of people.  There is no way to know what people are going through without spending time with them.  There is no way to know people other than spending time with them.  That includes my wife and my kids. 🙂  So I have been trying to spend more time with them.  James and I went dove hunting last Tuesday (he got 4 doves on his first hunt!), and we went as a family last week to Wet and Wild.  I have tried to make meeting people a priority, and spend time with family and friends to build them up in Christ. 

That means less time to blog and less time for other electronics.  That’s okay by me, because my kids need me and they need to know that they are more important than my technology. 🙂 That’s why I haven’t posted much since I have been home, and this will likely be my new pace.  Hopefully that will mean that my posts will be more interesting and thoughtful as well!

Perhaps you can use this lesson too.  Consider all of the tasks, the technology, and the tools you have in your life.  If they draw you closer to God, then great!  If not, perhaps this reminder can help you re-prioritize to put first things first in your life as well.  The blogs and emails and tasks will still be there after the date with your spouse, or the kids are tucked in bed, or your friend is encouraged.

Unintended Consequences

There is a huge uproar right now over a plan to burn the Quran on 9/11.  The world has been quick to condemn this action, but it bears thinking through a little.  Why is this wrong?  What are the issues at stake?  And should we be concerned?

Well, let’s start with the first issues.  Pastor Terry Jones and his congregation have the constitutional right to burn books on their property within the confines of local and state law for fires.  They have the same right to burn any books they want that the Muslim group looking to build an “Islamic center” near ground zero has to build when and where they want.  We have the constitutional right to free expression and freedom of religion under the first amendment. (bonus points for being able to name the other three rights enumerated in the first amendment before clicking here)

But is it smart?  Is it wise?  Is it good stewardship of resources?  Has Pastor Jones thought through the repercussions of his actions and whether they will accomplish the aims that he hopes they will?

I doubt it.  There is a huge buzz over this issue.  General Petraeus has warned that this stunt puts American soldiers at increased risk, and other Americans in Muslim-dominated countries as well.  There will certainly be fringe terrorists who will use this kind of publicity to recruit people to their cause, and that is never a good thing.  It will further demonize America in the eyes of the Muslim world, and Christianity as well.  I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Muslim areas, that this will not reflect poorly on their ministries and endanger their safety.

But there is one other angle no one is talking about in this whole boondoggle.  The burning of the Quran done by this church will actually completely backfire.  They hope to show that Islam is wrong and hinder access to the Quran.  However, we live in a free market economy.  They are going to have to get those Qurans from somewhere, and that will be from a business or bookseller of some sort.  (I kinda doubt that a local Mosque will hand a bunch of them over to be burned)  That retailer will not give them over at a loss; they are a business.

So from the business perspective, what the church has done is make them a profit printing the Quran.  If a business is profitable, then the business pursues it more.  Trust me, they will print more copies to replace the burned ones, and pocket the profit they made selling them to Dove World Outreach Center happily.  So what the church has actually accomplished is the spread of the Quran and increasing the profitability of printing it. 

Unintended consequences stink, huh?

Now I know, you might be thinking that their purchase is a drop in the bucket.  Well you may be right, but even if they buy 1,000 of them to burn that is not an insignificant number, and the business will just print 1,000 more to replace them that they wouldn’t have printed otherwise.  Their is not a finite supply of printing materials to keep them from making more!

And frankly, who is going to come burn the books?  No one who is moderate will; frankly, no one who is not already on the fringe will show up to the book burning.  So it will become a big mutual admiration society, with those who show up lauding the others there who they already agreed with before a match was ever struck.

So the unintended consequences here are huge.  The danger to Americans, and to Christians in parts of the world, is high.  The danger to our troops is high.  The actual effect is not just negligible, but in fact does the opposite of what is intended.  So who green-lighted this project, exactly?

The lesson here is simple: think through the consequences of your actions before you act!  Don’t rush headlong into a project or an action before considering the consequences of that action.  Pray and get counsel and consider all the angles before jumping in with both feet.

      1      The plans of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
      2      All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,
But the LORD weighs the motives.
      3      Commit your works to the LORD
And your plans will be established.
(Proverbs 16:1-3)

Think through all of the issues and really plan before undertaking something significant.  Seek help and ask for counsel that you disagree with just so that you can see their side of it.  I am willing to bet that if Pastor Jones had done that, this whole shenanigans would have turned out different.  Instead he is backed into a corner and forced to defend his pride, which means that he will stick to his guns.

Let’s pray that God gives him the wisdom not to carry out his plan, and the courage to back away from it.