Recalibration Needed

It’s been FOREVER since I posted a thought on ABF.  It’s been a month of transitions, and just by way of explanation I thought I would post the text of an email I sent our church family this week. Hopefully this explains some of my absence from the blog, and gives you some insight into where I am in life right now.  I would love your prayers and your thoughts on how to get even better.

““For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? ” (Luke 9:25)

Hi everyone!
Just a quick update from me and some clarification.  I feel like I may have been misleading the past couple of weeks and wanted to make sure that I am communicating well.
I think that I may have put across the idea that we are not doing very well as a family.  Allow me to say, that is not the case at all!  In fact, I would say that now we are doing better than we ever have.  What the realization over the past month has taught us is that we were spread way, way too thin.  Between my many activities, the kids participating in lots of different stuff, and Laura’s many duties we were so thin that you could see right through us.  And that meant that we didn’t have the time to be together and love one another well.  It meant that we were always rushing to one place or another with no time to just enjoy one another.  It meant that the house was always a mess and that Laura felt like she couldn’t keep up with all of the demands of school work for the kids, house work, her doula clients (which is a huge passion of hers), AND be successful as a follower of Christ and wife and mother.  She realized it, but I was experiencing the same without really realizing it. (she’s always been more self-aware than I am)  And we all finally came to the realization that there were a lot of tasks and activities that are good in themselves, but in the end took us away from who we want to be.  So the past few weeks have been our attempt to clear out the stuff that matters least so that we can focus on the stuff that matters most.  To us, what matters most is that we love God and each other, and we are trying to do that more effectively.  And I think that God is using that in great ways, and with our “margins” and boundaries on our time re-established we are really having fun as a family.  In fact, I think that we are as joyful as we have been in a long, long time.
So that said, we cleared those margins not to get away from our church family; just the opposite, really! We want to spend more time together with you.  We want to have our family in Christ in our home, and grow closer with the people who matter most to us.  Yeah, that is primarily Laura and me keeping our marriage strong and healthy (which it is!), and helping our kids love God and love people.  This is why you’ll see us head out camping more, why James and I bought dirt bikes recently so we can do that as a father and son, and just being home more.  It’s brought back joy in my life in fixing stuff around the house, because I have the time to do so and because it is fun again to make something work correctly.  I have room in my mind for it!  It is also building healthy, transparent, growing relationships with our church family.  So look for that in our lives in the coming weeks and months as we focus on the things that matter the most to us.
All that to say, the Correia family is doing great.  We are through the “holy moley, we need to change some stuff” time and into cementing those changes to have some room in our schedules and in our hearts and heads to really just be present where we are.  So, please don’t think that we are in a dire straight or coming apart at the seams.  In fact, I think that we are more whole than we ever have been, and it’s been lots of fun to be in our home listening to laughter and talking and getting involved in what matters to our kids. (Laura told me last night that while she and James were cooking enchiladas he told her ALL about the Star Wars Lego world he has built, and all the characters and cities and everything that are in it…I know you’re jealous!)  I want to publicly thank Pastor Mike for being so instrumental in helping us make some of these realizations as a family, and continuing to help us relate effectively and communicate our hearts to one another honestly and clearly.
What does that mean for you? 
Keep loving us as a family.  We value transparency and authenticity, so we are just living life with you.  Don’t wonder what’s going on or worry that you’re intruding.  We’ll say so if we need space.  And don’t worry you’ll say the wrong thing or that you can’t just have small talk with us.  That’s what we want! Help us enjoy life a little by having lunch with us after church; we might forget to ask, so come ask us!  Let us get involved in helping you find those boundaries as well and make the main thing the main thing in your life.  Talk to us about the little things…we love that stuff.
Thanks again for being an amazing church family, where the pastor can just be a regular guy who occasionally needs to recalibrate.  It’s good to be healthier.

A Big Decision…

The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps
. (Proverbs 16:9)

There are times in life when we are at a fork in the road, when the decisions we make determine the course of our life.  At many points our character determines which set of choices are available to us (many would call this compatibilism); at crucial times our choices determine what our character will be. (some call that concurrence; more in a post another time) 

Imagine it like this: a young man finds a wallet on the street filled with cash and with a person’s ID.  He has a major choice to make at this point, one that will set a lot of character traits within him.  He can find the owner of the wallet and return their money, which will set him on a path of caring for others and self-sacrifice in the name of what is right.  Alternately he can keep the cash and throw the wallet away, becoming more self-focused and caring less for the needs of others.  Who he becomes in the future is determined by how he handles the choice he has before him.

We are all confronted by these kinds of choices at points in our life.  At crucial moments they determine our path; at the same time we rest as Christians in the knowledge of Proverbs 16:9 that God directs our steps as we plan our way and that we do not make decisions all on our own.  If we will listen to His voice and will ask for His view, He will direct us where He wants us.

I had such a moment yesterday.  The head of the Bible department at the school I teach at told me yesterday that he is officially beginning the process of hiring a full-time faculty member.  He asked me for a résumé  and to consider the job, because he was sure I would do an excellent job and would be a good fit.  From the time I left the Navy to attend seminary I have walked the path of wanting to be in an academic setting.  I love teaching, love the classroom, and love helping eager students grasp the Word of God.  It’s been a desire of mine for the last decade, the majority of my adult life.

And yesterday I asked him to remove my name from consideration for the position.

Am I a fool?  Maybe I am, but my desire and my calling are maybe not the same.  God has made me to be a shepherd, not an academic.  I love the classroom but dislike the administrative side of professoring. (is that a word?)  I am not one for committee meetings or writing assessment reports or planning classroom assignments.  I love to help people see God in their life and apply His word to their unique situation, to have freedom from the past and intimacy with their Creator.  I don’t love grading, though I do it as a necessary “evil.” (it’s not evil, but it is not my favorite task either…)

More than that, I see God at work in our church in major ways, both big and small.  I could not take a full-time professorship and stay the pastor of our church simply for time constraints, if not for focus and responsibility.  If I resigned my pastorate I would have to leave the church out of respect for the new pastor, and my church is my family.  I guess that’s the shepherd in me, that I love my church.  I love preaching, love praying with people, and even love the messiness of life that comes from pastoring a small(er) congregation.  I love being there for the weddings, the birth of their children, the hospital stays and the new jobs and the tough times too.  We’ve been where we are for almost 4 years, and I feel like in God’s eyes we are just getting started there.  I can’t remotely fathom leaving our church, so I told my boss no thanks. (fear not, I am staying on as an adjunct!)

That’s been harder for me emotionally than I thought it would be.  Laying a career in academia on the altar has not been easy, though I know it is absolutely, 100% what God wants and where I will be blessed by Him and joyful.  Still, it was hard to turn away from the path I had thought I would walk in life; maybe it wasn’t as hard as declining my commission in the Navy, but hard nonetheless.  I am joyful, but maybe a bit melancholy at realizing the death of my dream of being an egghead professor.

God, in these moments, makes us who we will be and confirms in us who He calls us to be if we will listen.  He has confirmed to me that I am a shepherd and I will stay a pastor; I get joy in the classroom, but it’s because I get to help students understand and live for God there.  So in reality that is pastoring as well.  This decision has confirmed that within my heart.

How about you?  What have been the hard decisions in your life, and how have they molded you into the person you’ve become?  Were they difficult to make because you weren’t sure or for some other reason?

A Christmas “Miracle”

Sometimes God uses ye olde tyme movies to remind me of how I should act as a disciple of Christ.  This Christmas it was the old 1947 classic, “Miracle on 34th Street.”  We watched it with the kids on Christmas Eve after church, and the message of this 60+ year-old movie really hit home for me.

First of all, the movie taught me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  One of the big messages of the movie is about how commercial that Christmas had become.  This movie was made in 1947!  We tend to romanticize the time after WWII as an idyllic time of peace, godliness, and morality, but in many ways they had the same issues that we do in 2010.  They were verging on the most prosperous times in American history, and consumerism was beginning to run amok then just as it does now.  It was great to talk with the kids after the movie about the trap of consumerism and how we wanted to avoid it.

Secondly and more importantly, the turning point of the movie reminded me of an important lesson about church that God has been drilling into my head for the past 18 months or so.  The plot of the movie revolves around a man named Kris Kringle who believes he is Santa Claus; he gets hired by Macy’s to be their in-store Santa (a big deal in the days before malls and thousands of mall Santas).  Hundreds of kids come to see Santa to ask for the presents they want, and one kid in particular asks for a fire truck.  When Kris assures him that he will get his fire truck, mom gives him the evil eye and says that Macy’s doesn’t have any more of them!

Here is where the movie turns: Kris takes a notebook out of his pocket and tells her that Gimbel’s, the chief competitor to Macy’s, has just what she is looking for and it is on sale too.  The flustered mom can’t believe that Macy’s Santa would send her to a competitor and vows to become a regular at Macy’s because of their focus on customers!  The owner of Macy’s thinks it is a great idea, and soon every department store in America is helping their customers find exactly what they want, even if it is at a competitor’s store.  They do it because they think it’s genius marketing that will attract more customers to them, but Kris Kringle does it just for the good of the little boys and girls who should get the Christmas presents that they want.

This is a pretty good reminder of what our attitude is supposed to look like as a church…the Kringle one, not the Macy’s or Gimbel’s version.  Kris thought of those kids first.  The bottom line at Macy’s didn’t count; the needs (okay wants, but bear with me) of the children did. 

How might that look if we adopted that attitude amongst ourselves?  How would my life look like if I didn’t prioritize my wants and my advantage, but instead just helped people to achieve their goals and dreams?  How would my interactions go if I weren’t looking for my own advantage but for opportunities to show the love of God to them and serve them?  I think it would look a lot like Christ:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ” (Philippians 2:3–11, NASB)

How would our churches minister if that was our goal?  Allow me to share a case in point: We had a family come to worship at our church a couple of weeks ago.  They just moved here from Georgia, and were in their words looking for a traditional Baptist church.  They were a very nice family who seemed like they were serious about their faith and were kind and friendly.
As a pastor it is tempting to try to show them why they should come to my church.  I am a shepherd and I think that our church is pretty awesome!  And since I think it is awesome, other people should also think it is awesome, right?  So they should come to WG because it’s a great place for them to grow in Christ and build authentic relationships with other growing disciples.
Only they were looking for a traditional Baptist church and told me that.  We aren’t by any definition a traditional Baptist church, and I am by no means a traditional Baptist preacher.  Frankly, we aren’t really what they are looking for.  There are a couple of churches near ours that have more of the “traditional” feel that it seemed like this family wanted.  So I had a choice to make: what’s best for this family, or what’s best for me and my church.
I naturally welcomed these folks and several others did as well, and told them that we would love to have them.  I also told them about the churches in the area that I knew were good biblically and were more conservative and traditional than we were.  They were kind, and I think that the drum kit and maybe my preaching style told them that we weren’t a good fit.  They haven’t been back and didn’t give me a card or anything to contact them.  I hope they took me up on my suggestions for church finding!
Now before you think I’m all cool, realize that I know the deal.  It’s a bit self-serving, but I would rather have the family find somewhere they really want to be than reluctantly keep coming to our church and never dive in with both feet.  And yes, it also feels good to help them in their search.  And I think that it honors Christ more than me trying to shoehorn them into my way of doing business.  So in all it benefits me to be other-focused as well.
For 2011, what resolutions are you making in order to have a more Christ-centered attitude in this area?  Where can you make a change to be more interested in His good and the good of His people than self-interested?

Grace Modeled…and Abused

There is a question that I hear often when I talk about the truly free offer of eternal life that Christ offers. 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (Revelation 22:17)

The offer of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone is the central message of the New Testament; it is a testimony of the grace of God and a truly phenomenal gift.  Not only that, but the gift comes not on the basis of anything we have done, but only on the basis of what Christ has done.

…being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:24)

Eternal life is a gift.  You can’t earn a gift; something that is earned is not a gift but a wage.

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, (Romans 4:4–5)

The question that I hear often is, “If the gift is truly free, can’t God’s gracious offer get abused?  If the offer of eternal life truly comes without works, can someone accept Christ and then go on living in sin?”  It’s a good question, and one that God brought to mind this Saturday at our church yard sale.

A member of our church had a financial need that he couldn’t possibly meet.  He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and his doctor told him that he needed a wheelchair, as his legs have a hard time on trips to the mall or grocery store.  He and his wife live on a small pension and her job and have to be very frugal.  The chair would normally cost about $4,000 to buy, but by the grace of God the vendor had a demo unit they were willing to sell for $1,050!  My friend called me about it, because there was no way he and his wife could afford it.  It was a fantastic opportunity, but it may as well have cost $1 Million in his situation.

We decided as a church to act.  Our elders agreed that in the spirit of Acts 2:45 that we needed to provide for this man’s need, so we bought the chair for him.  He did nothing to earn that, and it was amazing as a pastor to see the grace of God modeled by our church family.  It was a truly free gift given without strings attached.

The story continues though.  Our church, like many in these economic times, didn’t have $1,000 lying around just to provide for the need.  We decided to ask our members to bring donations to hold a yard sale to raise the money we needed to buy the chair, and they responded graciously!  The people decided that since our friend could not buy what he so clearly needed that we would provide what was needed.

We posted the sale on Craigslist and had a LOT of people come to buy items.  We had a simple message for everyone who came and perused what we were selling:

  1. The sale was to fund the purchase of a wheelchair for a member of our church who needed it.
  2. We needed to raise $1,050 to buy the chair.
  3. There were no prices on any of the items; everything was sold for whatever donation that the person wanted to give.  Their conscience was their guide, as we would not haggle.

Generally, most people were quite generous.  They almost always donated more than we would have asked for the item at a yard sale, and this method is far less stressful than haggling over a $0.50 coffee mug.  However, there is always “that guy” at the yard sale.  You know “that guy,” the one who takes advantage.  In this case it was a man who came with a full-size pickup truck. 

When he found out what we were doing and how we were doing it he set about building himself a huge pile of items.  He took a working washing machine.  He took two vacuum cleaners.  He took a full-size futon with a nice frame.  He took a nearly-new microwave with mounting brackets.  He took a nice sewing machine.  He took a set of end tables.  He took a bunch of clothes.  He also had a pile of other stuff that I didn’t really get to see, but by this time you get the point.  He cherry-picked the place clean!  He knew that we were raising money for a man who needed a wheelchair.  And after loading it all up and filling the entire bed of his full-size pickup to the top of his bed rails…he gave me $30 and drove away.

I wish I could say that I smiled, waved, and wished him well.  I mean, we said that his conscience was his guide, didn’t we?  We said it was donation-based, so whatever he wanted to give was acceptable.  But when the time came to put that plan to the test, I was frustrated and upset that he took advantage of us.  I mean, it’s for a good cause!  It’s not like we were going to throw a kegger with the money or take a trip to Aruba; it was to buy a WHEELCHAIR!  It really chapped me that he took so much and gave so little.

Fast forward to the end of the day.  I was worried that we wouldn’t make our goal, and after getting taken to the cleaners by “that guy” I was really concerned.  Even with Captain Skinflint stealing our lunch money, the sale was a huge success.  We raised $1,240!  The chair was paid for and we even had money left over to help another family who might need it in the future.  God provided for the need and more.  Yes we had Mr. Scrooge take us to the cleaners, but we still had more than we needed and that guy will have to take his actions up with God.  I needed to be grateful that God provided for the chair rather than worry about one person who wasn’t onboard with the whole generosity thing.

Can you see the lesson in the “parable of the yard sale”?  I can see two, personally.  First off, when my friend had no way to provide for his need, the church provided for his need completely!  In God’s economy, that is how salvation works.  We are made right with God 100% by His work, not our own.  We are the recipients of His grace without any merit on our part whatsoever.  We have redemption not because we serve God, but because Christ was faithful and was sacrificed for us.

Secondly, I see a lesson about taking advantage of God’s grace.  Yeah it frustrated me when that man took advantage of our policy in the yard sale.  Only one person out of dozens and dozens did that, though.  It wasn’t a widespread phenomenon.  And while he split without really contributing, it was our offer that allowed it.  We didn’t say, “Well, it’s donation based unless you try to rip us off…then it’s pay up or pack sand.”  Likewise, the “water of life” is truly free.  God doesn’t play “bait and switch,” saying that our salvation is a free gift unless we don’t meet His standards afterwards.  Certainly He asks us all to live for Him out of gratitude for the amazing gift of eternal life, and just like in our yard sale most respond to the gracious offer with generosity and love for the God who bought them from their sin.  However, the offer stands and is still good, even if we are not faithful to the calling of holiness that He has called us to.

Eternal life is a free gift that God gives to all who trust in the work of Christ on their behalf.  There is no front-loading of the gospel allowed (it takes faith PLUS [baptism…confession…stop committing that one sin you like so much] to receive eternal life), and no back-loading (it takes faith alone, but if you don’t do x, y, or z then you never got the gift because you don’t have real faith) either.  And God reminded me of that at our yard sale.

How about you?  How is God reminding you about the truly free gift of eternal life in Christ that you have received?

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.