Use Your Shout Outs!

I love the TV game show “Cash Cab.” In this show Ben Bailey asks people trivia questions while taking them to their destination in his cab, and part of the game is that they have two “shout outs” that they can use to ask for help.  One is a phone call that they can make to anyone they know, and the other is a chance to pull over in New York City and ask a helpful stranger for the answer they need.  So many times people forget to use their shout outs! Even though the host reminds them, they forget and for some it costs them the game.

 

How often do we think that we have to be the solution to the problems around us? And even more, how often do we shoulder burdens that are way too heavy for us to carry because we think that we have to be able to help everyone solve their problems.

 

Maybe you’ve not struggled with this as much as I have, but I know that it runs wild in the pastoral community. Most pastors don’t go into ministry because they feel a deep longing to be underpaid and overworked; if that was their aim, they would enlist in the military or work in retail! (both of which I have done, FWIW) Most pastors aren’t egomaniacs looking to wield power over people or mama’s boys who want everyone to like them.  No, most pastors go into vocational ministry because they love Christ and love people and want to help people know and love Christ like they do.  They’ve seen the transforming power of God in their own life and want to share with others the grace they’ve received.

 

The problem that many pastors run into, and that many loving Christians who aren’t pastors share, is that in our desire to love one another and help people see Christ we try to offer answers that we don’t have and help that we don’t have the ability to give!  And when we do that, I always get a flashback to the only Tom Cruise movie that is worth watching:

 

 

I can just picture God looking at us and saying, “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!”  I see this all the time, and have run across it in my own life rather pointedly. 

 

  • I have students and church friends who have friends struggling with self-harm, and come to me asking for advice on how to help their friend stop.
  • I know people whose family is making poor decisions and have been asked how to help them change.
  • I’ve been asked how to open the door for someone to change and not be angry with God anymore.
  • I’ve seen people struggle with personal past issues that spill over into current relationships and have both personally desired to help them have healing and had others ask me how to help them get back on track.
  • Recently someone laid their finances out for me and asked me how to overcome their family swindling them out of their retirement and their income.
  • I had a friend come and complain about their church and how broken the church is, and in frustration ask how to start a better one.

 

This past year, God has really, really shown me the folly of thinking that as a shepherd, friend, pastor, professor, etc. that I can fill all of these needs in someone’s life.  That’s a lesson He tells us all in 1 Corinthians 12!

 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, ESV)

 

God never said that He gave one person all of the manifestations of the Spirit, but that He has given each one a manifestation or gifting to serve the body of Christ.  And that means that we can only do that which we are called and equipped and able to do.  To do more is working out of our area and is terrible not only on them but on us as well! In 1 Cor 12 Paul goes on to talk about the church using an analogy to our bodies, with different organs serving different functions.  Lungs don’t digest well; think about the last time you inhaled a drink of water or a bite of food and how that worked out for you!

 

Likewise, in the body of Christ when we try to do that for which we are ill-equipped it harms us and the body. 

 

Let me put a fine point on this.  Lately especially I have seen people trying to carry burdens for others that they just can’t carry.  I have done it myself, so I am not pointing the finger! Instead of carrying that burden or trying to be someone’s Savior, love them, support them, and give them a strong nudge to get the help they need from a part of the body that can help them. 

 

  • I told my friend with financial distress to go talk to our Crown teacher at church and a CFP that I know.  They know finances and can help!
  • For many of us, a good and helpful start is to encourage our friends to go talk to their pastor about their spiritual, emotional, and relational struggles. They at least have SOME training in helping in these areas, so encourage others to get help!
  • Pastors need to recognize their limits as well, and not try to be counselors or psychologists.  I have learned the hard way that it is far better to encourage someone to seek out better help than to try to muddle through with my limited abilities. And I thank God for the men and women who are professionals in the field of behavioral health who can offer assistance I can’t!

 

So do yourself and your friends and family a favor and use the “shout outs” that God has placed in your life! Be a good help, but don’t try to be everything.

 

How about you? Have you had to use a “shout out” recently? How has that gone?

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.

But Counseling is for Sissies! (Part 3: Mentors)

Part 1 of this series may be found here; Part 2 is here

Yesterday I shared the concept of mentorship with my students at ACU.  From the chagrined looks and the blank stares I could tell that this was a topic that not many had taken seriously, which really made my heart hurt.  How much of the Christian life do we miss out on by not taking advantage of the godly influence of mentorship?

If you’re a fan of the NFL, you’ve seen this in play recently.  Mike Vick did some heinous stuff, and part of his reinstatement after prison was having Tony Dungy as his mentor.  While he hasn’t been perfect, he has cleaned up a lot, made amends to many, and just won the AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.  I think his relationship with a godly man like Dungy was a big part of that.

I say this knowing that it sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t: A mentoring relationship is likely the most important relationship after marriage that any Christian builds.  Without mentorship and guidance and help, it is highly unlikely that we can be everything God wants us to be. 

In the previous posts in this series I mentioned the circle of family and the circle of friends, but they can only help us so much.  They are so close to us that at times they can’t help us grow in Christ.  Often they have to be careful not to say too much, or they have to stay out of a situation so that they don’t get backlash or hurt our feelings.  Mentors are required to get in our business a little, step on our toes when we need it, and give us guidance about how to apply biblical truth to our lives.

Mentorship was critical to the Apostle Paul:

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

 
He wanted the people in his circle of influence to have a mentor.  He wanted them to have someone who they could see following Christ, not just hear about it.  He wanted them to have a pattern or mold to follow.  And he expected his great protégé, Timothy, to follow that pattern and mentor others as well:
 

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

 
Mentoring is so INCREDIBLY critical to a successful walk with Christ.  Lest you think that I am just whistling Dixie, I can tell you from experience the power that mentorship has on my own life.  I know what it is to have someone pour Christ into me by example.  Mentorship is CRITICAL.  Mentors give us “handles” to hold onto in our Christian walk by showing us what authentic Christianity looks like.  They help us see issues as God sees them and speak biblical truth into our lives.
 
So if you do not have a mentor, how do you get one?
 

  1. Pray and ask God for help in finding a good mentor (or two) to follow.  Ask Him for wisdom and for discernment in finding someone you can follow.
  2. Look for someone who is “the real deal” as a follower of Christ.  In 1 Cor 11:1 Paul says “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”  Find someone to imitate who is imitating Christ! (as a caveat, that means you have to know who Jesus is and what His priorities are)
  3. Get closer to them.  Be proactive and take some steps to get to know them.  There are hypocrites out there, so get closer while continuing to evaluate a potential mentor.  See how they relate to their family, their job, their church, etc.  Look to be sure they are not a fake, which means finding their weaknesses and flaws too.  There is no such thing as perfect, but a mentor should be walking with Christ honestly.
  4. The more you see the good in them, ask them to speak into your life.  See what is important to them and ask for advice.  Get some input on how you can be more like Jesus.  That might be over coffee or after church or on the phone.  It can be formal or informal, but it must be intentional.
  5. Check their advice against Scripture and take what is good.  Apply it and see what happens.  That builds trust and confidence, and even if it doesn’t work perfectly that can be more of a chance to continue to build and grow your relationship.
  6. Lather, rinse, repeat #3-6.

Mentorship is a critical component of our walk with Christ.  Without it, we will have a terrible time in walking with the Lord. 

How about you?  If you have a mentor, how did you build the relationship?  What attracted you to your mentor?  How does your mentoring relationship work?  If not, what is holding you back?

Dead Right

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We have a saying in the motorcycle world: it’s quite possible to be “dead right.”  I ride in Phoenix and the drivers here are not so much aggressive as thoughtless and unaware of their surroundings.  Demanding the right-of-way and taking the attitude that I will just take what belongs to me is a great way to wind up as a statistic.  In other words, there is “right” and then there is “dead right.”  Every decision on a motorcycle has to be made through the grid of whether or not the rider is willing to be “dead right.”  You might have the right to do something, but will asserting that right be beneficial or will it lead to death?

This is very similar to the way that Paul viewed his ministry.  In the midst of a discussion on his rights as an Apostle of Christ in 1 Corinthians 9, he says this: “Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. “ (1 Corinthians 9:12)  He knew that using his rights would lead to hindrance of the gospel, which he couldn’t stand.  He would rather be wronged than be “dead right”!

How often I have seen people willing to be “dead right” in their relationships and in their decisions regarding life.  I get to see the tragic wrecks of “dead right” decisions all the time, and frankly it breaks my heart to see.  Where have I seen it?

  1. Parents who have a “right” to enjoy their leisure time any way they please exposing their kids to neglect, to harm emotionally or psychologically, or to unhealthy habits like alcoholism or similar habits.
  2. Spouses who demand their spousal rights.  This might be a husband who demands his wife submit to him regardless of his decisions, or a wife who demands sexual response from her husband at difficult times.  It might be a spouse who demands a spotlessly kept house or a perfect financial record.
  3. Friends who demand that those around them walk perfectly with Christ and cannot show them grace when they are wrong.  They must always be proven right in every discussion of doctrine or practice.
  4. Bosses who have inordinate expectations and employees who take advantage of company policies.
  5. Christians who demand their rights to one matter of conscience or another (drinking is a common one, as is movies with questionable content) as their “liberty in Christ” when around others.

All of these, and many more, may be “rights” that we possess, but that does not make them right to use.  We, too, can be “dead right” in our demands on others.

How about you?  Where have you been in danger of being “dead right” in the past?  How has God grown you out of that?

But Counseling is for Sissies! (Part 2: The circles)

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14, NAS)

 
We quote this verse, but do we believe it?  Do you have multiple counselors, or just a gang of “yes men” who reinforce what you already believe and do or are unwilling to rock the boat to help you change?  The verse above speaks clearly that when we chart our own course and go our own way, we will fall.  However, if we will invite circles of counselors, from friends to professionals when needed, into our midst to speak into our lives we can experience the victory that God wants for us.
 
You see, the Bible teaches that we should have a concentric set of circles of counselors, pastors, mentors, friends, and family around us to allow us to succeed.  Picture it like this: (no hating on my amazing clipart skills!)
 
Concentric Circles Counseling
 
As the circle gets wider, it includes more people who are perhaps not as close to you.  While it may seem like those closest to you can help the most, in reality many times those who are a little farther away can help you see with perspective and clarity that is simply impossible from those who are closest to you.  At the same time, having people close is critical so that we do not isolate ourselves, have no guidance, and as the above verse says “fall.”  So all of the circles are needed:
 

Family:

 
This circle is foundational.  The first relationship that God established was the marriage relationship (Gen 2:18-25), and that relationship is critical to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  We have parents as well who God tells us to honor (Exodus 20:12) and promises us that if we do, our lives will go well.  Family is powerful, and a necessary ingredient in a healthy group of counselors.
 
Not every family is a good family, and not every person is blessed with parents, siblings, or a spouse who is godly, warm, caring, and helpful.  The Fall marred our relationships for sure and many times family can be the source of hurt and not the solution to it.  So we must have more than family, even though in the best case our family is a source of support and care.
 

Friends:

 
The next circle out is our friends.  The author of Hebrews tells us that we must have those around us who encourage us and help us live for God:
 

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NAS)

 
The job of our friends is to encourage us, and while many of our friendships can be shallow Proverbs 18:24 tells us that there is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Those friendships are absolutely critical so that we don’t close ourselves off to what God is doing in our midst.  These kind of “friends who stick closer than a brother” are the ones that really count.  They are the friends who through time and experience earn our trust.  They are the ones who are there for us when times are tough and when we are not at our best.  They help us pick up the pieces and start again when we fail.
 
It is absolutely critical that we bolster these kinds of friendships.  If you have a friendship that is a strong one, thank God for it.  Even more, make it stronger by investing in it!  Take that friend to coffee, or go have breakfast at their house and talk about important stuff.  Invite them into your life and ask them for help.  This is what is known in church as “transparency” or “accountability,” when in reality it is more like just good old fashioned friendship. 
 
If you need more accountability or help walking with Christ or overcoming a sin or just being a better person, look around and start with asking your good friends to become better friends and help you.  And if you take inventory and realize that your “friends” in reality hurt you more than they help you, maybe it’s time to upgrade your friends and realize that maybe you need to let some relationships go so you can spend time building new ones.
 
Some more advice for these close friendships: be mindful of boundaries.  I don’t build close friendships with women other than my wife.  I have women friends (almost all married to my guy friends), but one-on-one time is not appropriate for a married man with another woman, period.  So in that vein build close personal friendships with others in an appropriate way.
 
Also, you have to be proactive about taking these kinds of friendships from casual to significant.  Naturally you don’t have time to do that with a hundred people, so choose carefully.  But once you know you’ve got a trustworthy friend, go out of your way to be significant in your friendship.  Occasionally ask to sit down and talk about important stuff, not just the weather.  My wife and I have friends we each go to for “peer mentoring” like this, and a couple of couples who we get together with to talk about the important issues of life.  That doesn’t have to be heavy or boring or super-serious, but it does have to be intentional and it does have to be regular.
 
In the next post we will talk about the next circles, but for now I challenge you to identify the strengths in your inner circles.  Where can your family help you in your walk with Christ?  Who is there in your circle of friends who is close and could get closer to help you be who you want to be?  Who can you confide in, and how can you build that confidence?  By being proactive and reaching for the relationships that God has given you, you can navigate life successfully.