Same Task, New ‘Tude

I know I wrote a recent post about motorcycling and the Christian life, but some themes bear repeating. Smile  I got to ride my bike today for the first time in over a month (it’s been WAY too hot in Phoenix), and man oh man is riding fun. I just love hitting the starter button and listening to the exhaust pipes burble (that’s a new word…I am going to patent it I think). I love feeling the throttle engage, banking into a turn and accelerating out of it. I love letting the bike whine in first gear for a little too long because the engine was built to rev.

 

For pure joy, no car ride can touch the same trek on a motorcycle. I’ve had fun driving cars, too, but a bike transforms a commute into a fun time. Usually the drive between school and church is taken as quickly as reasonably possible just to get from one to the other. Today it was a lot of fun, and I am really looking forward to my ride home!

 

Isn’t that a great reminder about the rest of life? It’s the same task, but when approached from a different perspective it can become so much more fun and engaging. I think that the Christian life can become much the same: boring when we get into a rut or keep at the same old thing, but fresh and new if we will change the pattern or find an engaging way to accomplish the same task. Maybe your Bible time is boring…how about reading a devotional instead, or getting the Bible on audio narrated by celebrities? If your service at church is getting stale, have you thought of approaching the task from a different angle or maybe changing ministry focus? If your prayer life is stuck, how about making time for God at a different time of day and with a different focus?

 

Tasks can get repetitive and boring, including spiritual disciplines. How do you keep it fresh and keep your perspective on the Christian life fun and engaging?

Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with the blessing of knowing that God is at work in your life.

So what are you thankful for?  This year, I am grateful for some unusual stuff.  It’s been a very difficult year for us in some ways.  I have had my eyes opened to some significant pride issues in my own life and some ways in which I thought I was honoring God and was instead standing in His ways.  I have watched Laura go through some difficult struggles and had to stand by while she did.  I had to resign my position at Phoenix Seminary to have more time to be at home and be a better husband and father.

Here is where you’d expect me to list some balancing blessings.  Instead, I am actually grateful for the paragraph above and all it entails.  It has been difficult, but it has been necessary.  God has used it to grow me and grow my family in some amazing ways, and for that I am very grateful.  We are different in November 2011 than we were in 2010; that change came and continues to come via these revelations.

How about you? Where is God at work in you this year? What are you thankful for that others might not understand or appreciate?

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.

Crunch Time

Man, I can be a jerk to live with when I am stressed out.  I realized yesterday that my outlook had been skewed by my schedule and (more importantly) my priorities and that had made me more than a bit difficult to get along with.  Don’t get me wrong; I have my reasons for feeling like a mummy (“pressed for time”…thank you, I’ll be here all week!):

  1. We transition to two worship services in 2 1/2 weeks at church, and we still need about 8 volunteers to make it a success.  That seems like a small number, but it’s still a stress.
  2. I have a ridiculous weekend ahead.  I am hosting Dr. Dave Anderson this weekend for Graceline, and he is preaching at church this Sunday.  That’s cool!  But I have a funeral to officiate and a family to grieve with on Saturday too, which of course is occupying a lot of my mind.
  3. I have a huge pile of grading on my desk, and 75 research papers coming in on Wednesday. Ahhhhhhhhh!
  4. I am working on my Easter sermon, my second ever in first-person.  That takes WORK.  The last one went well and I want this one to also.
  5. Last but CERTAINLY not least, both Laura and I are not able to run right now.  She had surgery to remove more tissue after her melanoma diagnosis, which put her out of action for 4 weeks.  Then I hurt my foot and need to take about 10 days off too—no running or kenpo. 

The end result: Stress.  The outcome: John is a jerk who gets snappish and surly. 

As I looked at the reason I get that way, it really boils down to simply being too focused on tasks and not focused on God and people.  I look at the “task” of two worship services and realize that we are doing that to help people, not to have something to do.  I look at this weekend and thank God that I get to be with that family and get to know Dr. Anderson better.  I realize that God has entrusted me with helping 75 students understand the New Testament better, and this is their chance to show me that!  My Easter sermon shouldn’t be a chance to be impressive but to help real people see the impact of the resurrection of Jesus on their lives.  And certainly, I realized that being unable to work out has given Laura and me some time to sleep in, to goof off, and to rebuild some margins in life.  Blessings, all.

And the schedule?  Well, God isn’t hanging me out to dry, either!

Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10)

Yesterday I completely revamped my prayer list too.  I took every task off of my list and instead changed to praying for people.  Monday, for instance, I am now praying for Laura, for my heart, for vision to lead our church, and for those who don’t know Christ in my life.  Tuesday is Elizabeth, the men that I am mentoring as well as my mentors, and my staff at church.  And so on.

And the change in focus has brought with it much more peace and much more willingness to be kind, to be present and to let small annoyances stay small.

How do you react to stress?  Is it schedule, or assignments, or money that makes you anxious?  Do you run to God or from Him when stress hits?  And when you can’t run to your normal stress relief, how do you cope?

Which Angle?

Have you ever wondered why two people can have the same experience but come away from it with two totally different impressions?  Have you ever marveled at how one person can lose their job and end up with a degree and a better career, while another person loses their job and just ends up out of work and bitter?

I got a lesson in the difference on Wednesday.  Laura and I had such a fantastic night that night!  We went to ACU’s President’s Banquet to hear a speech by President Bush, who was funny and engaging and honest.  We had a great time, and I think that the ACU community was honored by it. 

Even better than that was a big lesson that the President shared with us.  His speech was about taking his faith with him into the Oval Office, and in the middle of his speech he told a story about going to Rwanda. (oh man, did my ears perk up when he started talking about Rwanda!!)  He got to meet 15 or 16 children there who had lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. 

Now, put yourself in those children’s shoes.  They are in an incredibly poor country and have the additional burden of losing their parents to AIDS.  They have, quite literally, nothing.  They were orphans, destitute and many would say hopeless.

President Bush said that he wondered what to say as he walked by them, and for some reason decided to say to them, “God is good.”  Their response to him was to say in unison, “All the time!”  Think about that a moment…these children had more excuse than anyone to be upset at God and to have a terrible attitude, and yet their immediate response to the statement “God is good” is to reply, “All the time!”

Wow.  What makes the difference?  It’s all in the angle.  These kids didn’t see God through the lens of their problems.  Instead, they saw their problems through the lens of their God.  And that is a major difference between a life of frustration, anger, and loneliness and a life of resilience and success.

Sometimes, we look at God through the “lens” of our problems:

Problem

Our problem stands between us and Jesus, so our problem “frames” or provides the “lens” through which we see God.  This is what happens when life gets unfair and it makes us question God’s character based on our experience. (I did this some after my car wreck)  We say,

“How can God be good if this has happened to me?” 
“I feel lonely, which means that God must not be there.”
“This financial disaster must mean that God doesn’t care, because if He cared this wouldn’t happen.”

On the other hand, we can instead see our problem through the lens of God:

Jesus

In this scenario, we see our problem through the lens of our God and His character affects the way we view our problem.  This is what Paul is really talking about in the famous passage in Philippians 4:12-13:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. ” (Philippians 4:12–13, NAS)

He saw his problems through the lens of the God he served, not the other way around!  By looking at life through the lens of Jesus Christ, Paul found the stability to weather the storms of life.  Through looking at life through Jesus and His character, Paul put his problems in an eternal perspective.  This is exactly what the kids in Rwanda said to President Bush, and as I considered this today it seems to me that this was instrumental to me recovering emotionally from my wreck as well.

So how do you build a view of the world that looks at problems through the lens of God and not vice versa?

  1. Put God’s Word inside of you.  You won’t know God’s character if you don’t get your nose in the book!  Recognize His goodness, His love, His justice, and His mercy in there.  Soak in His character; breathe it in and accept who He says He is.
  2. Whatever circumstance you come to, ask God how to see it in light of who He is rather than letting it determine who you think He is.  I had to do this with my wreck a lot, because it seemed pretty cruddy to me.  I had to ask God many times to show me how His goodness was reflected in my wreck.
  3. Reflect on God’s character and, without getting all churchy and sloganeering, rest in God’s character when life gets tough.  Don’t ignore your problems, but put them in perspective in light of who God is.  When injustice happens to you, remember that God is just and will make all things just.  When someone hurts you, remember that God is love and their unloving actions do not make God unloving.
  4. Apply God’s character to the problem you’re facing.  If you can’t see how it applies, then ask God (repeatedly if necessary!) to show you where and how His character comes to bear on the situation.

This approach won’t make your problems go away automatically; it won’t pay bills, or stop the loneliness, or erase the abuse. However, it will keep those problems from becoming overwhelming and train you to see Him first and your problems second.

Has there been a time when this kind of approach has helped you?  How has seeing your problems through God’s character made the experience different for you?