Exciting News!

It has been a whirlwind new year for me so far.  I had a great time teaching a 3-week Gospels intensive over the winter term at ACU, and got to preach as the Angel Gabriel on Christmas Eve which was a ton of fun.  We’ve made a transition in our worship service format at church which has been fantastic on our community, and I got to go to kenpo for the first time in 6 months last week!

In November, our worship pastor took a sabbatical to rest and recharge, to enjoy some family time and refocus his ministry on seeking Christ and seeking to lead people to Him.  We didn’t have a delineated sabbatical policy as a church for our pastoral staff, so our elders made one.  In a nutshell, every 5th year we give our pastors 2 extra weeks of paid leave that must be taken all at once and should be used for the purpose of spiritual renewal.

Since then (late October) I have been praying about a sabbatical, because this is my 5th year serving as the senior pastor of our church.  2012 will be a sabbatical year for me, and I have been praying and seeking God on how best to take my sabbatical this year.  I wanted it to be significant, and while 2 weeks alone in the woods with my Bible might be awesome I just sensed that would not really do what I wanted to do.  I wanted to really grow in Christ in ways that I normally couldn’t, knowing that meant getting away from my normal routine.

Here is where God stepped in.  Over the past several months I have built a friendship with the father of two of my previous students from ACU who is also a pastor in town, who pastors a very large congregation and whose heart for shepherding and for preaching lines up with mine.  He asked Laura and me to have dinner with him and his wonderful wife, and at dinner he asked us to join him next month on a pretty crazy trip.

He asked us to join him for 15 days in Israel! Surprised smile

I have never been to Israel, but having heard from many of the life-changing time that it is for pastors and professors I really want to go.  This will be an awesome time of spiritual growth and professional development, and will benefit me in the pulpit, the classroom, and as a shepherd.  Rather than try to explain it all to you myself, I asked Mark to explain why this makes a PERFECT sabbatical and why it is an important trip to take.

I am so excited to go and sit in a boat on the Sea of Galilee like the disciples did, to stand next to the wall that Nehemiah rebuilt, and to go back through the Gospels like I did over the past 3 weeks and see and touch and smell and taste what it was like in Jesus’ world.  I know it won’t be relaxing like a vacation and plan to wring every bit out of every moment that I can, but it’s invigorating just to think about the amazing opportunity to even go!

Pastor Mark has been incredibly gracious to offer us to come along with him not only for the big tour he is leading, but to spend a few days before and after with him there to see some stuff that a big group just can’t.  He’s also being very generous to help us go and to provide room in his personal schedule for us, and has been generous financially too.  He has been to Israel 10 times and is using the very best guides to really avoid the tourist traps and instead experience Israel in a life-changing way.

So if you would, please pray for us as we plan this trip. Just like with our trip to Rwanda in 2010, this one is on short notice.  Just like our opportunity there, we have 5 weeks until we leave. Just like Rwanda, I believe that God has orchestrated the events leading up to allow us to go, and that He has it all in His hands.  And just like our trip to Rwanda, we have no idea how we are going to make the trip work financially.  I know that finances are not a major concern to God, and that He has all the money He needs to do everything that He wants to do.  I also know that, looking at our finances, it makes no sense to me how He is going to make this trip a reality. 

The total costs for this trip, all things considered, will be around $7000. I believe that God wants us to go on this trip and that it will be a blessing on my own spiritual growth and on my ministry for the next decade or more, and we are stepping out in faith to go.  If you would, please, I have three requests of you that would make a world of difference to me:

  1. We cherish your prayers!  We need God’s guidance as we try to figure out all of the logistics.  Pray for how we will take care of the kids, for our home, for our church and my classroom at ACU as I am not there to shepherd. Pray for us to be transformed by God during this trip in seeing Him and His Word in a new way and to be able to bring that home with me and impact others in a greater way in my preaching and teaching ministry. Please pray for God’s hand to provide financially for us to be able to go, as that part is still a big source of anxiety.  I know that God hears His people in these regards.
  2. Please share this post with your friends and your church!
  3. If you feel led to help us in some way, we would absolutely love that! Whether that is feeding our pets or house-sitting for us, loving our kids while we are away, or providing financially for the trip we would be very grateful.  Please, I don’t want anyone to feel pressured to give or help; I know that times are tough for many and that life is busy.  That said, if you’d like to help with going financially or some other way that would be an answer to prayer.

We are really excited to share this news with everyone and looking forward to seeing God at work in this trip.

Thanks so much, and may God bless your 2012!

The Heart of the Matter

This Sunday our elder who oversees finances said he needed to ask me a question about how to handle a gift in the offering, which was odd. (I am normally not involved in the offering at all)  I asked him what was up, and he gave me these:

CEC tokens
First, we all had a good laugh.  Hey, skee ball for the pastoral staff! 🙂 (okay, if you look close it’s actually 2 Chuck E. Cheese tokens and 1 Cabela’s token…so skee ball and animatronic shooting gallery!) Then I thought about it some more, and thought about how Jesus handled the same issue.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”” (Luke 21:1–4, ESV)

I can just imagine the disciples around Jesus looking at those coins (they were worth about a half penny each) and having a good chuckle. “Awww…isn’t that sweet?” Jesus, though, thought the world of that gift.  He saw the heart behind the gift and honored it.  He knew that the amount was not the key, but the sacrificial heart that prompted it that was important.

Some little one in our congregation wanted to honor God by giving of their finances this past Sunday, and they had some tokens to give.  What is not much to most of us, to them was probably all that they had.  And I think that honors God a great deal.

If we look at the larger principle, how often do we not serve God, honor Him, obey Him, and worship Him because we think our offering is too small? How often do we look at the outside rather than the inside, the effect rather than the heart? And are we willing to look past the appearance to see how God sees?

How about you? Do you look for the heart? Are you giving God your all, no matter how small? Are you focused on the activity or on the heart behind it?

The Next Step

“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1, NAS)

I love these words of Paul’s.  I am studying the New Testament with my students at Arizona Christian University, and yesterday we dug into 1 Thessalonians.  The tone of this letter is so much different than his tone in Galatians.  He was flat out mad at the Galatians for their legalism, but it seems that the Thessalonians were doing a great job.  They were pleasing God and walking with Him well.  They had it going on!  I just imagine them thinking that compared to many other churches (the Galatians and Corinthians come to mind), they were awesome and could just keep at what they were doing.
So what was Paul’s response? “Excel still more.”  He didn’t want them to rest on their laurels or read their own press clippings.  They thought that they were on the mountain top, but to Paul they were at base camp!  He was pleased with their progress but not content with their situation.  There was still more work to do if they were going to be everything that God wanted them to be.
I’m trying to do this in my walk with God as well as in my other areas of life.  I have run 3 half-marathons in the past year, which is great.  But now it’s time to “excel still more.”  So between now and June I will lose 15 pounds and on June 5th plan to run my first FULL marathon. (pray for me…it appears I have lost my mind!)  Our church is doing well in so many areas, but now it is time for me to “excel still more” in leading our staff, empowering our ministry leaders, and building authentic relationships with more people in our congregation.   I made some changes to my classes at ACU and Phoenix Seminary this semester too, so time will tell if they make the classes better.
How can you “excel still more”?

  1. In your walk with Christ.  What one area do you think that God wants you to change today to be more like Him?  How can you take a strength of yours in your walk with God and make it even stronger?
  2. In your relationships. Is your marriage good?  Your parenting?  Your friendships?  Where are you meeting standards, but want to change that “C” into an “A”?  What is one step you can take today to move in that direction?
  3. In your vocation. If you’re good at your job, what separates you from being great at it?  Would 10% more focused effort lead to 25% more success?  Can you be more agreeable to coworkers, or easier to lead as a team member?  Can you be a better model for those you supervise?
  4. In your finances. If your most successful friend from a financial standpoint looked over your finances, where would they say that you could make some changes to strengthen your giving, your saving, or your spending?

Doing good enough, in God’s eyes, is…well…not good enough.  Where can you “excel still more” today to the glory of God?

Taking Care of What Ain’t Yours

It’s been a whirlwind week!  Last Wednesday we announced that my wife and I will be heading to Rwanda for a 10-day trip next month; I will be teaching pastors there biblical interpretation and preaching skills (plus some pastoral stuff) and Laura is focusing on childbearing in various facets.  It’s an amazing opportunity that God has dropped in our laps, and we are very grateful to be asked to participate out of the blue.  Since sending out her request, Laura has raised over $2000 towards her expenses!  That’s half way there, and we are amazed at the generosity of people who want her to go and help the women of the Nyagatare district of Rwanda lower their death rate in childbirth as well as their infant mortality.

The request for financial help has produced some rather unexpected results as well.  First off, some significant contributions have come from people who do not consider themselves to be followers of Jesus.  They see the good that is going to be done and want to participate, which in my mind is really cool.  At the same time, I got a polite but very pointed email that basically made the following objections (boiled down to be polite to the emailer…):

  1. It is a waste of money to send an American to Rwanda; the money would be better served by giving it to an established organization providing relief there already.
  2. It is improper to provide relief that is religious in nature; the thought here is basically that there are ulterior motives and that it is inappropriate to proselytize with “bait” such as assistance in agriculture, medicine, or education.

When I first got the email, I must say that I was a bit hot under the collar.  To my mind it is one thing to dislike supporting religious charitable causes or to disagree with methods and not want to provide financial support, and another thing entirely to be adamant enough about it that they decided to send my bride an email telling her how wrong she was to ask for support.  This letter wasn’t sent to strangers, either (okay, okay…some of you here on ABF I may not know personally and it was posted here too, but it wasn’t one of you), so I suppose that I was frustrated from the angle that friends should be more polite to one another than that.

Then I slept on it, and woke up this morning realizing that the objections weren’t completely bogus and needed to be satisfactorily answered if we were going to go to Rwanda.  After all, emotions aside if I could not justify the trip then why are we going?  Is it wise management of resources to spend the money to go rather than just sending money or supplies to the people where we would be going?  And is it appropriate to provide relief in developing nations with an explicit religious purpose?  At the end of the day, I think that the answers to those questions are both resounding yeses.

Show Me The Money

The first objection is financial: is it worth the cost to go?  Would it be a better investment to send money or items to established organizations to distribute relief than go ourselves?  After all, it is going to cost approximately $4000 total per person for us to take a 10-day trip; at a per capita income of $370 annually, this trip could provide a family of four in Rwanda with 2.7 YEARS of income.  It could provide a village with 8 cows, which in a few years could make the village self-sustaining. (provided, I suppose, that they already have a bull!)  What makes us think that our presence is so vital that we are worth more than that?

The answers to this question are many.  The first was brought up by my 13-year-old daughter, who rightly reminded us that in developing nations like Rwanda corruption is rife.  There is no guarantee that any money we send to Rwanda would make it into the hands of the people who need it; many times it ends up in the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats or feeding criminal syndicates.  When we go, we guarantee that the help gets where it belongs, and there is much value in that.

Second, there are times when it is more important to bring expertise, support, and training than it is to provide for physical needs.  The pastors in the area have requested that someone come and train them in the art and science of Bible interpretation, in proclaiming the message of God to help their people, and in caring for the people of their community socially, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.  I have those skills, and the ability to teach them to others in a way that is impossible simply through books (and even with a literacy rate of 70%, the older generation who I will be teaching need help because their literacy rate is lower and their skills in my area of expertise are limited). 

Laura is coming to help the people learn childbirthing skills to help lower the 8.4% infant mortality rate (2008 State Dept. estimate); more than that, she is going to help with basic nutrition information, prevention of spreading infectious disease, and sanitation.  1 in 12 birthing women dies in childbirth.  Think about that for a moment, and then consider if what she brings is worth sending her.  How much is a human life worth?  If her training saves one woman and her baby it will be worth the cost.  According to Matthew 10:29-31 and Genesis 1:26-27, we are made in God’s image and are therefore worth the cost of saving.

Finally, there is a difference between sending and going.  By sending money we help a little.  By going we will not only help the people of Rwanda but will undoubtedly build a heart for the people there that will last a lifetime.  More giving and more partnering and more help will come from our trip than the cost can estimate; it is more an investment than an expenditure. 

So for these reasons and many more, the trip makes financial sense.  Yeah, it’s a lot of money to go, but it is money invested in the people of Rwanda that will bear fruit in the entire community for a long time to come.  A healthy baby in America, delivered vaginally, costs somewhere between $9,000 and 17,000 to deliver.  My seminary education cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.  And we can deliver benefits that are similar to Rwanda for a fraction of that!

Bait and switch?

The other objection I received concerned going as Christians and bringing aid under an explicitly Christian banner.  Is it appropriate to help others under a deliberately religious framework?

Well I think it is. 🙂 (I am willing to bet that you knew that)  Even from an atheistic perspective, is there any harm done in promoting Christianity, even if it is false?  If we are going to go teach the people how to live better, be healthier, and follow the tenets of Jesus concerning loving each other, why is that a bad thing?  Would it be any different if we went to tell people about the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  I am willing to bet that this objection is more about Christianity in particular than religion in general, in other words.

Secondly, I think that this objection overlooks what true Christianity says about how Christians are to live.  My first response is to question the question somewhat: would an atheist think more of a Christian or less of them if they actually obeyed the instructions of the God they claim to follow?  I would think that a Christian who is trying to obey would be better than a hypocrite who deliberately chose to ignore Jesus, wouldn’t you?  Well Jesus begins  this issue in Luke 10:25-37, which we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.  We are supposed to love our neighbor, and that means going out of our way both in time and in finances to help them whenever we see a need.

That’s great, but it’s not the end of the story either.  Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  So in reality, if I am going to be an honest and true Christ follower there is no way I can leave Jesus out of my trip to Rwanda.  To do so would be to deny what I have been told to do, namely love God by loving people and helping them.  And I am called to do that while telling them about the God I serve who loves them too! 

Finally, Jesus tells us that we are supposed to take His message to the world:

“but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” ” (Acts 1:8, NAS)

So it is entirely appropriate to go in the name of Christ; as a Christian it would be dishonest not to.  Now I would agree that it is not good to pull a “bait and switch” or demand that a person convert to Christianity in order to receive aid or to benefit from our trip.  But of course, that is not at all a condition of our going or of helping people.  Laura will educate and help all who come.  I am there to help Christian pastors, who will then lead and help their communities as pillars and reach out to help all people as they are commanded by Jesus.

There are books written along these lines, but you get the gist: going in the name of Jesus is acceptable as long as it is not duplicitous.

Bottom Line

So at the end of the day, I believe that this trip is defensible.  I think that it is entirely wise money management to go rather than send a check, and it is entirely appropriate for us to go in an explicitly Christian manner and purpose. 

So to the person who wrote the email, I offer my heartfelt gratitude.  You’ve made me seriously consider the underpinnings of the trip we are headed on, and for that I am very grateful!  I mean that without any sarcasm.

For anyone else, we still need to raise almost $2,000 to cover Laura’s trip, so if you’d like to be a part of it we would appreciate it immensely!  Check the first link in this post for the ways you can be a part of our support, and please pray for us as we prepare.

A Divine Appointment, and a Chance for You to Help!

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)

I hate asking people for money.  I suppose that because I am a pastor I am sensitive to the impression that clergy are money-hungry and in the ministry for the financial benefits. There is certainly a wrong way to go about it, which is unfortunately all too popular:

If you haven’t heard, I have been asked to participate in a mission trip to Rwanda from July 21st-August 1st.  I will be teaching approximately 20 pastors Bible interpretation and preaching skills, as well as pastoral skills.  I can’t wait!  The trip is totally an act of God, in that last week at this time I knew nothing about it.  Please pray for me as I prepare to go.

Laura, my beautiful wife, has seen the need for a woman with her skills there and is going to go as well.  We firmly believe that God has provided for this trip for us in many ways (see her letter below); the only needs that remain are for people to pray for us and for people to provide the finances to make it a reality.  If you can help, I would be very grateful.  Below is her letter!

Have you ever had God drop something in your lap that made you overwhelmingly excited and scared to death at the same time? If so, I can relate. My reason is probably different than yours though, so let me explain.

Usually, people fall into one of two groups: those who dream of going to a third world country (especially as one being sent representing Jesus Christ), and those who have NO interest in leaving America for an “un-industrialized” country. I’m one of the former; my draw has been to Africa for some time. I figured I would go eventually- on a special anniversary or important birthday. I pictured myself staying in a “nice” hotel, eating at the “safe” restaurants, and taking the “planned” excursions. You know-“nice,” “safe,” and “planned” being the big words there. And then… God got involved.

Last Thursday, June 10, John got an email from a local church. They were seeking someone to teach and train pastors whom had little or no Bible training, but a huge heart to learn. It was for a 10 day trip. To Rwanda. In less than six weeks! Incredulously, it was just about the only 10 day time frame that would fit into John’s busy schedule. The sponsoring church was going to pay his way. I was thrilled about the opportunity for him. Even more so, I was excited about the idea of going with him! There was a chance for me to use my skills as a doula (labor and delivery support person) to help with the birthing women who come to that village specifically to have their babies. Perfect!
Immediately, though, there were challenges to be overcome. What would our church think? What we would we do with the kids? Could I find someone to be with the women I was supposed to be a doula for here? Was it safe? And how ON EARTH would we be able to raise enough funds to cover my trip costs of nearly $4000 in just five weeks??

Just as quickly, God began to open doors. The elders of our church and the congregation were supportive; I found a backup doula for my client; John’s parents offered to take the kids for the entire time; and I found a peace that I’ve never experienced when thinking of the “what ifs” regarding my health and safety. Which only left the fundraising. I simply refuse to believe that God would make such a straight path- providing answers in the most amazing time frame- only to fail to provide the money for us to go to Africa as a couple. Luke 1:38 reminds me that “…nothing is impossible with God.” In comparison to all the fantastic things He’s ever done, it makes fundraising seem like a fairly small thing! Watching the ways He’s already worked, I am excited to watch him work in this area as well.

That being said, would you like to be a part of making the seemingly “impossible,” possible? ANY financial donations will be helpful. Whether you can donate $1, 10, 25, 50 or more… every bit is helpful! You can use it as a tax deduction if you make the contribution through our church, West Greenway Bible Church, 5341 W. Greenway Rd, Glendale AZ 85306. Please make checks out to WEST GREENWAY BIBLE CHURCH, with “Laura’s trip” “Africa” or “Rwanda” in the memo line (otherwise it will make it into the general fund. Good for the church, but not so helpful towards my fundraising).

If you are not worried about the receipt, you can give cash or check donations to me directly, or deposit it in my Paypal account (email address: TheCorreias@cox.net). Paypal does not have a fee when the money comes from your Paypal account or bank account. However, there is a 3% fee when you use a credit or debit card, or with Paypal Credit, so please take that into consideration. Please remember to include your name and address with your donation so I can send acknowledgment of your gift. If donors’ generosity exceeds the trip costs, I will use the excess to bring basic necessities (that are unfortunately lacking) to the birthing/medical center I’ll be working with.

Perhaps you have a heart to help, but are unable to do it monetarily. Please consider partnering in prayer with us as we go. We will only be successful with people praying for us! In addition to the money needed to be raised in a short amount of time, there are many logistical hurdles to overcome. If you are interested in praying for us leading up to the trip and/or while we are gone, that would be an amazing blessing. Please email us at TheCorreias@cox.net to get prayer specifics.

Thank you so very much for supporting us in whatever way you find yourself lead- financially, prayerfully, or perhaps you could link this note to your Facebook page or blog… even just in sharing our excitement with us! This experience has truly shown me the magnificence of God in a very real way. I hope that you are able to grow close to Christ in your life, and can be confident knowing He has a plan for your life… even if it includes Africa!

In Christian love,
Laura Correia
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