Good or Great?

It’s an interesting week in my life, as God has taught me a major lesson in priorities and selfishness.  I feel like I can relate to Archippus, who was reminded by Paul the Apostle:

Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17)

Allow me to back up.  If you know me, you know that I am a gun nut.  I just dig firearms.  I love to shoot and love to hunt.  Some guys like cars, some are into computers, some play lots of sports. (I do all of that to various degrees, too…)  But for me, shooting is it.  I am good at it, I enjoy it, and it is stress-relieving.  It’s not any more expensive than golf and there is less beer involved. Smile

So a couple of months ago a friend encouraged me to send in an audition email to the producers of Top Shot.  I am a big fan of the show, so I went ahead and sent their producers a casting email just for fun.  I got a call from their producers!  After a 20-minute phone interview they asked me to make a casting video for them; this is what we made. (hat tip to Lowman Photography for the amazing video)

After the video was submitted, Laura and I started really praying in earnest about it.  It wasn’t a slam dunk that I would be cast, of course, but there was a real chance that I could be chosen I think.  (I have friends who have worked in the industry and they liked my chances)  The hitch: the production schedule.  Filming for the show is August 3rd-September 15th, during which time the cast is sequestered.  They go live in Southern California and have no contact with friends and family for 6 weeks. 

That was a pretty steep price to pay.  I was asking my wife to let me have 6 weeks of no contact with her; same with my kids.  I was asking my church to allow me to basically take a sabbatical of 6 weeks and our two other pastors to pick up the slack.  I was asking both schools I teach at part time (ACU and Phoenix Seminary) to let me take about 4 weeks at the beginning of the fall semester off or maybe replace me for a semester.

So I did what I always do when things are not clear: I started praying, and started talking to my mentors.  I talked to the man who led me to Christ, Keith, who is a wonderful mentor and friend.  His advice was that this is a great, national opportunity to preach the gospel but if Laura wasn’t fully on board I should let it go.  I talked to several other people about it too.  We decided just to let the process take its course and hey, if they said no then fine.

After awhile of not hearing, I finally sent a follow-up email to the producers asking if I had been eliminated to just put the idea to rest.  I didn’t want it hanging around if I were out of the running!  He emailed me back and said that I was still “in the running,” and that was when I really had to make a decision.  That email, telling me I was still in, didn’t fill me with excitement or joy; instead I felt a sinking feeling because I still had to decide if I could ask everyone to go out of their way for me.

But more than anything the advice of the man I call my “hunting mentor,” Norm, rang in my ears.  Norm reminded me that I have a very unique calling and opportunity.  He reminded me that I get the unique privilege to be a shepherd and to serve people with the message of Christ.  And that got me thinking about underlying motives.  It got me thinking about why I wanted to be a contestant on Top Shot.  It’s because it is a cool show and the contestants get to participate in some awesome marksmanship contests. 

So, at the core of it, I was asking everyone around me to sacrifice a bunch so that I could go play with guns for six weeks.  Now, how much does that sound like what Jesus says?

“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?’” (Luke 9:23–25)

 
Yeah, not much.  Sounds pretty selfish to me.
 
So Laura and I prayed.  And Wednesday I sent the producers an email asking them to take me out of consideration.  They were disappointed, but understood.  Someone else will take my place for sure!
 
I don’t post this to toot my own horn, but just to let you, dear readers, in on my thought process.  As Paul tells us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. ” (1 Corinthians 6:12) It would be “lawful” for me to go, but even if profitable for me it wouldn’t be for my wife, my kids, and my church. (okay, if I won the $100,000 grand prize it would be…but there are no guarantees there for sure) 
 
So God reminded me that I needed to focus on the great rather than the good and the fun.  That I needed to die to self a little and think of those around me.  After a few early days this week of self-focus about this, He has reminded me again to put others ahead of my pleasure and seek the kingdom of God. 
 
How about you?  How is God leading you to put aside ambition and self-interest in His cause?  How is God changing your priorities and habits to be more like Him?

It’s TEOTWAWKI

…aka “The End Of The World As We Know It.” 

Or so it might seem to some, as the senate passed the president’s healthcare reform package last night.

WARNING: POLITICAL STUFF AHEAD.  PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

If you know me, you know how conservative I am politically.  I put the “fun” in fundamentalism!  I’m over here on the far right, bitterly clinging to my guns and my religion and frustrated that a bunch of rich guys who have a pretty sweet compensation package have spent a trillion dollars of my kids’ and grandkids’ money.  I am awfully worried that my already crappy healthcare will get worse, not better under this system.  I am all for reforming a broken system, but TRUST ME this is not the way that I would have done it.

That said, I am reminded of my reading in Colossians this month.  Our online men’s Bible study is reading Colossians every day in March, and I was really struck this morning by Colossians 1:16:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

The “thrones and dominions and rules and authorities” were both created by the Lord…and for Him.  This is His deal, not mine.  And whether I like it or not, this is where we are.  He created human government and ordained it as an authority in the life of His people (as Paul taught in Romans 13:1-7).  Sure I can make the counterargument that in the time in which Paul wrote the people had no say over who their leaders were, but that is strictly not true in the Roman senatorial system.  It was a representative government not completely dissimilar to ours.  So I can complain all I want (and I will!) that the leaders we have in place miscarried the authority we vested in them, I must temper that frustration with the knowledge that it is the Lord who ordains authority, and it is to Him that they answer.

Then I kept reading this morning, and came to Colossians 3:1-4:

1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

I have been raised up with Christ, so my first responsibility is to set my mind on the things above.  I know that politics is a hot button to me, and that I must try my best to get involved and make the world a better place for my kids.  However, I can’t make this earth into the kingdom of God because that’s a losing battle.  God’s kingdom will be inaugurated not when the right elected representatives take office or the right legislation is enacted, but when Christ is revealed from heaven.  And until that happens I need to remember to keep my eyes on the prize and not obsess over what happens here on earth so much that I forget to focus on the kingdom of God.

Then I thought about it some more.  (I didn’t get a great night’s sleep and had a long run this morning, so I had time to think)  I thought about the passage I preached on Sunday, which included Luke 20:20-26.  In that time the people of God were faced with a government that was unpopular and in a lot of ways odious to the people; the Romans were not liked by the Israelites!  Though they tried to get Jesus into the midst of the political fray, Jesus wouldn’t be drawn into the world’s politics.  He was frankly ambivalent, preferring the people to give the government it’s due and then focus on what God wanted them to do.  That seems to be the consistent theme of the New Testament, to do what is right by the civil authorities God has ordained over you (that’s Romans 13:1-7), to pray for those in leadership (1 Tim 2:1-2), and to live for the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of man.

On a practical level, first of all that really changed my attitude.  Rather than having my day ruined (or week or month or whatever), I was able to release my frustration and give it to Christ.  I was able to focus on my oldest daughter’s 13th birthday today, which is more important in my life than any legislation could ever be.  And I was reminded again in Col 3 to set my mind on Christ and serving Him.

Does that mean I think that politically active Christians are wrong?  Not at all; in fact, I have written my representatives at every level of government.  I take an active interest in issues and candidates and vote in every election.  (well, almost…I think I missed one not too long ago that was local bond overrides only)  I ask my representatives to represent me well and do the best I can to honor God with my citizenship, in the same mold that Paul used his citizenship to try to spread the gospel whenever he could.  I admire Christians who run for public office and pray that they take their walk with Christ with them into office when they win. 

I am just reminded that when things aren’t going my way, that doesn’t mean that God is not at work.  Maybe, just maybe He is working within me and within His people to remember that the kingdom of God cannot be voted or legislated in.  It only comes when Jesus comes again, and until He does we need to remember that our focus needs to always and continually be on His kingdom and what He wants for our lives.

And let’s all, no matter our political affiliation, follow the commands of God in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 today.

The Christmas Spirit

Holy cow it’s been difficult for me to get in “the Christmas spirit” this year.  I’m not all “humbug” or anything, but it’s been busy pretty much nonstop.  From Thanksgiving until now it seems like it’s been one thing after another, from grading final papers at school to late nights in pastoral care to making the 2010 budget and the Christmas play at church this weekend, I have been running around like mad.  We adopted a stray dog (who we found a home for today!), and I am in the final stretch of training for a half-marathon.

The past two weeks I have been trying to get some more quiet and reverence since school has been out, but it hasn’t been easy or particularly successful.  I’ve had several marriages in significant crisis that I am trying to help; the holidays increase money stress, which increases marital stress.  I have 4 sermons in the next 10 days (Christmas play, this Sunday, Christmas Eve, and the following Sunday) to prepare for, and for me sermon prep is a time-consuming process of study, prayer, writing, outlining, and thinking.  We are inviting the church to come to our house on Sunday afternoon for Christmas carols, cookies, and fellowship, which is stressful because we’ve been cleaning and de-cluttering the house in preparation.  (If you’re in town, you better come see us!  The house will NEVER look this nice again!)

I know that I am not alone in my craziness.  I took Laura out to lunch yesterday at a restaurant near a local mall, and at 11:30 on a Thursday morning the mall parking lot was completely jammed full of cars.  The consumerist cycle continues unabated in America, with news reports touting better-than-expected holiday sales and parents rushing to get the latest toy craze for the kids. (this year it’s the zhu zhu pet)  Like I said earlier I am seeing a lot of marital breakdowns right now, much of it centered around money and holiday stress.  Several good people I know are out of work right now and looking for a job that will last beyond the New Year.  I have military friends trying to cram in some family time before deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.  My heart aches as a pastor when my congregants hurt, so I work hard to help them.

Throughout all of this, God has been calling me back again and again to a particular verse of Scripture that isn’t normally associated with Christmas; even though it’s not really “Christmas-y” it has spoken to me powerfully this December.  The prophet Micah wrote it during a time in Israel and Judah when they had fantastic wealth but also a smugness and contentment in their lives that took them away from the worship of God.  They had class warfare and financial ease, and since life wasn’t too bad their hearts got hard before the Lord.  In Micah 6:8 God looks at them and points a finger at their debauchery, showing them the simple yet profound demand that He has on them as His people:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

In the midst of all of the busyness, God has called me to three simple habits and attitudes.

  1. “To do justice”: I like the way that the NIV puts this: “to act justly.”  God wants me to be upright in my thoughts and conduct.  Despite the hustle and bustle He calls me to do the right thing, all the time and as an act of worship.  That means I look out for others this Christmas, be they the kid lost in the mall or the clerk who gives me too much change at the store or the friend who needs a call.  God is just and wants me to be as well.
  2. “To love kindness”: God wants me to love kindness, to be merciful and loving to people.  He wants me to share the good news of Christ with others, to help them live to honor God (how unloving to allow a friend to debase themselves in sin and never try to help!), and to be there for them when they fall.  He wants me to extend forgiveness to others just as He has to me.  So when someone cuts me off in traffic or hurts my feelings I need to forgive them in love.  I need a soft heart with thick skin!
  3. “to walk humbly with your God”: How hard it can be for a type “A” personality like me to walk humbly with God.  He is the one responsible for any success and goodness in my life.  He is the one who provides it all, and yet how often do I take the credit!  He wants humility; He wants me to know where I stand in His eyes and to shine His glory rather than my own into His world.  He wants me to be His instrument rather than use Him as a tool to build my career or the path to my own success. 

This is the call I have from God this Christmas.  It’s been a busy one, and frankly I don’t see it letting up before the New Year.  Even so, I can enjoy the spirit of Christmas by remembering the cry of the prophet Micah.  God sent His Son into the world to pay the price for my sins and yours (1 John 2:1-2), living the words of Micah to perfection.  He came not for His benefit but for mine, so this Christmas I want to focus on doing the same to the best of my ability for His glory.  My prayer is that perhaps the call on me this Christmas can help you live out the call He has in your life too.

Merry Christmas!

Up and Away

We don’t see a lot of movies in the theaters. Buying 6 tickets plus enough popcorn and soda to feed the Correia army is too expensive! We also tend to be Nazis when it comes to what we let our family watch, and combining those two facts leads to very few trips to the movies for our clan. However, every once in awhile we will go to the cheap theater near us when they are playing a movie the family will enjoy.

Sunday after church was just such an occasion. Laura was running errands and noticed that the Disney-Pixar film “Up” was playing at that theater, so we decided to take the family to a Sunday evening showing. Laura and I had seen it on a date night in July and enjoyed it, so we took the kids, got a 55 gallon drum of popcorn at the concession stand, and enjoyed it together.

The second time I watched the movie I really paid attention to the themes and the lessons that it taught. I recommend the movie highly to people of all ages; if nothing else, Dug is hilarious.

WARNING! PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know some important plot elements, then wait to read this post until you’ve seen it.

“Up” is a story about Carl Fredericksen. His life is turned upside down as a senior citizen when he sets out to fulfill a promise he made to his deceased wife when they were kids. Read a great plot synopsis here if you are unfamiliar with the movie and want an overview of the plot lines. If you haven’t seen it, read the overview before continuing! (that reminds me of the Choose Your Own Adventure books… “if you’ve seen the movie, turn to page 46. If you want to go read the synopsis, turn to page 67.”)

The big theme of the movie that struck me concerns desires and goals. Carl promised Ellie as a kid that he would take her clubhouse to Paradise Falls, and after her death he goes to amazing lengths to do so. Russell wants very much to get his “assisting the elderly” badge so that his dad can be there to pin it on him when he becomes a Senior Wilderness Explorer. Even the villain of the movie, Charles Muntz, lives his life to prove that the bird skeleton he brought to America long ago was not a hoax, spending decades tracking a live specimen down.

All the main characters in the film have to come to grips with whether the goals they have made for themselves are really taking them where they want to go. The first to realize the problem is Russell, who throws his Wilderness Explorer sash at Carl’s feet when Carl allows Kevin to be captured in order to save his house. He realizes that he can’t abandon his friend Kevin to achieve his own goals, putting the spirit of the Wilderness Explorers first.

Carl learns his lesson late in the movie. He allows Muntz to capture Kevin and lets Russell leave, all so he can get his wife’s house to Paradise Falls. As he looks through her adventure book, though, he realizes that the adventure that he thought she was waiting to have in Paradise Falls had instead been fulfilled in her life with him. It wasn’t the clubhouse in South America that she wanted so much as a life of adventure. Once Carl realizes that, he changes his mind, rescues Kevin and Russell, saves the day, and has the grand adventure in South America Ellie had wanted.

Charles Muntz, sadly, does not learn the lesson and ultimately falls to his death from his ship while pursuing Kevin to the end.

At the end of the movie Russell doesn’t get to spend time with his dad; Carl ends up pinning on his final badge. Carl never gets to live on Paradise Falls, though he has adventures with Russell and Dug. Neither of them get what they wanted when the movie began, though both end up with the desire of their heart. Russell has a father figure to enjoy his boyhood with and Carl has a grand adventure in the spirit of Ellie’s dying wish for him.

What a great reminder of the biblical difference between our desires for our life and the goals we set out to achieve them. We set out to provide security for our families financially, doing whatever it takes to make ends meet. When we do, though, how often do we ignore what God says in James 4:13-15?

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

How often do we think that we will be happy when we are married, only to read what Paul says in 1 Cor 7:32-35 and realize that marriage can’t make us happy. We think that blessing comes from our children, and while it can give us joy to see our kids happy and successful we tend to forget Ecclesiastes 6:3.

Instead, the words of Jesus have been ringing in my ears this week, no less so than when I watched Carl and Russell learn that their happiness did not come from the achievement that they sought. Luke 11:27-28 says it succinctly:

27 While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.” 28 But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Whatever we think might make us happy or successful will not get us what we seek! Instead, it is only hearing the word of God and observing it that can bring lasting joy. Our marriage, finances, jobs, kids, and friends will only bring lasting joy if they are the means by which we obey God. If they are the source of joy we will fail, but if they are the means by which we seek in everything we do to glorify God and be obedient to Him, then we will have the desire of our heart.

Carl got the grand adventure Ellie sought for him. Russell got the father figure he needed. They only got it, though, when they gave up their vision of fulfillment and accepted what was given to them instead. How about you? Are you still chasing your vision of success or happiness, or have you decided to follow the Lord wherever He leads and be obedient to Him?

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, Part 4: My thoughts

This series has now stretched out for more than a month…stuff kept getting in the way! Please go back and read parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series if you have not.

The question has been asked as to where Christians should intersect faith and politics. Should we sit on our morals and do nothing but preach the message of eternal life in Christ, or should we advocate for laws that honor God and change our culture to be more moral?

I dislike the question, to be blunt. I think it frames the discussion in terms of a false “either/or” mentality that says that we may do only one or the other, which I think does nothing to help us meaningfully interact with the issue. Instead, I think that the answer here is much the same as in many areas of life: BALANCE. Swinging the pendulum too far in one direction seldom leads to the right answer, and certainly doesn’t in this case in my opinion.

When Paul wrote his command to us in Romans 13:1-7 he was writing to a people who had very little say in the affairs of their life. The people had no real input in their government; since God was in control, they trusted in His sovereignty and submitted to the government that existed. (of course, keep the principle of Acts 5:29 in mind as well) Christians never would obey the law of man and break God’s commands. However, when the secular authority made a law that dishonored God, the church when allowed not to participate would submit and then not participate. The church never tried to outlaw emperor worship in the first century or temple prostitution, both of which were very common in the first century. Instead, the church avoided those practices themselves and reached out with the gospel.

However, we live in a day when we have a civic DUTY to be a part of our government. I vote in every election that comes, and I take my faith into the voting booth with me. I vote in the way that I think God wants me to, both for candidates and initiatives. I recognize, though, that as a fallen person I am not perfect and other Christians may disagree with my voting decisions. I also know that many who are not interested in Christianity would disagree with me, while others would be right with me from a moral perspective.

Now let’s apply that a bit. I voted for McCain in 2008. If you know me that should be no shock to you. However, Obama won. (Phooey) I know the truth of Romans 13:1, that God used the free choices of the people of the United States of America to appoint Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States according to His sovereign will! (this, in my opinion, is a good example of a theological idea known as Middle Knowledge or more commonly as Molinism, though the two are not strictly the same; for a full rundown from an excellent philosophical perspective head here) So today I follow 1 Timothy 2:1-2 and pray for my president regularly. It’s God’s will that he is in the office, so I pray for him.*

Likewise, I don’t lose my mind about laws that don’t go “my way.” There are lots of laws that I don’t like, but outside of my power to vote and run for office I cannot change that, so I allow God to be sovereign and live for Him as best I can.

That said, though, it is clear that we cannot legislate true Christianity into the world. When people don’t know Christ, why in the world do we expect them to live like they follow Him? Jesus went to the tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and undesirables and worked on them from the inside out, not the outside in. He didn’t call prostitutes to give up prostitution; He called them to trust in Him as the only way to atone for their sin.

Our focus must be on the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of man. When we advocate for issues in a civil and respectful manner, that is great. When we shriek in front of San Francisco City Hall, not so much. I can’t tell you how much it hurt me when someone I know and love sent me an email telling me how much it hurt that, since they told me that they were in a same-gender relationship, it meant that my God must loathe them and think that they were trash. By definition, then, I hated them and thought they were trash. Of course, those thoughts never came out of my mouth, but that is the impression this person had of what it meant to be a Christian. Now some of that comes from media misrepresentations of Christianity, but much of it comes from Christians.

When did Christ do that? He didn’t rail against Roman oppression; He met tax collectors in their tax booths and called them to follow Him. He hung out with the irreligious and HAD A GLASS OF WINE WITH THEM.** He met them on their terms and gave them an open door to seek God. Paul did the same thing in Acts 17:22-23. Rather than condemning the Athenians for their idolatry Paul used their culture, even their sinful worship of false gods, to draw a bridge to God for them. The focus was never on their sin, but on God and His calling them to a change of heart.

So in my mind the issue really is not one or the other. Our focus as Christians must always be to shine the light of Christ into the world and provide the message of the cross to people who desperately need it. The world needs Christ, not morality. If we make them all stop sinning on the outside, they will still go straight to hell at the end of their very moral lives. (i.e. Revelation 20:11-15)

I will, though, continue to advocate for those who are powerless. I will seek to be a voice for those who are not yet born, for the child prostitutes on the streets of Phoenix, for the homeless, for the elderly and children and others. I will vote my conscience in every election, knowing that God uses my choices to accomplish His will in His world. And most of all I will try to live for Christ as an authentic and transparent disciple, knowing that I am still a sinner every day, hoping and praying that God sends me people to lead to Jesus. And I put His priorities first and try to help people live lives that honor Him from the inside out.

This is my mission statement: John Correia exists to know Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, to serve Him, and to help others do the same. Not to make them moral, but to help them know Christ, grow in Him, and serve Him. That is an inside-out process.

*Now lest you think I stay up late at night wondering if I voted outside the will of God, I do not. God often gives nations the leaders they deserve rather than the ones they need, as a short reading of the books of Kings and Chronicles shows. I also realize that I can’t equate modern history there, so please do not hear me equating Obama with an ungodly king.

**Yes, I know that I have just had my Baptist credentials revoked. You can have them, though I pastor a SBC church. Jesus drank alcohol. He did. He made wine in John 2. Get over it. Alcoholism is bad, but alcohol consumption is not sin.