A Magic Talisman

The Super Bowl this Sunday should be a great game between the Niners and the Ravens. I’m a lifelong Niners fan, so I hope my team pulls it out!

The interesting part of this for me has been watching the controversy surrounding Ray Lewis. Ray made a bunch of remarks about how the Ravens playoff run was God’s blessing on them and more recently about how no weapon formed against him shall prosper. This kind of stuff is pretty common in Christian circles in America today. Ray basically has said that he loves Jesus, and God has told him that his team is God’s favorite and they have God’s blessing.

raiders-of-the-lost-ark-1981That brings me to my devotions earlier in the week. I was reading 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and this common American Christian approach to God’s blessing and success hit me in the face. In that episode, Israel went to war against the Philistines. At first the Philistines defeat the Israelites and kill 4,000 soldiers. But then the Israelites have an idea and go get the Ark of the Covenant from its place in Shiloh. When it shows up in camp the Israelites shout for joy and the Philistines quake because the God of Israel is suddenly in camp. This God defeated the Egyptians and surely can defeat the Philistines. The Philistines even believe it!

As the narrative progresses, though, things change. The Israelites think that the presence of the Ark guarantees that God is on their side, but in reality the Philistines deal Israel a terrible defeat and kill 30,000 soldiers, scattering the rest. Not only that, but the Ark is captured by the Philistines! What a terrible defeat to Israel and a disrespect to God. If you read 1 Samuel 5 it’s clear that God can protect His Ark whenever he wants to (He kills a lot of Philistines and gives them tumors!), but for the Israelites having the presence of the Ark did not serve as a magic talisman of protection against defeat. They couldn’t use their God as a tool for military victory. That’s just not how it works!

This same thing seems to apply in our lives, as exemplified in the stories of Ray Lewis saying that God would not let his team be defeated. Maybe that’s so, but having a Psalm written on your shirt or a Jesus fish on your car is certainly no proof against evil. (Please oh please, Lord, may my Philistine 49ers teach the Ravens a lesson in humility!:) ) That’s not to call Lewis out personally; he’s just repeating what he’s been taught and what is very common in prosperity preaching in America today. God wants you to be rich and successful, to win the Super Bowl or get the contract or the girl. Anyone who is not with you in that is the enemy and therefore God’s enemy.

No.

A football game is not a moral issue. It is not good vs. evil. It is not God’s team vs. Satan’s team. It’s two talented football teams playing a game to see who is better for 60 minutes on that day. It’s competitive, it’s intense, there is a lot of money and prestige on the line, but God doesn’t really care who wins I don’t think. And putting God’s character on the line to come through with a Ravens victory runs afoul of Exodus 20:7 I do believe.

That’s the lesson in the 1981 classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Germans thought that the Ark was a powerful weapon, but it protected itself from them. (or, more accurately, God protected it from them…just like in 1 Samuel 5!) God is not a magic incantation to bring success. He is not a weapon to be used, but the Lord God Almighty of the universe to be worshiped!

So please, think before you equate your success with God’s success. Think before you say that someone else interviewing for a job you want can’t have it because “no weapon formed against me shall prosper.” If victory in the world is God’s mark of success, then a lot of people we look up to failed. The Apostle Paul comes to mind, who died in jail. Moses, who wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his failure. The Apostle Peter was crucified for following Jesus. Even Jesus, whose mission it was to come and lose the ultimate battle on our behalf. Only through that loss (which He despised [Hebrews 12:2]) brought ultimate victory and vindication, and only then before God and not people. Same with Paul and Peter and Moses and many others.

Don’t use God as a magic talisman. Instead entrust Him with the outcomes and worship Him no matter if you get to play in the Super Bowl or get the first pick in next year’s draft.

Gun Control and Meaningful Discussions

wolvesIf you expect me to get into the fray on Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment from a biblical basis here on ABF, allow me to disabuse you of that notion forthwith. I do that in other places and definitely have my biases, but this post is not about who is right and who is wrong in that particular discussion. Rather, the thing that impresses me the most as I watch people on both sides of the issue is how both sides talk past each other so much and how much caricature and misunderstanding goes on.

In this particular issue, among Christians I see those who believe in gun control often saying  that those who are 2nd Amendment supporters are more interested in their guns than about the Great Commission or Jesus’ admonition to love. In return, the gun rights folks call the gun control proponents sheep and communists who hate the Constitution and freedom.

Why the rancor? It is because each has their own particular worldview, and that worldview colors the issue to such an extent that they can’t really comprehend the other side. They are so convinced that they are right that they are convinced that anyone who doesn’t see the issue their way is clearly non compos mentis. Because they are so set, there is really no way to dialog about the issue with others of a different stripe.

This is why, in my opinion, so many issues have become so polarizing and so emotional in America today. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have made expressing unprocessed emotions and ideas much easier and much farther reaching. For instance, I know people with 2,000 friends on Facebook. 20 years ago if they wanted to express an opinion to that many people it would have taken a significant investment in mailing letters or making phone calls. In that time my friend could have cooled off and thought through their ideas before publication. Now, though, with a couple of presses of their smartphone they put it out there for the world to see and share and comment on.

What’s the answer? In my opinion, it starts with having a meaningful clash. (this is a known topic in logic and debate and is not original to me, but I can’t find a good link…) A meaningful clash can only come when both sides of a discussion begin with areas of agreement and from there move on to areas of disagreement. If we do not start with areas of agreement we talk past each other and can’t have a meaningful discussion.

Perhaps an example can help. Let’s say that Bob, an atheist, believes that same sex marriage should be legal. Jim, on the other hand, believes that since the Bible forbids same-sex relations that it should be illegal. Bob does not believe that the Bible should be normative for relationships today. If Jim argues that God said same sex marriage is wrong so it is wrong, then he and Bob aren’t starting from areas of agreement and therefore they can’t have a meaningful clash.

This issue of gun control and the 2nd Amendment is the same. Gun rights advocates are arguing that modern sporting rifles protect the people against tyrannical government. Gun control advocates are arguing that assault rifles kill and maim and have no place in society. See how they talk past each other? There can be no meaningful clash of ideas because there are no meaningful areas of agreement.

But are there? Yes, there are. In this issue, for instance, we can agree that our main concern is safety. Both the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns are interested in safety! They are interested in protecting the American people, and that is laudable and good. Now certainly they disagree on the best approach to accomplish that goal, but the goal is the same! Certainly the people arguing for gun control say that their goal is safe kids in schools and homes and malls. Gun rights advocates say that their desire to own guns is to keep their own family safe and to protect the republic from despotism. See how the desire is the same, just from a different angle?

How much better would this debate be if Wayne LaPierre would meet with President Obama and Ted Nugent and Michael Bloomberg and tell them all how grateful he is that they are concerned with the safety of our nation. Imagine how little rancor there would be if they listened to why they feel the way they do and affirmed their common desire for safety for our nation and its people. I have 4 kids in public schools, and regardless of what side I am on, my goal is for them to get a good education in a free and safe environment! That’s the same goal as everyone else in this discussion.

Take the singular issue away and the idea remains. In the church, take gender issues in ministry. What if we began from the common ground that we all want to honor God and help people use their spiritual giftedness in God-honoring ways? In society, what if we re-framed the immigration debate by realizing that our goal is to keep our nation free and prosperous, with liberty and justice for all? What if we began the abortion debate by realizing that our desire is to honor the foundational American governing principle of the sovereignty of a person over themselves? (and yes, this is an area of agreement…more another day perhaps)

So before having a debate on gun rights, find the place of agreement. In the gun control debate, it’s the safety, security, and prosperity of our nation. Gun control advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is to limit access to firearms to prevent Sandy Hook from reoccurring. Gun rights advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is by allowing more good guys to have tools available and on-hand to combat bad guys when events occur. It’s the method, not the goal, that is different, so instead of hurling invectives across the impassable chasm between us it seems to be a far better method to get on the same side of the chasm and make the problem the enemy rather than the people who are looking for solutions to the problem!

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 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.

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, Part 3: The Case Against Political Activism

John’s note: This post was written by a good friend of mine, Tom Milton. Tom is a former Phoenix City Councilman as well as Vice Mayor, and teaches a class on Christianity and Politics at Southwestern College. I will offer a little extra insight at the end.

As Christians in America, we should fight for the Christian political agenda, right? It includes issues like opposing gay marriage, outlawing abortion, removing evolution from public schools, keeping the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, fighting for prayer in public schools, displaying nativity scenes anywhere we want at Christmas, and keeping the Ten Commandments posted in public places. This agenda is about winning the culture war and electing Christian men and women to public offices.

The conflict is less about this agenda and more about our means of accomplishing it.

In his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory Boyd describes a fundamental conflict relevant to the question of how Christians should be involved in politics. He describes this conflict between “the Kingdom of the Cross and the Kingdom of the Sword.”

The Kingdom of the Sword is in the world and upon us now. Although worldly governments can be good and useful (Romans 13:1-7) they also have an evil influence. In the wilderness, Satan offers Christ authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus does not refute Satan’s authority to offer this to Him, although he does resist the temptation. This shows Satan’s authority in the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Satan as the ruler of the world three times (John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11). Every nation on earth, no matter how good, is still influenced by the ruler of this world. A government’s authority lies in its ability to make people do (or not do) things based on its power and might. In the Kingdom of the Sword, order is kept with a sword, has worldly influences, and God has declared that it will someday end.

Contrast this with the Kingdom of the Cross. This is a kingdom without worldly power and might. In John 18:36, Jesus tells Pontius Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Jesus is actually explaining how His followers will not abide by the Kingdom of the Sword. His was a ministry of humility, grace, and service. Jesus came to change hearts. The Kingdom of the Cross began with Christ’s ministry and will continue through eternity.

In the Kingdom of the Sword, people might not murder because they fear the earthly consequences. In the Kingdom of the Cross, people will not murder because their hearts will be transformed and loving. Both of these kingdoms can achieve the same outcomes (people not murdering). One will use the threat of force; the other will use a converted heart. One is controlling; the other is transformational. One of them is temporary; the other eternal.

So how do we apply this to Christian political involvement? For some time now, Christians have had their agenda backwards. We try to force people’s behavior to fit a Christian idea of morality and presume their heart will follow their actions. Everything I have experienced in my Christian walk has been exactly the opposite. As Christ affected my heart, my actions followed. Christian activism should focus first on hearts!

Is there a case for political activism among Christians? Yes, but I would suggest we rethink our traditional approach to politics. We have been using the methods of the Kingdom of the Sword to attain outcomes only achievable through the Kingdom of the Cross.

We MUST resist fighting a spiritual battle for the hearts of our neighbors with worldly approaches. We can’t allow homosexuals to only be defined in our eyes as sinners. We must stop throwing anger and shame at women (and men) who have had (or supported) abortions. We must quit battling over superficial debates that alienate non-believers and don’t serve the Gospel. We have to stop preaching a one-dimensional God who only values holiness. We have to demonstrate love in all of our political activity. Some day all of the things of this world will pass, but the Kingdom of Heaven will reign forever.

Change their actions and their hearts MIGHT follow, but they might not.

Change their hearts and their actions WILL follow, and there will be a great rejoicing in heaven.

First off, thanks to Tom for the interaction. Secondly, notice the main argument against political activism in evangelicalism today. The argument says that we should focus on changing hearts, because change from the inside out makes a difference in both kingdoms while change forced from outside affects only the kingdom of man. So the argument says to make the Gospel the main thing and the political issues a secondary concern (if at all). Let God change people from the inside out, and don’t expect the world to meet the moral standards of Christianity.

Next week I will post my interactions with both sides.