Single-minded Focus

1434140008I love riding my motorcycle. I love to ride because it requires focus and concentration to ride safely and effectively and to have fun doing it. Motorcycle riding doesn’t allow for multitasking! I can’t answer my cell phone or eat or listen to the radio while on the bike; every bit of attention has to be focused on my surroundings, what other cars are doing, anticipation of what is ahead of and beside me, what gear I am in and throttle position, lane space, etc. It takes single-mindedness to successfully ride and not end up as street pizza!

 

Don’t get me wrong; I have seen people riding their motorcycle while smoking, while talking on the phone, listening to an iPod and more. For me, though, I can’t do any of that stuff and ride in a safe manner. For me to enjoy the ride and get there safe, I have to have single-minded devotion!

 

As I rode in to the office this morning, I got to thinking that this is a great analogy to the Christian life. This is the same kind of devotion that Paul talks about with regard to our Christian life: it takes focus and single-minded devotion to do it well.

 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Philippians 3:12–16, ESV)

 

No distractions, no other priorities, no competing ideas to keep him from living for Christ. That’s the path to keep from wrecking our faith and being unfruitful for the kingdom.

 

How about you? Are you single-minded in your devotion to the Lord, or are the distractions of life keeping you from being all that God wants for you? How do you deal with distractions and temptations? What helps you and what hurts your focus on Christ?

The More Things Change…

On June 23rd, 1995 I graduated from US Navy boot camp in Great Mistakes Lakes, IL.  My parents, grandparents, and girlfriend Laura came to see me graduate.  After the graduation ceremony Laura and I went to the mall somewhere north of Chicago and picked out an engagement ring.  I got down on one knee that day and asked for her hand in marriage.  She said yes, not knowing when we would be able to actually tie the knot because we had no idea what the Navy was going to do with me at that point.

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This picture is us after the proposal with my grandparents.  I lived in their home as a young boy; they are both very dear. (Grandpa is a WWII combat-wounded Marine; grandma went home to be with the Lord in 2001)  And for the record, Laura is DEFINITELY wearing one of my old-school Bill Cosby sweaters in this picture.  And I weighed 147 pounds.

Turns out, things moved VERY quickly.  I got to my new command on July 1st, 1995, and they told me that if I was going to get leave to go home and get married it had to be the following week.  I flew home on July 6th (a Thursday), and we made hasty plans for a wedding.  On Saturday, July 8th, 1995 we drove with my parents, my soon-to-be in-laws and grandparent-in-laws, my best friend, and my aunt and uncle to Lake Tahoe, NV for a wedding.  To say that it was a slapdash affair is an understatement, but in the interest of space I will save you the more arcane details.

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At first we were supposed to get married at some place that was called something like “Lake Tahoe Moose Lodge and Wedding Chapel,” but it looked like a dump so I sent my aunt on a race to find us a nice place to say our vows.  We ended up getting married that afternoon at Caesar’s Lake Tahoe, in a pretty wedding chapel off of the casino floor.  (Note the classy video camera and mood lighting “EXIT” sign in the picture!)  Frankly I wasn’t too concerned about the location of the wedding; my attention was focused far more on the beautiful woman who I wanted to be my wife.

Laura was ravishing, and we were just excited to be able to become man and wife before I had to start my rigorous training in the Navy to become a nuclear reactor operator.  We were incredibly young; I had turned 19 in January, and Laura would not turn 19 until three weeks after the wedding.  You know what, though?  That didn’t matter to us.  We were young and in love.

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The picture below is one of my favorite pictures of Laura and me.  This was taken at the dinner that my parents hosted at some local restaurant after the wedding.  When I picture Laura in my mind, this is what I see: (note that I wore glasses at this time [see above pic]; I likely took them off for this pic purely out of vanity)

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We set out on our life together as husband and wife, with everything we owned in our 1989 Honda CRX.  The grand estate we had was that CRX, a bag full of clothes, a set of dishes we had been given as a wedding gift, a 13” TV, and two cartons of cigarettes. (feel free to insert redneck comment here…at least it wasn’t a ‘77 Camaro)  Man, we were living high on the hog!  We were going to move to Orlando, Fl for me to become a Naval nuclear reactor operator and for Laura to take her first professional ballerina position with Southern Ballet Theatre.  She was going to be a prima ballerina and I was going to use a naval career to become President of the United States of America.

My, my…how the years twist and turn our path.  After a year of dancing Laura was fed up with company life; so we decided to have a baby and conceived before we left Orlando.  I was on track to become a Naval Officer in 1998 when I became a Christian and everything changed.  A car wreck derailed my commissioning bid and God called me into ministry rather than military service.  We had three more children after Elizabeth, and rather than pursuing politics I went to seminary and now pastor a church and teach the Bible at a local college.  I can well attest to the truth found in Proverbs 16:9:

The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps.

Through all of the ups and downs, Laura has been by my side.  We are in many ways COMPLETELY different people than we were when we said our marriage vows.  When we said “I do” Laura never wanted to have children; now she has 4 and home schools them, plus helps other women with labor and delivery.  I was a staunch atheist when we married; today I am a pastor!  God has changed a lot of the basics of both of our lives, but through it all my wonderful wife has been a source of blessing, help, and joy.

Today marks our 15th wedding anniversary, and through it all Laura has been my steadfast companion and encouragement.  She married me when I was going to be a sailor; she followed me around the country from station to station; she opened the door for me to be introduced to and accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord; she carried, birthed, and has raised four amazing children.  She was there to walk me through the dark days after my car wreck and put up with me as I transitioned out of the Navy a couple of years later.  She bore a HUGE burden for three straight years as I went through seminary, working long hours with no pay because I was either in class, at church or at work for 80+ hours a week.  She has truly been “a helper suitable” for me (Genesis 2:18) through the thick and the thin.

I am continually impressed with her willingness to laugh and love.  I am thankful to God that she is so patient with me and with my many faults, sins, habits, and selfishness.  (just ask her how much money and time I have spent on my hobby in the last year…)  We have worked diligently on our marriage over the last 15 years, but I can honestly say that it is her willingness to forgive me and love me that has made all the difference.  I can see so much of the woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 in her; she is truly an amazing woman.  Particularly appropriate in my opinion are verses 26-30:

      26       She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
      27      She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
      28      Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
      29      “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”
      30      Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

Many daughters have done nobly; I know many men who have wonderful wives.  Laura Marie, without hesitation I can say that you excel them all.  I am the man that I am because God has given me an amazing gift of a wonderful wife.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Thank you for your love for me and for our children.  Thank you for standing by my side for the last 15 years through thick and thin, whether I was lovable or not.  Thank you for helping me grow in Christ, pick myself up when I fall and start again.  Thank you for never giving up on me and for loving me unconditionally.

I know that whatever comes, I have you at my side and we will live together forever in the grace of God.  You provide me a safe place from which I can take big risks in life and in ministry, and for that I am too grateful to put it into words.  I love you, and can’t wait to see what God does in the next 15 years we will have together, let alone the 15 after that and the 15 after that! (heck, we won’t even be 80 yet when we hit our 60th anniversary!)

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Adopting a Stray

So my soft side got the best of me again this weekend. I am a sucker for a stray! I went for my run on Friday morning, and on my warm-up I noticed a dog in the front yard of the neighbor’s house. It barked at me and came across the street toward me for a bit, which made me uneasy. So I watched it closely until I was well past it, then forgot about it on my jog.

On my way back home the dog was still there. The owners of that house had basically abandoned their home the weekend before. (welcome to the economy in 2009…we haven’t had a lot of foreclosures on our block thankfully) That’s not the end of the world, but the neighbors next door to the newly-abandoned house were outside with their two dogs, playing with the one that had barked at me earlier.

Well to make a long story short I found out that the owners had abandoned not only their home but their dog. They had sold another dog they had, but left this little mutt to fend for herself.

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Of course before doing anything I went home and talked to my wife. (I surprised her by bringing a dog home unannounced when we first moved to Phoenix…and learned my lesson!) We talked about it a little and ended up bringing her home for at least the weekend. After all, she would go hungry or get hurt in the street by herself.

Well the previous owner came by that afternoon and told us some particulars. She is only 8 months old…so she’s a puppy. (strike one!) She has not had her vaccinations and we have kids in the house. (strike two!) And she has not been fixed and is an escape artist. (STRIKE THREE!)

Wait, there’s more! Laura does not like dogs particularly, though because I like them she tolerates our 55 pound lab mix named Grace. We also have a cat and James just got a rat. Laura wasn’t at all excited about taking on more animals! We would have to feed her, and of course once she was part of the family we would have to take care of all of her needs financially. The first night she stayed in our back yard I had to get up several times because she was barking at who knows what. She scratched a lot, which probably meant she had fleas.

There was not much going for this little mongrel. She had no real redeeming qualities…

Except the kids absolutely loved her. I said she looked like a “Trixie,” and they instantly started calling her Trixie. (even after we found out her previous owners named her Emory, Trixie stuck) They played with her and loved on her. We talked as a family over dinner on Sunday about keeping her and all the headaches it would be, but the look in the kids’ eyes was enough for Laura to relent.

So the kids and I bathed her with flea and tick shampoo, and put some flea treatment on her. After that she came in the house… and promptly peed on the carpet in our bedroom. She is sweet but not too smart. She likes to jump on the couch which is a no-no in our home. But again, the kids love her (and I like her too).

This got me thinking about a passage in Ezekiel this week. I know, you don’t spend your days thinking about prophets and their connection to stray mutts; that’s why you read my blog, because I do! In Ezekiel 16:1-5 God shows His amazing grace to His unfaithful people not because of their worth but because of His grace. This is His description of how He found them:

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem, Your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

There was nothing of value in them to bring God to love them or make a covenant with them. There was no intrinsic value in them. But God loved them anyway and provided for them in verses 6 and 7, giving them room to grow up. He then gave them everything they could possibly imagine in Ezekiel 16:8-14:

“Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord GOD. “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. “I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord GOD.”

There was no value or worth in Israel that caused God to choose them as His people. Yet because of who He is, He redeemed them from their worthlessness, provided them everything they needed to thrive, and gave them an exalted place at His right hand.

While this passage is first and foremost about God’s relationship with His unfaithful people, Israel, it also has application to me[1]. How many times I need to realize that when God found me I had nothing redeeming in me. There was only me and my sin, offensive to God and completely worthless. And yet God loved me anyway and sent His Son to die for me. He redeemed me and made me His child, then gave me everything I could possibly imagine to bring me up from that worthlessness He found me in. Now I am no longer that worthless wretch, but a child of God deemed royalty by the King of kings. (1 Peter 2:9) Yeah I still “pee on the carpet” occasionally[2], but He loves me as His and faithfully cleans up my mess.

Thanks, Trixie, for showing me again how much God loves me. Thanks for reminding me that it is not who I am who made Him redeem me; rather, my redemption is solely and completely because of His unfathomable grace. That alone is worth the price of keeping you around! (but stay off of my chair)

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[1] Application is different than interpretation. In biblical interpretation we seek to find the author’s intended meaning for his first readers; in this case, it is Ezekiel’s recording of God’s pronouncement to His people, Israel. However, the next step is finding how that original audience is like and unlike me as a modern reader, then finding the universal theological truth taught in the passage and applying it to my personal situation. This is the path to correct biblical interpretation taught by Scott Duvall and Danny Hays in their excellent book, Grasping God’s Word. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 2005.

[2] Metaphorically speaking of course! Laura has me pretty well house-trained at this point in my married life.

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?

First and 10

If you know me at all, you know that I am a football fan. A few random observations and some trash talk before we get to the point of this post:

  1. If you are a Chicago Bears fan, are you wondering if somehow Lovie Smith pulled a switcheroo on you and brought “evil Kyle Orton” back and put him in a #6 jersey yesterday? I mean, good grief…4 picks? Really? This is what $47.86 Million buys in the NFL?
  2. On that note, Orton did not look great against the Bungles. However, the guy finds a way to win. It may be crazy, but as of the start of this year Orton has a significantly better career winning percentage than Jay Cutler, the guy the Bears got in trade for Orton. Cutler has been to the Pro Bowl and been lauded as Chicago’s best quarterback in decades, but who decided it was wise to trade a guy with a 22-12 career record for a guy with a 17-20 record?
  3. Brett Favre needs a new mantra: “Call the play…hike the ball…hand to #28…” Is it just me, or did that run look like Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson? Adrian Peterson is a monster.
  4. Do you wonder if Michael Vick got a teensy bit excited when Donovan McNabb went down with the cracked ribs? I know that they are friends at all, but did you think just for a second that Vick might have signed with the Eagles at least partially because of McNabb’s injury history? I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
  5. Drew Brees can certainly light it up…but let’s remember for a minute that he was playing against Detroit. (go watch this piece on The Onion for a good laugh about the lowly Lions) I will hold out until he can win a big playoff game before anointing him the best QB in the NFC though.

My real challenge this week came when the Cardinals hosted the 49ers. I have this thing with being an NFL fan and also moving a whole bunch while I was in the Navy. I decided that in the interest of civic pride I would root for the home team of whatever place I lived. So when we lived in Florida, I rooted for the fledgling Jacksonville Jaguars. (they started play the year we moved to Florida) When we were in New York I yelled J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS! When we were in Oregon there was no team, so I got a pass. When in San Diego I rooted for the Chargers. And now we live in Phoenix, making me a Cardinals fan.

Here is the problem, though. Deep down in my heart I am a 49ers fan born and bred. My parents and grandparents raised me a Niners fan. I grew up watching Joe Montana (or as we call him, Without A Doubt The Greatest Quarterback To Ever Play Football) throw the ball to Jerry Rice. I watched Ronnie Lott knock himself out hitting people.

Now, being a young boy idolizing WADTGQTEPF means I cannot be anything in reality but a 49er fan. So when the Niners came to town this weekend, I was on the horns of a dilemma. Sure I root for the Cardinals, but they were playing my Niners! I like Kurt Warner a lot; I think he is a great guy, an excellent ambassador for the game, and a wonderful example of a disciple of Christ. But he was playing my Niners!

I was asked at church who I would be rooting for in the game. There wasn’t even a question about who I would stand behind.

As much as I like the Cards, I love the Niners. So I watched the game with my son, rooting for Shaun Hill (wow…from WADTGQTEPF to Shaun Hill…how the mighty have fallen), Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and the rest of the Red and Gold. If the Cards suffered for losing to the Niners, then my loyalties were clear. GO NINERS!

What might have seemed like divided loyalties were in reality not divided at all. There was no intrigue when the game started. I am a Cards fan, but my heart was behind the Niners. Jesus talked about divided loyalties too, and how in reality we each face a choice as to which side we are on. In Matthew 6:24 He says,

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

In reality, we cannot divide our loyalties between two competing “teams.” I can’t say “Oh, I want the Niners to win but Warner to have a great game.” Likewise, I can’t say “Oh, I want to please God with my life, but want it to be easy and prosperous.” I have to place myself firmly in one camp, because I cannot root for both to win. One must lose if the other wins. If I want God to be everything, then I cannot hope for me to be everything too. The teams are opposed to each other!

If we say that our priority is the kingdom of God and knowing Christ, do our lives look like He is our priority? Are we considering how to love our spouse the way God wants us to before we think about ourselves? Are our finances a reflection of His priorities? Since we cannot serve ourselves and God, who are we serving? Does it look like we work for our benefit, or like Paul says in Colossians 3:23 are we doing it like we work for the Lord?

To see God at work in miraculous ways in our life, we must be willing to give up our desire to have it both ways. We need to get behind “our team” and do so single-mindedly. When we try to hedge our bets, the only end is sorrow. When we dive in and serve the Lord with a whole heart, choosing Him over us and our desires, then (and only then) can we experience the joy of life as God intended. Since He wins in the end anyway, why would we root for the other team?