I can’t solve this in a paragraph, but I can make a suggestion. Peace is usually missing because we neglect to seek it. It is frail and easily displaced by the things we do seek. So ask a question of yourself every so often: does this bring me peace? And if it does not, why not ask the One Giver of Peace what to do about that?
I am just a man. I cannot give you true peace. But I do know Someone who can, if you’ll just ask Him to.
Though the Bible speaks of the joy of serving Christ, many Christians nonetheless struggle with feelings of self-condemnation. Does the Bible address this? I think so. “Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls….”(Rom 14:4) When Paul writes this, he is chastising those who presume to play the role of master over others and judge their faith. As he explains, only the Lord’s opinion of that person matters.
But this same admonition applies to self-judging. Who are you to judge yourself? It’s useful to think of there being two people inside of us, the one that judges and the one that is judged. And just as the judgmental me must learn to shut up and honor the Lord’s evaluation of others, he must do the same when the Master says He cherishes me.
First, I realize God loves me. Second, and only then, am I free to love my neighbors as He tells me to love myself. Why? Because the judgmental me has taken off his robes and returned them to their rightful owner.
Unless this person is also willing to say that we shouldn’t care whether someone is married, he cannot be consistent. Marriage is a public sexual act whose purpose is to produce children. If there are no children, something has gone wrong. Perhaps it’s contraception, perhaps it’s infertility, or perhaps it’s aberrant sexuality. Society is designed around families and children. Therefore it must focus on marriage, which means that sexuality will always be, to some degree, a public issue.
The only way to become a truly sexuality-blind society is to become a society that refuses to notice children and honor spouses. Now I dare you to try to convince me that would be a good thing.
Now, as with a paycheck, I must first pay my debts, which are the sins of my daily life. Jesus’s blood is clearly enough to pay off my debts, but if there’s nothing left over, I can’t be a blessing to others this week. I have so many graceos to use, and the more I mess up, the less there is left for uses beyond my own debts.
Of course, it may not work precisely like this, but it’s sobering to imagine that such an economy would mean that, every time I sin, I am not just harming my own character, but cheating someone else as well. When I retire to heaven, my portfolio will show how I spent my grace here on earth.
“Trading Spouses” and “Wife Swap” are the ironically interchangeable television shows where two families temporarily exchange mothers for reasons that pass understanding. What makes these shows interesting is that the producers, of course, try to pick families which are as different from each other as possible. What happens next is always the same.
At first, things are awkward and uncomfortable because the situation is such a mismatch for her, but then she gets to change the rules. Obviously it would be inconceivable for her to not change anything. Because she is a different person, different results must come out. Likewise, when we are born again, we acquire Christ within us as an identity swap.
He and I are completely different. Therefore, if there is a trade, there must be changes. I cannot produce His results, and He cannot stand to reproduce mine. If Jesus is Lord and is in me, I simply cannot go on living as if He isn’t.
I recently discovered that my 3½ year old is pretty much capable of memorizing anything he hears a few times. He’s memorized the Lord’s Prayer, and I figured I would teach him the Ten Commandments next. Since the Biblical wording doesn’t make any sense to him, or to many adults I suppose, I reformulated them to his level. Here they are as I teach them to Spencer:
1. Always put God first.
2. Only worship God.
3. Honor God’s name.
4. Honor God’s day of rest.
5. Obey your father and mother.
6. Protect people.
7. Protect marriage.
8. Protect property.
9. Tell the truth.
10. Be content with what you have.
Since, in my experience, only a tiny minority of adults know all Ten Commandments and in order (though many claim to honor them as vital), perhaps this list will help you teach them to your own children…as well as to yourself.
But for whatever reason I hadn’t connected this observation with some concerns I had about the future of my life. See, I know what God has told me, but I hadn’t seen some of it come to pass, and I was worried about it. So He challenged me with a question. “Which matters more to Me, you or a bird? And if I would put so much planning into making birds, why do you think I’d suddenly become a bad designer when it comes to your life?”
That’s one of the things I love about God. He sort of has a way of reminding me that I’m being stupid in the most loving way imaginable. If I’m His and He Is Who He Is, what am I worried about?
We Americans have a love affair with the cowboy hero who takes matters into his own hands and depends upon no one to solve the problem on his terms. He tries to give the villain a chance to save himself, but in the end he invariably winds up destroying him with some form of violence. And we all cheer. We want to see evil punished…badly. We crave justice, and we honor goodness. In this we clearly stand with righteousness over evil. But there’s a problem.
The problem is that most of us have only come half way. Yes, it is a major success to move from endorsing evil to opposing evil (although it’s rarely the sin inside of us that elicits our most jubilant wrath), but there is still another Testament to be known. And the single greatest hindrance to living Christ’s way of grace and redemption is the mighty satisfaction to be had in vanquishing evil. So the next time you’re enjoying a good action movie, ask yourself a simple question: does this look more like God’s work at Sodom and Gomorrah or His work at the Cross?
Love him though I might, Batman is no disciple of Christ. His God is not Triune.
Not so obviously, the other part is that we don’t want to look bad ourselves for complaining or being ungrateful. In other words, we worry that too much honesty will show us to be something less grand than we lead people to believe or will make others feel less grand about themselves than they’d like. So we cater heavily to pride and embrace the moral burden of dishonesty.
But what if the bad gift were from an enemy, someone whose feelings we didn’t mind hurting and whose opinions of us didn’t matter? Then we might tell the truth. Yet isn’t there something amiss when we feel free to tell the truth to our enemies, but must lie to those we love? Perhaps our notions about truth and love aren’t quite what they should be.
I told her that it was nothing particularly against her, but that we prefer to leave our children only with other parents we know well. Since I didn’t even know her name, surely I didn’t know her well enough to leave my son in her care. She took no offense and understood my decision. I was practicing a principle I advocate: tell people the truth, especially when you’d rather not. This truth was fairly easy to say, but it surely would have been easier to say nothing. Easier, but not more respectful.
The truth may make me look bad or it may make someone else feel bad, but there must be very significant reasons for me to not pay others the debt I owe them of honesty…particularly other Christians.
I can’t forgive you because you did not wrong me. And it would be supremely offensive for me to tell your neighbor or your wife or the stranger that everything was fine because I had forgiven you. Now it’s true at some level that violating any member of a community violates us all, but until the primary victim has been restored and they have forgiven the offender, the rest of us are in no position to presume to do so. Understanding this puts us in a position to grasp something very important about Jesus. The only way He could have been anything other than a complete fool for forgiving sins is if He was God.
And, in forgiving them, He was teaching us something else as well. All sins are offenses against the King, and the only reason offenses against other people are sins is because those people are stamped with the mark of the King.
A caller recently tried to persuade me that corporal punishment of children is wrong because you must always reconnect with the child after it is administered. The discipline causes a rupture in the relationship which must be healed. There are two mistakes here. The first is in thinking that the rupture was caused by the discipline when it was actually caused by the disobedience. Spanking is simply the other half of the equation the child has already imbalanced.
The second error is failing to see the wonderful theology symbolized here. Sin separates us from God, and though God very much wants to reconnect with us, making that relationship with Him right again requires a sacrifice. To declare that punishment does nothing to heal the relationship is to imply that Christ didn’t need to die to redeem us.
People think that corporal punishment is a kind of deterrence, and it may be. But it’s real value is that it prepares children to understand the nature of and need for their own salvation in Christ. Unspanked children are understandably baffled by the Cross.
But let’s get our terms straight. You have a temptation, not a dilemma. A temptation is when you know what’s right, but you want to do wrong. The conflict is between principle and desire. A dilemma occurs when the principles are in conflict with each other, and it’s unclear which one to follow. But why do people describe their temptations as dilemmas? Because to say, “I have a temptation,” is so insignificant. Of course you do, dear. If your desires were in line with morality, you wouldn’t need morality.
Calling it a dilemma makes it seem like both alternatives are legitimate. Thus, even phrasing it this way is a subtle declaration that you’ve already decided to put desire first, since you’re giving it more credit than it deserves.
Of course I realize that all people are the enemies of God until He draws them to Him and that the ideal would be to redeem those poor lost souls who think that Mohammed-bears and irreverent cartoons deserve death. But what I really want people to know is that the Judeo-Christian worldview, which holds concepts like freedom, tolerance, and human rights in such high regard, is completely incompatible with radical Islam.
The differences between us and them are unbridgeable. We simply cannot coexist because everything they do is offensive to our core values just as everything we do is offensive to their core values. The only real question is who will triumph, us or them?
Rather than being materialists, the Magi were actually declaring the worthlessness of material goods compared with God. They were thanking God for what He had given us all. In much the same way, every year we thank the people who show us love by giving them valuables which are but cheap thank you trinkets compared with the real worth they contribute to our lives.
People matter more than things, and the best use of things is to bless such people. If that’s materialism, then I am very confused about what the term means.
The first is that it trains your mind so you’re mentally fit when you have to make a decision about something that actually does matter in your own life. Such discussions are a sort of mental weight training so your mind is strong when it counts. The second is that these topics offer a fertile soil out of which conversations and, therefore, relationships with other people can be grown. That said, it should be easy to see that such discussions become counterproductive either when they divide us from others or when the fun of mental exercise displaces the necessity of doing actual mental labor on our real responsibilities.
By definition, perversion is whenever something good is used contrary to its intended valid purpose.
He said that too much accommodating other people winds up allowing them to dominate and destroy our own identity. He’s exactly right. Just as it is unloving to not accommodate others, it is also unloving to allow them to so control our interaction that we lose who we are in the process. Love must affirm the value of both participants.
The main goal of wise love is that others become loving as well. That’s why love yields to them but also encourages yielding in response. Too much accommodation seems like love, but it’s really just selfishness depriving them of giving the gift of accommodating us. It’s not loving at all to allow others to remain unloving toward us.
“Most women are bad drivers.”
“Some women are bad drivers.”
“That woman is a bad driver.”
“That woman is driving badly.”
“That woman is driving badly right now.”
“That woman is driving badly right now according to me.”
“That woman has done one thing while driving that I do not like.”
“That woman has done one thing while driving for a few seconds that I do not like but which may have a perfectly decent explanation and which I’ve certainly done myself in the past and would not want to be judged by.”
It sounds downright silly when I say it like that. Almost like stereotyping is dumb…and unloving.
Remember, the language you use in your head is the most potently repetitive mechanism of belief formation you have. And by the way, one final thought. Why does it even matter that the other driver was a woman?
I love my children. I want only the best for them, which often is at odds with what they want for themselves. Hence, I am constantly guiding, correcting, and disciplining them. Of course I also give my children at least as much affection and encouragement as possible, but I must confess that it’s all too easy to begin to see them primarily as a bundle of errors needing correction.
That’s why it was so valuable to have my father visit us during Thanksgiving. He gave them unconditional love, attention, and indulgence, which means they really liked having him around…naturally. After all, he doesn’t have to shape them and mold them and keep them alive. All he has to do is play with them and take joy in them and then leave the dirty work to us.
But instead of resenting him for this, which would have been easy, I took it as a reminder that I’ve been entrusted with a masterpiece. And it’s useful as a parent to remember that Claude Monet’s paintings were neither created by nor intended to be enjoyed by looking through a microscope.
For instance, I wouldn’t lift even a finger to protect the right to publish pornography. However, I would risk my life to protect someone’s right to read the Koran. I would never shop at a store owned by racists, but I would in fact put my life at risk to protect people in believing that all races are not equal. I support making abortion illegal, but I would gladly risk my life protecting the publication of books advocating evolution.
See, it’s easy to defend what we admire. But until you have identified at least some things you hate but believe in protecting, you have not actually embraced the idea of freedom. Giving other people the freedom to do as you would have them do isn’t really much of a definition of freedom.
If someone came to you and claimed to have all sorts of parenting wisdom, how would you verify it? Would you see if it makes sense to you? Would you look to see whether his book has been endorsed by other experts? Or would you ask to meet his children?
Finally, if someone came to you and claimed to have great stock advice, how would you verify it? Would you listen to his theories and formulas to see if they seem reasonable? Would you ask to see his brokerage license? Or would you ask him how much money he has in the bank and many shares he is buying with it?
In many areas of life, we get confused over the difference between persuading other people that you are qualified and actually being qualified. And what I find so problematic, even revolting, about the political selection process in the United States is my recognition that the guy who makes the best car salesman is not likely to be the same guy who makes the best cars. And whereas only a foolish business owner would hire a salesman to design his cars, I worry that we are electing political salesmen (or women) to design government policies.
Usually he doesn’t complain about being left, or at least not much, but last Sunday was different. As soon as I gave him to one of the volunteers, one he knows well, he started screaming and reaching for me. So I took him back with me into the service and held him on my lap during the sermon, and he was fine.
See, my theory is simple: if my son wants me, my son gets me. At his age (19 months) there is no such thing as too much security or too much dependency, and if I give him what he needs from me now, he’s less likely to believe he doesn’t need anything from me later in his life…when it really matters. The currency of influence is purchased with the coin of met needs.
It wasn’t hard enough to really be painful, just irritating because he couldn’t free them, and he started to cry about it. My first inclination was to help rescue him, but I didn’t. Instead, I waited about 30 seconds for him to get really bothered by the situation, then I released his totally unharmed fingers. See, I figured this was useful in deterring him from playing with the doors because the next time he was inclined to do so he would remember the previous experience. I allowed him to suffer so he could learn a lesson I wanted him to learn through a pain that I knew wouldn’t really hurt him in the long run.
I’m sure this story has no theological implications whatsoever.
When two ships approach from a distance, the very first thing they want to know about each other is country of origin. Some countries are friendly, and others are at war with each other. And then there are pirates. Thus, finding a ship’s flag answers a lot of preliminary questions.
That’s why I find it so odd that people who so clearly fly the flag of their basic values in how they dress would become frustrated that others might recognize the insignia and act accordingly.
In short, I judge or pity others by measuring them with the yardstick of my own life. If young or highly stressed, I have pity. If mature and moderately stressed, I judge. But do I know enough about them to do this? The problem is that I can’t tell how mature a person’s character is based on how mature his body is.
In truth, God alone knows where people really are, and He may well judge the person I pity and pity the person I judge. That may be the reason He reserves judgment to Himself.
Well, of course, the right person to blame is my children, the cabinet-installer, and the construction crew. At least, that’s the conclusion you would draw from my frustrated reaction to these events. But the real answer in all of these cases, of course, is that it’s my fault. I have eyes to see Legos, the cabinets don’t move, and surely I could have left for work earlier. But if I think too much about these facts, then I lose the justification of my righteous wrath.
So, who’s responsible for the anger I choose to feel and the frustration I choose to express in response to these things? Probably the same guy who prefers to criticize others rather than himself. Now if only I could find that guy to blame.
For instance, some say war is always wrong on principle, but others say it’s necessary because of the reality of evil. Some say that taxation is wrong because it’s theft, but others say it’s necessary to provide safety and security. Some say that corporal discipline is wrong because it teaches violence, but others say that you can’t reason with a two-year-old. This same tension is bothering pro-lifers struggling with the idea of candidate Giuliani.
Kant’s approach focuses on being a morally pure agent. Mill’s approach emphasizes accomplishing good in the world. And, as the other cases show, sometimes wisdom requires us to sacrifice our own feeling of principled purity for something more important than moral pride. That’s a virtue another famous philosopher called prudence.
I wanted to go clean it off, and I was worried that one of my favorite shirts would be ruined. So I sat there, trying to pay attention but only succeeding somewhat. And as I tried, I kept thinking how stupid this was. It’s just a shirt. It’s just a little stain. And I’m letting this distract me from a great sermon? How neurotic is this! That’s when it hit me. I wasn’t being a silly little human, I was being very much like God.
When He looks at us, we might be all white with just one little stain, and that one little stain becomes completely distracting because of His Holiness. And just like dried coffee stains on a white shirt cannot be removed completely, no amount of self-scrubbing and better behavior will ever do enough to clean us in His eyes. We need a different kind of cleanser altogether.
In all the hubbub, one element of this story can easily escape notice: the Chinese take ideas seriously. Of course they must, since all totalitarian regimes only exist so long as the people are kept indoctrinated. But as awful as censorship is, at least it reminds people that ideas have consequences, good and bad. Starting from the same premise, our philosophy is to protect the sharing of ideas so that the important ones thrive in competition with each other. But consider the implication: from a society where all ideas are treated so equally by the law one could easily draw the conclusion that they either don’t matter much or else are all equally valid.
A society that censors thereby declares the importance of ideas. A free society must sometimes remind people of the fact.
I explain to him that he gets to do other stuff that only big boys can do and this is something that Ethan can do, but Spencer doesn’t care. All he knows is that whatever it is I’m doing, he wants to be doing it with me. In contrast, Ethan likes grinding the coffee but wouldn’t throw a fit if I didn’t let him do it. You see, Spencer is what we call our “black hole of attention.” Ethan, still lacking a nickname, is more self-directed and generally indifferent to our presence unless he needs something.
Because they are different people with different needs, we parent them differently. When it comes to grinding coffee, I encourage Ethan to participate while I fend Spencer off. I wonder whether God does this with His different children.
It shows in how we think about heaven, but it has also poisoned our understanding of why God called us in Christ. Rather than saying that we are saved from hell so we can enjoy our lives, Ephesians 2 tells us that the reason God gave us this free gift was so that we should walk in the good works we were created for.
There is much work to be done according to God’s Will, and it’s hard to see how neglecting it will honor His purposes or Glorify Him. Being born again and being retired are opposites, not synonyms.
- “Everybody’s doing it, how bad could it be?”
- “God already knows what I’m going to do, and He’s already forgiven me for it.“
- “God helps those who help themselves.“
- “To each his own.”
- “All paths lead to the top of the mountain.”
- “I’ve done a lot of good things in my life, so God will cut me some slack.”
- “As long as I don’t hurt anyone, whatever I want to do is okay.”
- “How is that my problem?”
- “I’m basically a good person.”
- “I don’t need anybody else to tell me how to live my life.”
- “Every man for himself.”
First, recognize the dangers. Although “discrimination” is a perfectly good word (I discriminate between lying and truth-telling and between coffee and tea), it has come to imply unfair oppression. “Evaluate” is better because it lacks the baggage. Likewise, “sexual orientation” is a flawed term because it ignores the distinction between desire and behavior. So a linguistically savvy response might be, “Well, I believe it’s wise to evaluate people on the morality of their behaviors, don’t you?” A slightly stronger version might be, “I believe it’s unwise to ignore a person’s immoral actions.”
The first step in showing beautiful ideas to others is refusing to allow your opponents to dress them for you.
The common thread is a lack of integrity; not the character defect that we usually associate with that term, but the technical defect in which the values a person is speaking don’t match the values he’s behaving. One may wear stripes or one may wear plaid, but one may not wear them together. Likewise, every choice we make with our time either matches our values and builds our integrity or clashes with our values and tears it down. It’s not that people are lying in these examples so much as it is that they just haven’t practiced integrity enough to look like they’re telling the truth. And the good news is that we can always start moving in that direction at any time.
This, in part, by the way, is what the Bible calls repentance.
The modern interpretation [is] that I give 10% of my income to my church, but perhaps there is more to tithing than just my paycheck? Money isn't really that important to me. If I set up an automatic payment to my church straight out of my paycheck, I don't even notice. What if I gave 10% of the food I buy to the food pantries or 10% of my clothes each season to the homeless?
If I think about what is truly the most important to me, it would be my time; and I know I don't give 10% of my time to God. Perhaps two and a half hours a day devoted to God would be more precious than gold.”
Nice thought, Elizabeth.
See, it’s a fairly easy thing to say whether you are obeying a rule or not. Driving 55 in a 55 zone is endorsed. Driving 56 is not. And nothing about the fact that 56 isn’t 80 will ever make 56 be 55. Simple. Likewise, if you are already married, then sex is endorsed. If you’re not, it isn’t. And showing how far premarital sex is from casual sex or how similar it is to marital sex will never make it okay.
Just something to consider the next time you’re wondering why the same teenager who sees you “speeding just a little bit” doesn’t heed your stern warning to abstain until marriage.
We must move from knowing that our thoughts matter to knowing that they matter enough to deserve improving. As such, we should view thinking itself as a skill which needs training and practice just like any other skill. And when a skilled coach criticizes our thinking, that’s helpful rather than an assault on our person. Until one of our core beliefs is that it is more important to be right tomorrow than to have been right yesterday, we will be always limited to being whoever we already are.
Precisely because thinking is so important, I must learn to be less attached to the way I do it now so that I can do it better in the future.
Many things could be said, but this mostly shows the moral hypocrisy of such people. This barbaric form of mob censorship was organized by the “National Project to Defend Dissent & Critical Thinking in Academia,” a group which apparently defends dissent by preventing it from occurring. There once was a time when the mantra of American liberty was, “Though I detest your opinions, I will defend to the death your right to express them.”
Only time will tell if the leaders politically closest to these student tyrants will affirm this idea and condemn them. My hope, sadly, is not my expectation.
When a racist is mistreated by someone of a different race, his contempt for that race is strengthened. When the same racist is mistreated by someone of his own race, he writes it off as that person just having a bad day. Not only do we tend to see things this way, but we also tend to seek out information we hope will confirm our existing biases. This makes us feel wise. When passing a bad driver on the road, we tend to look to verify that the person is of the right gender, age, race, or distractedness by technology to confirm our condemnation.
If the end goal of an act is to feed evil, however, wisdom lies in not even beginning the search.
- Sloppy thinking is sloppy Christianity.
- Angrier-than-thou is not the same as holier-than-thou.
- Honk if you like my driving.
- My children do not derive their sense of self-worth from bumper stickers.
- War is always the answer.
- Stop being such a gay-basher-basher.
- In your mind, what does the word “limit” mean, as in “speed limit?”
- Practice what you preach: be more tolerant of my intolerance.
- Honk if you despise people who honk their horns for no good reason.
- Your bumper says you serve Jesus, but your speedometer tells a different story.
He is slow, he needs help, and it takes more time to supervise him doing it than it would to just do them myself. But he loves the responsibility. The other day I was in a hurry and I wanted the dishes done, so I secretly did them myself. Quietly but quickly. And then it hit me. I had betrayed him. I had gone behind his back and robbed him of his job because it was more convenient for me. So I had to explain what I had done and apologize to him for it.
He didn’t care so much and went back to playing, but I knew that it was important to show him that the rules for how to treat other people applied to daddy as well. Apparently it was a lesson I needed refreshing on also.
I tend to take positions less dogmatically, which means there’s less ego cost when I need to admit error. I tend to be on the lookout for ideas I haven’t considered before, which makes it easier to listen when others disagree with me. But the best advantage is that I become wiser more quickly.
See, the guy who thinks he already knows everything sees little reason to keep looking and even less reason to consider the opinions of others. He discovers through seclusion only the reinforcement of his dogma. In contrast, I love finding errors in my thinking, because that’s the only way to become wiser. And, given my theological conviction that people are flawed, it would be odd for me to assume that the messed-up me would have mess-free beliefs.
But what is truly offensive is their ingratitude for the lavish gifts, especially if they complain whenever they suffer a setback from the gluttony of their general prosperity. “Oh, woe is me that I must settle for a Mercedes instead of the Bentleys we’ve always driven.” It’s repulsive. But sadly, I worry that this is how Christians in much of the world view us Americans.
Our churches are often planted in government-provided schools. All of our major cities have several Christian radio and television stations. And none of us have ever looked over our shoulders for fear that the secret police may snatch us for preaching the Gospel. And we have the audacity to complain about persecution here at home? Shame on us.
There’s just no way I would allow something like that to happen to my own son. And, frankly, it makes me wonder about the idea of God as a good parent. But then I realized what I was missing. It’s not that He just wanted to redeem all of us. What sort of Father would make that trade? The only reason He could bring Himself to allow this atrocity was that God knew Jesus would be resurrected into an even better condition with Him as well as redeeming all of us, too.
The Father knew there was more to life than just this life. In this one supreme act of mercy, He demonstrated once for all that what comes next is worth sacrificing everything we have now, and this is true even for His own Son.
But in the realm of ideas, the reality is that dogma and arrogance usually indicate weakness, not strength. Beneath every shouted certainty lies the desperation of hoping that volume can hide lack of substance. In contrast, when you have real confidence in your beliefs, you can afford to be humble and calm in the face of a verbal storm.
And given that God was not in the wind nor the earthquake nor the fire, but in the quiet whisper, this is a lesson which we Christians would do well to recall and embody.
Does it mean that I am obsessed with finding common ground? “Please, I can’t stand any contrast in my life.” Does it mean that I know I’m losing this particular argument and am looking to retreat while making it look like I am taking the high ground? “Please don’t vanquish me. I have trouble believing I might be wrong about anything.” Is it code-speak for, “I just don’t want to talk about this anymore?” Then why not say that? Does it indicate prepositional confusion, meaning to actually say, “I guess we’ll just have to agree that we disagree?” “And, hey, look at the sky. It’s blue.”
Since I am apparently so overwhelmed with uncertainty about what this phrase means, I’m prepared to offer an alternative: “We currently disagree, but let’s agree that we should try to come to agreement in the future.” To me, that seems pretty clear…and Biblical.
Imagine a woman who goes to the church and says, “I do,” but then does absolutely nothing pleasing to her husband. Nothing. Is she married, or isn’t she? That’s not really the important question. The important question from the husband’s point of view is whether she is a good bride, and the answer there is clear. One may argue that the mere saying of those two little words makes her a bride, but one could never argue that those two words made her a pleasing wife.
And since the Bible teaches us that we are the Bride of Christ, I find myself more and more concerned with whether I am pleasing my Lord than with whether it’s possible to still be married without pleasing Him.
Then, imagine that this same guy writes a letter to your church in which he says that many of you have abandoned your faith and are following a false gospel. Furthermore, this guy says that one of your fellow churchgoers must be expelled from the assembly. Oh, sure, that guy is doing some stuff wrong, but excommunication seems a bit harsh. Finally, this same out-of-town pastor says your church is selfish and doesn’t give enough to help the needy. How would you respond?
Would you acknowledge the validity of everything he has said and honor him for loving you enough to correct you, or would you mock him and call him a lunatic? See, everybody loves the Apostle Paul…until he actually shows up.
But just at that moment, the light turned and the cars started going. The driver had just enough time to act, but he hesitated. So I simply went, and I was a bit miffed at him. I had gave him a gift, and he had failed to take it. Sure, I could have waited, but then I’m losing time myself rather than just being courteous. So he had deprived me of feeling good about myself by his incompetence.
That’s when it hit me. A gift that costs me nothing isn’t really much of a gift at all. Sure, it’s better than not giving anything, but just when I had thought myself a generous driver I had to realize I was still putting myself first, even in how I hoped to use another person to feel better about how generous I thought I was.
But perhaps she means making history in the sense of shaping it, even anonymously. Yet, don’t all history-makers have mothers? That’s “making history,” even if she doesn’t make it into the history books. I think the real message here is to be rebellious. “Whatever you do, ladies, be disruptive. That’s the only way to matter in this world.” It’s not a favorable rephrase, but it’s surely accurate. The problem is that the it runs precisely counter to the Biblical model of femininity.
So in the end the driver of the car might just as well say to women, “The only way you can matter is by being men,” though I somehow doubt that’s what she intended her bumper to proclaim.
So, as the Diamondbacks head into the second round of the post-season, how should a Christian watch them? First, remember that baseball is just a game. Second, remember that other people may have forgotten this. Third, show grace and mercy towards other fans, umpires, and players, especially when they fail. And remember, the important thing about sports is what it does for us rather than whether our teams win or lose.
As my son’s kickball league says, “The outcome of the child is more important than the outcome of the game.” That’s good advice for grown-ups as well.
If we’re honest, most of us think that obedience to God is a matter of doing “just enough.” We must do just enough in order to be good Christians or to preserve our salvation or some other nebulous concept, and anything beyond this minimum is up to us. If we do more, we get rewarded more, but it’s not mandatory. Our minds having been polluted by jobs and school, we think in terms of doing just enough to not get fired or just enough to avoid a bad grade instead of feeling we must be the best employees and the A students.
Of course there are many areas where God does leave the choice to us, but in those areas where He has spoken, it is a gross mistake to say that obedience is ever optional. And at those times when we think it is, we would do well to recall Who is the Master and who is not.
At these times, they get to learn a brand new skill: working to be one flesh when the feeling of it isn’t strong. The best tool for this is apologizing. But many people, having long been convinced of their own splendidness, misunderstand what it means to admit fault. Apologizing does not require that I was completely wrong. It simply requires that I was not completely Christlike.
And if Jesus is right that we are to be perfect as God is perfect, then surely I can apologize whenever I am imperfect. As I do so, I lead the way back to unity with my wife and away from being my own man, which I no longer am.
Now, obviously this sticker makes a false play on words when it talks about protecting “your” marriage. The problem with gay marriage is not that it threatens any particular marriage, but rather all of marriage as an institution which privileges permanent baby-making relationships. But the other error here is asserting that the success of marriage is entirely up to the people in it.
Marriage is not a purely private thing. The spouses are heavily responsible, but so, too, are the close friends and family for nurturing it as well as the larger society for providing a safe environment for it to grow in. So beware pithy phrases. They can easily deceive you into thinking that the ideas underneath the verbal gold plating are as pretty as they appear.
See, it’s easy at a distance to “know” what you would do. But when you are personally responsible, you think about it differently. And that’s why I try to remind myself of just how tempting it is to second-guess the decisions of other people when I have neither the authority to make them nor the burden of living with them afterwards.
It’s not that I don’t want to think and talk about other’s decisions. I just want to remember that it’s always a lot easier to say what I would do when I don’t have to actually do it myself and live with the consequences.
Blessings produce prosperity. Prosperity cultivates the hope of continued good fortune. Hope encourages expectation. Expectation grows into a sense of entitlement. And a sense of entitlement leads to being ungrateful for anything less than constant increase rather than being grateful for ever having had more. Thus, the abundant blessings of God giving me more than I deserve can cause me to not even enjoy the good which I’ve received.
Instead of thinking God has failed us when He doesn’t give us something we want, perhaps we might consider the possibility that He loves us too much to let us become what we would if He had.
Presidential candidate John Edwards recently remarked that he hopes his children grow up to disagree with him about gay marriage, as if to say he is a bigot but just can’t get over it because of his upbringing. This is not surprising. What was surprising was that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace also recently said that he believes, based on his upbringing, that homosexuality is not right.
Such catering to relativism is unsurprising among political liberals, but the felt need to cater to it by conservatives is truly troubling. If something is wrong, say that it’s wrong. Don’t hedge by calling it “not right” “in my upbringing.” That is a subtle way of accepting the premise of relativism.
The third is to discover the danger areas and then avoid them like potholes. Agreeing to disagree in a sort of permanent détente, couples thus sometimes choose a cold war just to avoid the live fire. If they don’t know what real peace looks like, people can even think this is healthy. The fourth is to learn how to love your differences, fight fairly, and develop an organic relationship based on openness and compassion. This approach says, “I accept all of you, and my love for you is greater than any fight we have, or all the fights put together.”
You know, I’ve been talking about marriage, but now I suddenly wonder whether these ideas might not also apply to the way we argue with our fellow citizens about politics. Well, probably not. We don’t love them that much, right?
He says he thinks it’s too risky and he’d rather stay on the ship, but you tell him to go anyway. Being obedient, he gives you a hug and dives overboard. When he reaches the woman, she is panicking and she starts to drag him down. He swims back to the boat with her as best he can; and, just as she drags him under, you are able to reach her with your hand. You pull her to safety, but your son has been lost.
Do you rejoice at her rescue? Neither would I. Which is all the more reason to stand in awe of the sacrifice made by God to retrieve us from drowning in our sin.
Unfortunately, there are two basic mistakes here. The first is assuming that God causes everything that happens for the purpose of telling us something. The second is believing that God is such a poor communicator that He would prefer such a method of speaking. On the contrary, when God speaks, it’s usually quite clear to the person He is addressing. And if the message isn’t clear, the most likely explanation is that it’s not a message at all, but merely an event.
So, are ambiguously phrased evil events a preferred medium for God’s voice? Well, in my experience, God is both more clear and more loving than that.
For our part, having just barely missed being involved in it, we were grateful. A few hours is nothing compared to not being alive, and all lesser concerns seemed quite petty at the time. So it was very tempting to harshly judge those other drivers who wouldn’t make room for the emergency equipment or who wanted to inch up ahead or even who wanted to take pictures. But I continually reminded myself that they hadn’t experienced it my way, and they didn’t know as much as I knew. They were reacting largely how I might have reacted had I been in their cars.
It served as a very useful reminder to me to be cautious about judging others based on my knowledge and my perspective. We’re all fairly human, after all.
But isn’t that the point? Complaining about your spouse is really just another way of telling people you’re a fool, since you picked that person. But there’s another, less obvious way we do it, too. Many of us feel the need to win all our domestic arguments. But if you do win them all, that means you married someone so low in intelligence that they offer nothing to your marriage, which makes you look that much more foolish.
On the other hand, if you want to boast, brag about how many arguments you lose to the brilliant person you selected to marry. Just another one of those cases where losing can actually make your judgment look really good.
How would I live differently if I thought I only had a short time to live, like a year? Honestly, I wouldn’t change much at all. I do work that matters to me, I spend time with my family, and I have a lot of fun. I might sleep a little less and spend the extra time writing. But, then again, maybe I wouldn’t. See, I long ago realized something that this woman wasn’t quite saying out loud: we are all dying. And this means that we are dying for something, namely whatever we use our life to do. The only question is whether we are dying for something worth dying for.
So if you would live differently with only a year to go, I encourage you to either start doing so now or else consider the possibility that you aren’t going to because what you say would do in that case might not be all that meaningful anyhow.
But there’s a problem. Sometimes the moment when he spies a car is also the moment when he’s crossing an intersection. He stops, and I must quickly push him to the other side. He almost yells at me, “But, Daddy, there’s headlights!” “I know,” I respond, ”but you also need to not stop in the middle of a road.” Although he has grasped the rule, he has not yet learned when breaking it would honor its purpose better than following it would.
Sadly, this inability to know the exceptions to ethical norms is not something only my three-year-old struggles with. Many adults do as well, just like the Pharisees did when they observed Jesus breaking the Sabbath to heal.
Finally, even though you told him not to, he stopped for a break with the guerillas close behind, and you can now see that they’re going to catch him in a moment. Thinking of the only thing you can do, you tell your son to run across the forest to give himself up and distract them while you rescue the disobedient man. With a pained look, your son obeys, and you rescue the man, who is stunned and expresses his gratitude to you. But your son is lost.
Given this situation, would you make this choice? Neither would I. And it’s useful to remember this the next time we are tempted to think that God’s character and our character are very similar.
But imagine you were at a nice restaurant somewhere and the person at the next table was eating Chicken Marsala that way? Other than finding it gross, you would realize that no one can really enjoy food when they’re shoveling it that fast. At the other extreme, when I really want to enjoy a meal, I take a bite and actually close my eyes to savor the tastes and textures without having any visual distraction. It’s wonderful.
Likewise, even though I encourage people to read the whole Bible if they say they believe in It, I hope people don’t read it like it’s a hot dog eating contest. Instead, I hope they’ll savor it, with their eyes closed, chewing and pondering it’s sweet flavor. Remember, souls grow slowly, which is why sometimes faster isn’t.
Many so-called liberals make this mistake. They don’t see, for instance, that it can be extremely loving to criticize someone for a poor decision or to withhold from him the illicit sexual gratification he might desire. But that’s the point. People often want what is bad for them and they do not want what is good for them. But the fact that someone wants something doesn’t make it good, and love cannot require us to give people things they want which are bad for them.
And, although I love the Golden Rule, I hope that others will always love me enough to avoid giving me what I want if I shouldn’t have it, just as my friends, my wife, my parents, and my God generally do unto me.
For example, I recently asked on the show whether scrapbooking cultivates an unhealthy attachment to the past. In response, the unprepared say, “That’s ridiculous!” which is really just another way of saying, “Man, I never thought about that before, and I’d rather get angry than think about it right now either.” Instead, those who have really contemplated their lives and values might say, “Yes, you’re right. That’s a real danger, and here’s what I do to avoid it.”
So what’s the lesson? First, examine our lives thoroughly. Second, use anger as an indicator of uncertainty that can remind us to stop and consider the merit in criticisms we haven’t previously heard. Then we can be calm because our confidence comes from growing wiser rather than from claiming we already are wise.
Then I noticed that every register has a green light on to tell people it’s open, but the one at the next register was apparently broken since the cashier was waving a ping-pong paddle with a number on it at the waiting customers. I kept my irony to myself this time. Not just that the light was broken, but that they had a whole system in place just for that sort of malfunction. But I was a bit saddened that the owners had given so much effort to building a great store but had failed to understand how such little things can undermine people’s perception of their products.
It’s a sadness I often feel when Christians don’t grasp how word choice or symbolic nuance can nullify so much of the good substance we have to offer. So my advice to Fry’s and my fellow Christians is the same: “Fix your lights and scanners. What you have to offer is well worth the touch-up effort.”
See, I host a radio show which is designed to generate discussion for the purpose of finding wisdom. And in most cases, the Yes/No form of a question invites people to discuss the topic more thoroughly and raise the variables and different circumstances. By the end of this process, everyone who listens should have a pretty clear idea of when it’s “Yes” and when it’s “No.” Plus they will have a solid grasp of most, if not all, of the relevant principles involved in why those answers are what they are.
But the most valuable thing they have acquired is wisdom about the topic, wisdom whose main component is often precisely the recognition that the question cannot be adequately answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.”
Obviously I think he’s on to something here, but the difficulty is imagining how we might escape the problem. See, in capitalism, the primary identity we have is as owners of things and the primary relationship we practice is that of buyer and seller. Thus, we have very little practice comprehending the relationship of sharing or even of giving and receiving. If so, then porn might be at least as much a byproduct of free markets as it is of lust.
Perhaps this is what Scripture intends to help us avoid when it says to remember that our bodies are not our own.
I recalled this over the weekend when I was discussing parenting with a single friend. She wants to be married but hasn’t found the right guy yet, and I almost said to her, “Well, don’t worry, there’s plenty of time.” In a rare moment of restraint, I held my tongue because I realized what an awful thing that would have been to say.
It sounds like an assurance, but in fact it would likely have made her upset because it’s effectively saying that the risk of never finding anyone is so real that it merits denying. In contrast, consider that I’d never bother saying to her, “Don’t worry, the sun will rise tomorrow,” because it’s obviously true. It’s important to realize that our words can easily tell more about what we don’t want to say than about what we actually do say.
At first it seemed like deception to me. Putting better make-up on a woman doesn’t make her a better wife-candidate, even if it attracts more offers. But then I thought about it differently. It’s just a matter of showing the house in its best light and making people more willing, even eager, to buy it. And if they’re happy doing so, everyone wins.
And I couldn’t help but think of Christians in the public arena and how we so often lament that no one wants to accept our wise and true ideas. And why don’t they? Because we are generally inept at staging, which is a shame, especially since the house we’re representing is worth so much more than the asking price.
If you’re going to be good, be good all the time. If you’re going to be wicked, be wicked all the time. Even if you’re going to be mediocre, fine. Just do it consistently. I don’t particularly care which you pick (although I have my preferences), but whatever it is, pick one and stick with it. It’s far easier to figure out how to interact with someone who is always bad than with someone who is sometimes bad and sometimes good.
I’m so sick and tired of trying to navigate my way through a world of unpredictable people. It’s like playing a game where the rules keep changing. I just wish God would have made a world with people who were more predictable, like robots or animals, instead of a world full of inconsistent people…just like me.
It’s like when I wait for the elevator. If I forget to leave space enough for people to get out, I apologize to them, and usually they do to me as well. And I guess I’ve just developed this habit in all sorts of similar settings. My impulse to apologize is almost instantaneous. And when everyone has this impulse, we all seem to come away from the encounter smiling and not irritated, and not second-guessing who really was right or wrong. At the risk of exaggerating, it seems like this attitude makes everything in society function more smoothly.
Now if I can just get myself to be as consistently decent to the one person I love most: my wife.