TOD 12.24.07

Peace. It’s quite some word. Even just saying it solemnly seems to bring a hint of the its substance to a moment of our lives. And at this particular time of the year, it’s something far too many of us feel we lack. We rush to buy gifts. We scurry to prepare a feast. And then it’s all over. January comes and it seems as though another season devoted to the birth of the Prince of Peace came and went with very little indication that He was Lord of it at all. Do I have a solution? Yes and no.

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.

TOD 12.21.07

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.

TOD 12.20.07

I recently heard another talk show host say that the goal of our society in the realm of sexuality should be to not care about it. Sex is private, and whatever flavor of preference it is, we should not ask, not know, and not care. This sort of nouveau-libertarianism sounds chic, but it’s really quite dangerous.

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.

TOD 12.19.07

All of us who have ever received a paycheck have had to learn a simple principle: the more we spend on ourselves, the less we have for other purposes. What if we used that concept to think about God’s grace toward us? Imagine that every week God has allotted to us a certain number of grace units, call them graceos, which we then decide how to use.

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.

Andrew's Story

I just wanted to make you aware that my testimony is now available here along with instructions for how to write your own. This is something I really encourage you to do so you know how to tell your own story to other people. Enjoy.

TOD 12.18.07

“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.

TOD 12.17.07

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.

TOD 12.14.07

I see God everywhere. Not in the sense that I see godliness everywhere, but in the sense that everywhere I look I see amazing things that proclaim God to me. Even just praying on my balcony, I see trees and grass and clouds and hummingbirds, and I always think the same thing. God is a great engineer. At best we are second rate critics who can understand how these things work, but no one ever yet built himself a tree or a bird from scratch.

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?

TOD 12.13.07

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.

TOD 12.12.07

We recently discussed the problem of how to respond when you receive a bad Christmas gift. Of course, most people are inclined to say that the polite thing to do is to lie by smiling and saying, “Thank you.” But why? Obviously, one part is that we don’t want to hurt the feelings of the one who has given the bad gift.

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.

TOD 12.11.07

I chose to have an uncomfortable conversation on Sunday when I went to drop our toddler off at the nursery. When I arrived, there was only one teenager whom I barely know watching just one other child besides my own. I stayed for a few minutes and then decided to take him back to the service with me, which turned out fine. But because I didn’t want to give the girl the wrong impression, I felt I should explain why I wasn’t leaving him.

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.

TOD 12.10.07

Imagine if you robbed your neighbor and then asked me to forgive your theft. Imagine if you were unfaithful to your wife and then asked me to forgive your adultery. Imagine if you assaulted a stranger and then asked me to forgive your violence. In each of these cases, you coming to ask me would be absurd, but it would be even more absurd of me to forgive you.

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.

TOD 12.07.07

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.

TOD 12.06.07

“Andrew, I have a dilemma. I know the Bible says we’re supposed to wait until marriage, but my fiancé says that since we’re going to get married eventually anyway we might as well go ahead.” Ah, yes. The very picture of a Christlike fiancé, sacrificing his own needs and desires for the good of his beloved out of devotion to God.

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.

TOD 12.05.07

Sometimes on my radio show I mention examples from the Middle East that help illustrate the perspective of radical Islam. I usually follow up such accounts by saying something like, “Us and them, us and them, you have to understand the difference between us and them.” To some, I suspect this sounds ridiculously unchristian and even warlike, but that’s not my purpose.

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?

TOD 12.04.07

Have you ever heard someone complain that Christmas is all about money and materialism? Although this can be true of some people, the person saying this probably doesn’t properly understand why we give Christmas gifts. At the first Christmas, the Magi gave Jesus gifts of incomparable worth, but it’s easy to miss what they were really saying to God in the process. “These are the most valuable things the world has to offer, and we eagerly part with them to honor the one Gift from You the world cannot match.”

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.

TOD 12.03.07

Celebrities don’t matter. The box office take of a recent movie doesn’t matter. Sports results don’t matter. And, if we’re honest about it, the vast majority of politics doesn’t matter either. Even if you disagree with this statement, you’d have to agree that your opinion about these things matters even less than the things themselves. So why talk about such stuff? Well, there are two benefits.

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.

TOD 11.30.07

At lunch yesterday I was talking with a friend about how quickly his mind works, and I told him that it would be more loving for him to slow down for other people and explain things more thoroughly to them. Since communication is about working with people rather than by ourselves, this is correct advice. But he pointed out something equally important in response.

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.

TOD 11.29.07

“All women are bad drivers.”
“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?

TOD 11.28.07

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.

TOD 11.27.07

“I disagree with what you’re saying, but I’d fight to the death for your right to say it.” To me, this has always been the heart of the American philosophy of freedom and tolerance. Unfortunately, I see a lot of people these days who seem more prone to saying, “I disagree with what you’re saying, but I’ll fight to the death to stop you from saying it.” Although I hope we all recognize this as tyranny rather than tolerance, I think there’s some merit in considering which freedoms we value enough to defend when people use them differently than we do.

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.

TOD 11.26.07

If someone came to you and claimed to be a really fast runner, how would you verify it? Would you measure the muscles and tendons in his legs? Would you study the aerodynamics of his head? Or would you just grab a stopwatch and go with him to the track?

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.

TOD 11.21.07

Although we never left our first-born, Spencer, with anyone else until he was over two, we’ve relaxed a bit with Ethan and allowed him to go into the nursery at our church most Sundays since he’s been one. However, this decision always depends upon whom is there that day. If we don’t know or don’t fully trust someone’s ability, we either stay in there with him or keep him with us. He’s our son, after all.

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.

TOD 11.20.07

Our 19-month-old loves to get into everything. Of course. He’s 19 months old. And one of his favorites is our entertainment center, with its glass doors and push-action magnets. So last night when he was again playing with them, I told him, “No,” and was about to intervene when he started to comply. He shut the door, but the only problem was that he had gotten his fingers stuck inside in the process.

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.

TOD 11.19.07

People sometimes have the funny idea that it’s wrong to evaluate someone based on his clothes. Yet the same person who’s indignant about judging on this basis is usually quite particular about which clothes he wears, viewing them as a very personal expression of his identity. The irony, of course, is that this is exactly what I’m using his clothes to do, identify his identity. And although clothing is an imperfect marker, it still quickly conveys a massive amount of information about a person. To some this seems shallow or presumptive, but, to me, it’s just being prudent.

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.

TOD 11.16.07

Pity and judgment seem like totally distinct reactions, but they’re much closer than we think. For instance, when I see someone in a restaurant being rude to a server who is slow bringing food, I judge him. In contrast, if I discovered that this same person had just been told that his mother had died, I might well have pity on him, knowing that his anger is really just grief in other clothing. I pity him just as I would an infant who cries for food because I recognize a situation that’s beyond his capacity to handle.

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.

TOD 11.15.07

Whose fault is it when I stub my toe on the Legos my children leave out in the middle of the floor? Whose fault is it when I bump my head on the cabinet corner of the incredibly poorly designed kitchen I’ve been using for the last two years? Whose fault is it when there’s construction on the only construction-free route to work I’ve discovered on a day when I’m already running late for a meeting?

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.

TOD 11.14.07

Immanuel Kant believed that ethics was about following certain rules and that the results were irrelevant. John Stuart Mill believed that the only rule was to get the best results. And most of the disputes in ethics can be reduced to an argument between these two views.

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.

TOD 11.13.07

When I was at church Sunday listening to a very engaging sermon, I happened to look down at my shirt and discover I had dribbled a little bit of coffee on it. Had it been a pattern or some color, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But, of course, it was white, now with a little unwanted dollop of brown. Recognizing that the sermon was more important than some silly shirt-stain, I decided to ignore it. But I couldn’t. It kept bothering and distracting me.

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.

TOD 11.12.07

The Chinese government recently gave us a scare when it was reported they would ban athletes from bringing Bibles into the Olympic village housing. It turns out to not be true, but we all immediately understood why the Chinese would have done it if they had: they don’t want Christian athletes sharing the Gospel with the others.

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.

TOD 11.08.07

Almost every morning, I grind fresh coffee for myself. Since the grinder makes an outrageously loud noise and the complexity of grinding extends to pushing down a button, I usually let one of the boys do it with me. When he was younger, this was Spencer’s task. And now that Ethan is old enough, I let him do it because it’s one of the few things he can help me with. But almost every time I offer it to Ethan, Spencer pleads with me to let him do it.

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.

TOD 11.08.07

In the last half century, the idea that the ultimate purpose of our lives is leisure and recreation has metastasized into a virtual axiom of the modern mindset. We see it when people declare they are “working for the weekend.” We see it in when people look past their current endeavors toward “retirement,” a mythical paradise of inactivity and whatever level of hedonism their 401k will permit. And, sadly, we see it in the Church as well.

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.

TOD 11.07.07

Some favorite expressions of people who wind up in Hell:
  • “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.”
No, saying these things won’t send you to hell, of course, but there will not be a shortage of people in hell who say these things. So then the only question is which one you want to fight with me about because you say it.

TOD 11.06.07

Words are like the clothing for ideas. So learning how to dress our ideas effectively starts with picking the right words and avoiding the wrong ones. And just as clothes have function and style, words have logical and emotional content. For instance, how should you respond when someone says, “Well, I don’t believe in discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation?”

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.

TOD 11.05.07

What would you say about a person who claims to love his wife but rarely spends recreational time with her? Or about a person who claims to have a heart for the poor but rarely donates anything to charity, or who claims to value education but rarely reads a book? What about a person who claims to value health but rarely exercises?

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.

TOD 11.02.07

Elizabeth writes, “I found some time to pray in my busy schedule and it occurred to me that I don't do that nearly enough, especially with [some major events coming up in my life]. There simply aren't enough hours in the day. The first of God's worshipers offered sacrifices of fatted calves and grains, the best of what they had, that on which they lived, that which was most important to them. I could be mistaken, but isn't this the origins of tithing?

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.

TOD 11.01.07

Driving 5-10 miles-per-hour over the limit is a lot like premarital sex, by which I mean sex between two people in an exclusive relationship who hope one day to marry. Both behaviors seem like they are honoring a principle or rule. But in reality they are just violating it in a similar-seeming enough way that the doer can deceive himself into thinking that he’s not just making up the rules himself. “Well, at least it’s not as bad as what I could be doing. Besides, everybody else does it.”

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.

TOD 10.31.07

“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” This Biblical idea states the profound truth that our real selves are the ones on the inside. But there’s also a misunderstanding here. Many people wrongly believe that defending their beliefs is necessary because it’s a matter of defending their identity. But just as our characters are always improving, we need to view our beliefs as works in progress also.

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.

TOD 10.30.07

David Horowitz is a libertarian and advocate of academic freedom, and, last week he was a speaker at the Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week put on by the College Republicans at Emory University. When he took the stage, another group of students stood up, turned their backs, and began chanting for him to leave, calling him a racist and a sexist. Eventually, he left the stage, and the speech was cancelled.

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.

TOD 10.29.07

We tend to see what we have already seen. Put another way, we tend to see what fits best with what we already believe. It’s a phenomenon psychologists call “theory-laden perception,” and all it means is that we tend to interpret new data in the way that best fits with our commitment to our previous interpretations of old data. As one person explained, “People, not eyes, see.”

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.

TOD 10.26.07

Bumper stickers I’d love to see on somebody else’s car, but probably wouldn’t have the guts to put on my own:
  • 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.

TOD 10.25.07

It’s easy to forget that our children are people, too. We correct them. We discipline them. We decide what they eat. We even decide what they wear. Thus it’s easy to miss opportunities to see them as people who deserve respect and dignity. For instance, my son has recently started doing the dishes. And, no, at 3 years old, I would not describe him as a skilled dishwasher.

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.

TOD 10.24.07

“I may be wrong.” This is about the closest thing to a mantra I have. I don’t expect to be wrong. I don’t assume I’m wrong. And I don’t proceed as if I am wrong. But I always force myself to remember I may be wrong, and this cautionary undertone in my thinking yields many benefits.

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.

TOD 10.23.07

We all love to hate spoiled rich kids. Whether it’s secret envy at their privilege or shock at their lack of awareness of the material struggles most people endure, we really enjoy disliking them. Surely one of the biggest causes for despising them is their utter lack of appreciation for what they have been given. We can stand people being given much more than what we have had to earn.

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.

TOD 10.22.07

Being a father myself, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of God as a parent. And the thought that’s been bothering me is that I love my son more than the Father loves His. See, I keep thinking about the Father telling Jesus to go to the Cross and then watching as He was crucified.

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.

TOD 10.19.07

“Whoever shouts the loudest wins.” We could easily forgive an alien from outer space for thinking this is our cultural criterion for victory. So, is it true? No. And, sadly, many Christians don’t comprehend this. It’s a very human impulse to think that bluster is strength. My martial arts teacher even had a name for it: the big fish, little fish technique. If you can demonstrate bigness, your enemy will run away.

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.

TOD 10.18.07

“I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.” We’ve all heard this hundreds of times. But I’ve got to be honest. I have no idea what it means.

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.

TOD 10.17.07

Christians often get into vigorous debates over the importance of doing things in our salvation. Some say that “works” are unnecessary because salvation is entirely by grace whereas other say that they are essential because real saving faith cannot help but produce fruit. I say we’re being too humanistic in our thinking, by which I mean that we’re thinking about this too much from our own human point of view. Consider marriage.

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.

TOD 10.16.07

Imagine that you’re a new Christian and you’ve been going to your church for about a year, but the church was around for a few years before you came along. Next, imagine that you have a spectacularly good pastor who is faithful and doctrinally sound, even doing amazing things. But then some out-of- town pastor comes to your church and he starts scolding your pastor for something he does, not just privately, but publicly and in very confrontational tones.

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.

TOD 10.15.07

Have you ever caught yourself being more proud of your actions than you really should be? Oh, sure, me neither. Like the other day I was driving down Bethany Home toward a stop light, and I saw that a car was wanting to pull out into traffic from the McDonalds. So naturally I stopped a little bit short to give him room to do so.

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.

TOD 10.12.07

I love bumper stickers because they are so much fun to unpack and think about. For example, I recently saw one I’ve seen many times before. It said, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” But why is it so important to “make history?” If she means being known by historians, well, I prefer to trust God with the judgment of my importance rather than history professors. Furthermore, why would a woman care so much about getting the approval of mostly male historians?

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.

TOD 10.11.07

Last night on the show, we talked about the propriety of Christians being sports fans. We drew the conclusion that sport is good so long as we keep in mind that it is not the most important thing. It’s fine to be enthusiastic about your team, as long as you keep in mind that we are to love all people and to glorify God in all things.

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.

TOD 10.10.07

How much of our obedience to God is mandatory, and how much of it is optional? Of course this sounds like a trick question, but in fact it’s a question which simply reveals the trick most of us play on ourselves when thinking about obedience to God.

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.

TOD 10.09.07

In most marriages, there are times when people don’t really feel like they are one flesh together. It’s not this way at the start, when both spouses are so caught up in the joy of each other that they forget about being separate. But somewhere down the line, their craving to be together diminishes and they remember their own desires and views.

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.

TOD 10.04.07

I saw a bumper sticker today which made me chortle. It read, “Only you can protect your marriage. Vote no on the marriage amendment.” The reason I laughed was because it was such very well-phrased nonsense. The reason I stopped laughing was because I recognized it was meant seriously.

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.

TOD 10.03.07

I recently had the opportunity to be selected for jury service. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t picked, but, in the process, I experienced a sensation of great reverence for the legal system. Having seen many courtroom dramas enacted on television, I’ve been an imaginary juror for serious crimes hundreds of times. But sitting there observing a real trial for a simple misdemeanor, I found myself pondering the deep gravity of deciding to take away another person’s liberty.

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.

TOD 10.02.07

Ability produces success. Success leads to pride. Pride causes arrogance. Arrogance encourages judgment. And judgment is a form of hatred, hatred for those who were not blessed with my ability. Thus, the very gift of God to me can become my way of despising those who were not given my gifts.

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.

TOD 10.01.07

Relativism is the idea that morality is relative to the individual or the community rather than being fixed for all people at all times. This has long been the view in American academia, but in recent years it has also become the default setting for Americans in general, whether they realize it or not.

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.

TOD 09.28.07

I’ve been married for ten years, and sometimes my wife and I, having two different brains as we do, don’t always agree. I suspect we are not alone in this. When spouses disagree, there are essentially four options. The first is to quit on the relationship and get divorced. Not such a great option. The second is to fight to win by vanquishing the other. Of course, sometimes wars yield no winners at all, and, if practiced often, this approach can easily lead to option one.

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?

TOD 09.27.07

Imagine that you and your son are traveling by ship to a vacation in the Bahamas. On the way, a great and dangerous storm arises and everyone is instructed to stay indoors for their safety. Disregarding the instruction, one of the passengers goes out for a look and is swept overboard by a wave. You and your son rush outside and can just barely see the woman about to drown. You aren't much of a swimmer, but your son is a very good one. So you ask him if he can go rescue her.

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.

TOD 09.26.07

There are many ways God communicates to us, but there are also many ways people are mistaken in thinking that God communicates. For instance, the most common response to tragedy is to wonder why it happened. In trying to find meaning in the loss, many people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Since the next logical step is to try to discern that reason, people start asking, “What is God trying to teach me by this event?”

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.

TOD 09.25.07

Over the weekend, we were witnesses to a horrendous accident in which someone died. As a result, there was a massive traffic back-up, and we observed a wide range of responses. Some people wanted to be helpful and organize the mess. Some wanted to just know what was going on. Some were rude, and some were downright selfish.

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.

TOD 09.24.07

I find it fascinating just how many ways there are for people make themselves look bad unintentionally. For instance, I’ve always found it amazing that people go around complaining about their spouses to others. My question for them is always the same. “Wow, what idiot chose to marry a worthless person like that? I mean, geez, if a person’s a mess, that’s just who they are. But for someone else to actually choose to marry someone who’s such a mess. That’s really bad.” I get punched a lot less often than you might expect.

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.

TOD 09.21.07

I was recently listening to the Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, whose stories I love. He was telling one about a bartender explaining to another woman that getting cancer was great for her because it forced her to change her life and start doing what she’d always wanted to do. This seemed to help the other woman, who worried she had cancer, but it really made me think about the advice and the situation.

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.

TOD 09.20.07

Every night my wife and I take our two sons for a walk. Ethan rides in the stroller while Spencer usually rides his bike, and the rules for him are simple. He must stay close to us, and he must stop whenever he sees the headlights of a car. In the beginning, we had to remind him repeatedly, but now he’s internalized the rule and, with his excellent vision, often sees cars far away before we do. In fact, like most children, he has become quite proud of his ability to follow this rule vigilantly.

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.

TOD 09.19.07

Imagine for a moment that you and your son are in a South American jungle fleeing from a band of guerillas with some villagers. Obviously, stealth is a key part of your escape strategy. Your young son has been quiet as a mouse, obeying everything you’ve told him, but one of the adult men in the group hasn’t really been taking the danger seriously. He’s been making noise and leaving bits of trash that put the whole group at risk.

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.

TOD 09.18.07

At Nathan’s annual hot dog eating contest in New York, guys (and some gals) from around the world try to force as many hot dogs into their mouths as possible, sometimes exceeding 60 in just 12 minutes. It’s simultaneously amazing and repulsive.

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.

TOD 09.17.07

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I love the Golden Rule, but does it always work? No. See, only people who already has a pretty good grasp on what is and is not good are qualified to perform the question. People with corrupt desires want others to do wicked things to them, just as they also want others to avoid doing some things unto them that would be good for them simply because they don’t recognize them as good.

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.

TOD 09.14.07

Anger is a very instructive emotional response. One common source of anger is being caught off guard by criticism for something we do or believe that we discover we don’t really know how to defend. We try to cover this embarrassment with anger, mistakenly thinking that this portrays strength when it really shows weakness.

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.

TOD 09.13.07

The other day I visited Fry’s Electronics for the second time ever. Wow! I felt so overwhelmed and lost that I almost asked a salesperson to page me…for me. As I was checking out, I noticed that the hand-held scanner the clerk was using didn’t work very well, so I quipped, “Ironic for an electronics store, huh?” No smile.

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.”

TOD 09.12.07

I was recently chastised by a loyal listener for asking poorly framed questions on my show. He said that I’ll ask a question such as “Is it immoral to drop by without calling first?” which invites a “Yes” or “No” answer when in fact there are too many variables to answer it so simplistically. Of course he’s right, but he missed the point.

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.”

TOD 09.11.07

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach recently commented that America is not a sex-filled society, but a porn-filled society. “The two are very different,” he said. “Sex is about intimacy. It’s about vulnerability. It’s about connection. Porn is about objectification. It’s about making people into commodities. Why do we do this? Because America is the money-obsessed culture. Everything has to be an object. We have to own it. We have to possess it.”

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.

TOD 09.10.07

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” With this famous line, Shakespeare flung open a truly significant window on human language. As my father often said to me, you can tell a lot about people by what they bother denying. See, if something isn’t really a concern, you don’t respond to it. But when you vehemently deny something, it’s usually evidence of insecurity or uncertainty being vigorously covered over.

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.

TOD 09.07.07

My wife has recently become strongly attached, note I did not say “addicted,” to watching television shows about flipping houses and remodeling, something she’s always wanted to try. One of her favorites is about these people who take $2000 and use it to spruce up houses and prepare them for being on the market. They call the process “staging,” and it can easily mean the difference between selling a house in 6 days or 6 months.

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.

TOD 09.06.07

Have you ever wished that people were just a little bit more consistent? I mean, if you’re going to drive fast, drive fast. If you’re going to drive slow, drive slow. Stop changing speeds! If you’re going to be interesting, be interesting all the time. If you’re going to be boring, don’t raise my expectations falsely with occasional flashes of comedy or insight.

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.

TOD 09.04.07

The other day I was walking between some cars at a strip mall, and I stepped out in front of a bicyclist without looking. He wasn’t all that close, and so I quickly crossed to get out of his way and apologized. He said nothing, which immediately made me think that I hadn’t really done anything wrong. But neither had he. Truly, neither of us was at fault, but only I apologized.

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.