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.