Thought of the Day 01.01.08

Imagine that you are a majestic pine tree, and one day the forest ranger posts a notice in the grove which reads:

“From henceforth,
Thou shalt not grow green needles, but thou shalt grow leaves which change color and fall off in winter.
Thou shalt not grow thine branches in the shape of a triangle, but thou shalt grow them in the shape of a circle.
Thine fruit shalt not be brown, hard, and bitter, but shalt be red, soft, and sweet.
All who do not obey shalt be hewn down and thrown into the fire.”

Assuming you want to avoid the fire, there’s a problem. Pine trees simply can’t obey these rules. And only by a miraculous intervention which grafts an apple tree into their wood so that it grows inside them and replaces everything about their current nature, can they ever become the apple trees which cannot fail to obey them.

This, in short, is the message of the Bible. And I don’t know which is more tragic: pine trees struggling to obey the rules…or apple trees encouraging them to just try harder.

Thought of the Day 12.31.08

In the movie, The Dark Knight, The Joker preaches one of the most essentially Christian sermons I’ve ever heard when he says, “I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.” By this, he means that the difference between him and everyone else is merely one of degree, not of kind.

See, the citizen thinks the criminal is scandalous for not cherishing family and our fellow man enough. The criminal, in turn, thinks the Joker is scandalous for not cherishing money and power enough, in fact cherishing nothing at all. But the real scandal is the failure of anyone to Cherish God enough, since only He has absolute worth. In other words, it really doesn’t matter what you love if you don’t first love God completely. At least The Joker comes closest to grasping this truth when he proclaims, “everything burns.”

Thus, Alfred is only half-right when he tells Batman that “some men just want to watch the world burn.” The deeper problem is that until God becomes our primary love, we are all such men, a fact made all the more tragic because we refuse to realize it.

Thought of the Day 12.30.08

As the new year approaches, some people have hope and confidence, whereas others have fear and anxiety. What they have in common, however, is arrogance and pride.

See, the worried people are essentially saying they know what’s going to happen and they don’t have faith in their own ability to handle things or improve them. At bottom, they are self-reliant, but the fear that they won’t be adequate self-saviors distresses them.

Yet the calm people are essentially saying they know what’s going to happen and have they do have faith in their own ability to handle things or improve them. At bottom, they, too, are self-reliant, and the confidence that they will be adequate self-saviors comforts them.

But the humble man accepts that only God knows what will happen and that only God has the power to handle it. Thus, his peace grows from putting faith in God rather than in himself as he simply trusts that the only truly capable Savior will save him through whatever happens.

Thought of the Day 12.29.08

“You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it.”

Are you sure?

Though I’ve even said this myself, I’m recently wondering how true it is. What if our responses are no more within our control than the circumstances themselves?

Imagine a person born into wealth and fame with natural good looks and intelligence having the audacity to preach to people that they can have all the same by just working hard at it. We would guffaw at someone trying to present such good fortune as personal merit.

But what if our ability to respond well to adversity and offense is largely the result of a variety of things beyond our control, just like circumstances? Aren’t those of us who then promote this as a skill essentially bragging about beauty we didn’t really earn?

After all, telling a miserable person that his misery is his fault is quite cruel if your ability to choose happiness was basically an unearned gift from God.

Thought of the Day 12.26.08

A conversation between a Christian and a modern man.

Modern man: It’s very narrow-minded of you to say your religion is better than someone else’s.
Christian: Why is that?
Modern man: Because you’re insulting and disrespecting his capacity to know things for himself.
Christian: So, saying I’m right and someone’s wrong is disrespectful?
Modern man: Precisely. And it’s a form of oppression since you’re just trying to dominate him into being just like you.
Christian: Oh, dear. That is serious. But you telling me that I’m wrong for telling him he’s wrong is actually a service that prevents me from being disrespectful and oppressive?
Modern man: Now you’re starting to see the light.
Christian: So anybody who tells anyone else they’re wrong is wrong, unless they’re you…
Modern man: Um….
Christian: Because, unlike me, you aren’t trying to coerce me into believing what you believe and you aren’t disrespecting my capacity to figure things out for myself…
Modern man: Um….
Christian: In other words, it’s okay to have a narrow-minded view of religion, just so long as it’s your narrow-minded view which holds that no religion is better than any other.
Modern man: Um…, I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Thought of the Day 12.24.08

In Luke 13, Jesus heals a woman who had been horribly sick for 18 years, but the synagogue official is upset that He did this on the Sabbath. He challenges Jesus about this impropriety, arguing that she could have come for healing any of the other six days of the week.

But Jesus, wanting to get at the man’s heart disorder, exposes his hypocrisy by noting that he will untie his own donkey and lead him to water on the Sabbath. The point is obvious: he cares more about the minor needs of his donkey than he does about the major needs of his fellow human beings.

But if we’re honest, most of us are no different than this man. We would eagerly help a wounded or stray dog that we saw suffering, but we turn a blind eye to the hundreds of wounded or stray people that suffer around us every day. And though we rightly cherish God’s forgiveness for such negligence, real gratitude for that Grace would impel us to start sharing more of ourselves with His other children.

Thought of the Day 12.23.08

The Bible teaches us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:23) But why does Paul use the singular “fruit” rather than the plural “fruits” to label this? I think I know why.

See, most of us read that passage and perhaps we think of a single tree producing nine different kinds of fruit, sometimes being patient, sometimes being joyful. But Paul is using a nature metaphor, and this just isn’t how things work. A tree only yields one sort of fruit, and a given seed will always produce that fruit.

Honoring the grammar, then, we must say that when the Spirit grows, It produces a single fruit with all nine of these characteristics. And just as an apple without skin isn’t really an apple and an orange without segments isn’t really an orange, we must realize that a person with anything less than all nine flavors of the Spirit isn’t really a Christian, just a fruit impostor.

Thought of the Day 12.22.08

Different colors of thread strewn on top of each other is not the same as a tapestry.

Thousands of bits of metal and rubber pushed together is not the same as an automobile.

Ink dripped on a canvas is not the same as a painting.

Hundreds of people milling about is not the same as an army.

A big pile of rocks is not the same as a castle.

And, no matter how many times we have internalized the notion, millions of prospering individuals is not the same as a healthy society.

All functionally complicated entities require both the ingenuity of a skilled designer and the compliant integration of the materials being used in the artwork.

Thus, once we realize that God is interested in creating something so ultimately integrated out of the pieces of this world, we are compelled to stop and ask how we could have ever thought that simply taking care of ourselves would be a serious contribution to His finished vision.

Thought of the Day 12.18.08

Have you ever wondered why you have trouble giving to charity? The problem may not be a lack of compassion. It may be that you have the wrong job.

See, when your occupation isn’t your real calling, you’re essentially selling your life to a cause you can’t affirm. And when you do a worthless thing for money, it’s very natural to think that the universe still owes you a certain amount of satisfaction which you then try to get through purchasing good and services…not a very wise plan. Of course giving your treasure away seems absurd since you had to endure such misery to get it.

It’s so different when you believe in your work. Regardless of income, you receive satisfaction from the simple doing of the work. Thus, having already been partially rewarded, you don’t depend so heavily on the money to satisfy you, and you can more easily part with some of it to bless others.

Find a job you believe in more, and you may find it easier to believe in money less.

Thought of the Day 12.17.08

My son, Spencer, plays basketball in a kids league, but he’s not strong enough to shoot the ball the regular way. The low basket is still too high for him, even when he pushes properly with his legs. When he does it underhand, however, he’s actually pretty good. So the other day I told him to just do that in the game. He responded that the coaches don’t want him doing it that way, and I told him not to worry about that and just do what works.

See, I know what the coach has in mind. He wants Spencer to learn sound fundamentals so that he’ll be good in three or four years. But knowing my son as I do, I want him to enjoy playing enough to stay playing that long. So when he finally had a granny-style shot that almost went in the other day, he was so excited…excited enough to keep playing.

Parenting, as a kind of leadership, isn’t always so much about having the right values as it is about knowing which values matter the most right now.

Thought of the Day 12.16.08

Nietzsche observed that people often wrongly think they understand a thing merely because they have a label for it. For instance, if I ask the average Christian, “Who owns your money?” he’ll say, “God owns it. I’m just a steward.” But what’s a steward? When was the last time you saw one? So maybe we should try a more familiar metaphor.

Consider investment account managers. They handle a lot of money, doing on behalf of the investors whatever they instruct, whether that purpose is profit, charity, community development or anything else.

Now if they manage really well, their accounts will grow and they will be personally rewarded to some degree. But there is one simple concept that all money managers understand: the money is not their own. And there is a word for people who forget this fact: embezzlers.

So the question becomes quite simple. Are you being a good money manager for God, getting everything done with His money that He wants done? Or are you embezzling from Him to fund your own desires?

Thought of the Day 12.15.08

At this time of year, some Christians wonder whether to promote Santa Claus, and my view is that we should not. Not because Santa is a sort of deity that kids petition with their requests and then try to appease with their good deeds. That’s a problem, but there’s something much more fundamental here.

Children are born without a clear template for God, so they must learn Who He Is. But given the early exposure and the lovability of Santa, I worry that children will long find their picture of God tainted by this being who is everything a man-made god would be: predictable, safe, jolly, plump, and cuddly. Like a bearded, gift-giving Buddha.

But the real God is terrifying, fierce, mysterious, and extremely unlike Santa in so many ways. We have a whole generation of people following prosperity preachers whose god looks much more like Santa than he looks like the God of the Bible. Could their popularity be the long-term consequence of emphasizing Santa at Christmas?

Thought of the Day 12.12.08

About fifteen years ago, when I started really using the Internet, I found a free email service and used it as my primary account until I came to Phoenix and switched daily use to my KPXQ email. But the old one still had a voluminous amount of information in it.

Then a couple of years ago, something awful happened. I went to open my old account and couldn’t. I tried contacting customer service, but all they could tell me was that they had closed the email division and there was no way to recover the data. I was livid…devastated…and disgusted. But what could I do?

I hadn’t thought about this tragedy in years until this morning I happened to notice the old link still in “my favorites,” and that’s when it hit me. My life wasn’t one little bit worse for having lost all of that information, but I would have fought tooth and nail to preserve the burden of it.

Sometimes the only way to receive the blessing of losing the things you don’t really need is to have them ripped out of your cold, dead-works fingers.

Thought of the Day 12.11.08

This week the Governor of Illinois was arrested for trying to sell President-Elect Barack Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder, even threatening to name himself to it if no one offered enough money.

Having lived in Illinois for most of my adult life, I know Rod Blagojevich pretty well. He is an Eastern Orthodox Serb, an avid Cubs fan, and a former Golden Gloves boxer. He served three terms in the US House (succeeded by Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel), and he was the first Democratic Governor of Illinois in 30 years, elected largely on his pledge to end the corruption in state government. But as the current news reveals, on the inside he’s a foul-mouthed scoundrel blinded by power.

So why would God allow such a miscreant to rise to such a position of power? I suspect His motive is love. Perhaps God gave him the office knowing it’s temptations would destroy him…a destruction which might be the only possible way to give him the humility which might lead his soul to repentance and faith.

Thought of the Day 12.10.08

If people are like gardens, there are basically three views of the human being:

In the first view, people’s gardens naturally grow only good fruit. Weeds come from corrupting outside influences, which can be stopped by properly structuring society.

In the second view, people’s gardens naturally grow both fruit and weeds, and people need to be trained how to properly cultivate their own gardens.

In the third view, people’s gardens naturally grow only different varieties of weeds, and the seeds for fruit must come from somewhere else.

Each view has Christian advocates, but if the first or second view is correct, then people don’t need a Savior, just better social structures or life skills. Only if the third view is correct does Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross make sense, because it brought an entirely new kind of plant life into this world.

Thought of the Day 12.09.08

If a man works 70 hours a week to the neglect of his family and his health, there are many ways you might diagnose his disorder, but the correct label would be idolatry. Only someone who is deriving his very sense of self through the worship of his occupation could degrade himself this way.

In contrast, if a man merely attends his job for 40 hours a week and spends much of that time doing unrelated personal tasks, the correct label would again be idolatry. In this case, the idol is hidden from view, but only someone who is deriving his identity through the worship of something other than God could degrade himself this way.

See, when we are devoted to God and have experienced His Grace, we learn that everything in life becomes an act of worshipping Him, including work, marriage, parenting, charity, sport, and even leisure. And we do them all in joyous zeal, but within the limits set by the need to faithfully worship Him in all the other areas as well.

Thought of the Day 12.08.08

Sometimes achieving the most desirable results takes a little preparation. For example, my sons are both different in the way they respond to me when I come home from work every night. Spencer likes to play hide and seek, which eventually leads to a hug and a kiss, which is nice. But Ethan has a different approach. He likes to tackle me.

Even though Ethan was never particularly affectionate in his first year or two, he is now extremely cuddly and always wants someone to hold him. And when I come home from work, he rushes me and tries to jump into my arms. But I was usually burdened with things I was carrying in from the car like my bag, travel mug, lunch sack, or the mail.

I could have seen this as an annoyance to me getting my items into the house and tried to get him to be less exuberant. But at what cost? Instead, I started deliberately leaving everything in the car on my first entry so that I would be free to fully receive his loving assault. Full-on toddler hugs are far more valuable than an extra trip to the garage.

Thought of the Day 12.05.08

Will being poor keep you out of heaven? No. But being wealthy might, and being stingy almost certainly will.

Will being lonely keep you out of heaven? No. But being popular might, and shunning people almost certainly will.

Will being ugly keep you out of heaven? No. But being beautiful might, and withholding validation from others almost certainly will.

Will being powerless keep you out of heaven? No. But being powerful might, and working to maintain your power at the expense of others almost certainly will.

When Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, He isn’t primarily talking about money. Certainly money is included, but the broader implication is that the biggest barrier to entering heaven is having too many of the things this world values and not having enough of the things God values.

Thought of the Day 12.04.08

Imagine that you are enrolled in a class in which you expect to do quite well, but on the first test you score 5 out of 100. Shocked, you apply yourself even more diligently, but on the second test you score only a 3. Nevertheless, you go back to work, cramming and redoubling your efforts, but you score only 1 point on your third exam.

Flustered and baffled, you finally go to the teacher for some help. He asks if you understand why your answers were wrong, and you say, “Yes, I always see the mistake after you grade it, but I seem unable to get the right answers beforehand. Can you please help me?” He looks at you patiently and shares one little insight that suddenly makes everything in the class make sense.

On the next test, you score a 98, but then you realize something. Everyone else in the class is still scoring in the single digits. Here’s the question: Would you share his insight with everyone else as freely as he shared it with you, and would you give him the credit for your success?

Thought of the Day 12.03.08

This morning, in response to Ethan’s screams of anger, I discovered Spencer messing up a puzzle Ethan was solving. So I reminded Spencer that Jesus wants us to treat others like we want them to treat us and asked him what he thought that would mean. He admitted it would mean being nicer to Ethan, and I returned to cooking breakfast.

A few minutes later Ethan came wandering into the kitchen, cozied up to my legs and told me, “Ethan want be like Jesus.” It was such a touching moment until he added, “Spencer not like Jesus.” Well, Spencer had been overhearing this and began insisting, “Spencer’s more like Jesus,” which made Ethan say, “No. Ethan more like Jesus.”

Although a large part of me was thrilled that they were competing to imitate the Savior, I was distraught that they were turning this goal into a competition, meaning that they were not doing it for the glory of Jesus at all, but for the glory of themselves. And how so thoroughly without glory such forgeries always are.

Thought of the Day 12.02.08

There are two basic errors people make in their thinking about the things of this world such as pleasure, material possessions, and other people.

The first is the Eastern religious error of thinking the world is bad and we should detach ourselves from it. This leads to asceticism, thus denying the basic human need for objects of devotion.

The second is the Western secular error of thinking that the world is good and we should unashamedly indulge ourselves in it. This leads to hedonism, thus devoting people to the wrong things.

So does the good life require denying the body or satisfying the body? Well, Christianity teaches us the good life flows from loving God above everything, which then frees us to enjoy these other things to the proper degree. Having them is nice, but lacking them doesn’t destroy us.

When we love God that much, we can be satisfied no matter what else we do not have because we always have in our possession the one thing we most want.

Thought of the Day 12.01.08

If your favorite outfit gets ruined, you feel some pain. If your favorite television show gets cancelled, you grieve a bit. If your pet runs away, you cry. If your business implodes, you hurt deeply. If your parent passes away, you weep. And if your spouse or children are killed, you feel an unbearable ache. The more deeply attached to something you are, the greater you suffer its loss.

Now try to imagine the sort of intimacy that must have existed between Jesus and the Father if a mere three hours of separation on the Cross caused Jesus enough anguish to pay off the debt which otherwise would have required billions of people to suffer total disintegration throughout all of eternity.

It’s not that Jesus died for us that is impressive. It’s that He endured such unimaginable spiritual torture for us which is truly awe-inspiring. And that He loves us enough to consider that a bargain.

Thought of the Day 11.26.08

I have a rather unusual question for you. Consider any sinful person that you happen to know personally. Now imagine that you have to make a choice between seeing that person give up his wicked ways, clean up his life, and become moral but not know Christ or else seeing him come to Jesus but remain an immoral reprobate. Which would you prefer?

Of course the right answer is obvious to all real Christians, even those who are inclined to dispute the question’s validity. But the point here is not which answer to the question is correct, but rather how quickly it took you to arrive at it.

If you hesitated even momentarily after hearing and comprehending the options, that is substantial evidence that you are still in the clutches of hellish moralism and have not yet fully digested the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Satan doesn’t particularly like you preaching morality. But he only bothers to actually oppose you when you preach the Gospel.

Thought of the Day 11.25.08

As a former teacher, I despise “default-A” grading, the idea that every student starts with a perfect score and mistakes his way down to a final grade. It always seemed absurd that a student deserved an A unless shown otherwise merely because he signed up for a class. Instead, I believe he begins with a zero and earns his way up, not being entitled to anything.

Default-A thinking also shows up in people’s ideas about sin, making them believe they naturally satisfy God until they violate a rule. But a life lived without violations is still a life lived without merit. And if you could have ever done more good things in your life than you did, then that means you haven’t scored 100 in a course where the only passing grade is perfection. Hence, you need a Savior.

Jesus wasn’t just the only Person in history to do no wrong. He was also the only Person in history to do enough good to fully satisfy God’s grading system.

Thought of the Day 11.24.08

I have a friend who is going through an extremely difficult time right now because his wife is essentially abandoning him and their children. When I was talking with him recently, he told me that the hardest part about all of this is that he wants to hate her, but he can’t. He still loves her, and it kills him that he has to admit this to himself.

But this isn’t a defect. It’s a virtue. To have been married to another person for so long and to have had his hopes invested in her and to have found meaning and pleasure in a future shared with her, it would in fact have been a real statement about him lacking normal Christian virtue if he didn’t still love her. In fact, it is just such a lack which is the indictment against her.

The fact that it hurts when people betray us is a sign of goodness in us, not a problem. The fact that it hurts to move to another town is something to cherish for it indicates the loss of close relationship. And to be incapable of hating a woman who has devastated you this way is something to be proud of, not something to hide.

Thought of the Day 11.21.08

The passage of Prop 8 in California has sparked what no one is yet calling a sex war in this country. Demonstrations, fake Anthrax mailings, threats, assaults, invasions of churches, mob scenes, defacing of property, and even blacklisting are all realities in the last week. It’s really quite something. So how should Christians respond?

It’s not an easy question to answer. But we should start by remembering that Christianity must never be confused with traditional values-ism. Christians do not believe that people need to do better. We believe that people need a Savior who will lead them to do better. They need redemption, not moral improvement. And the real task of the Church is to draw people to Christ, not to convince them to clean up their act, since no act will ever be clean enough.

So we live with this awful tension between being Christians who want to draw the lost to Christ and being citizens who want to protect our culture from evil. At the very least we must be sure that our response grows prayerfully from the truth of both principles.

Thought of the Day 11.20.08

In Acts 5, Gamaliel warns the Jewish Council not to oppose the apostles. If the project is from God, they won’t be able to stop it, and if it isn’t from God, it will fail on its own anyway. He advocates a sort of pacifism toward perceived heresy, but is this God’s advice?

We needn’t wonder, for the Bible also tells about the great Tower at Babel, a project which would have succeeded if God hadn’t thwarted it Himself, and of course the New Testament was written during the glory days of the pagan Roman Empire. In contrast, we have the numerous failures of God’s messengers throughout history.

You see, Gamaliel made a category mistake. Though it’s true that God’s plans succeed and all others fail, this is true only ultimately and in the end. In the meantime, many godly things die, and many ungodly things thrive. That’s why neither success nor failure is a reliable indicator of God’s Will.

Gamaliel was a man who rejected God’s Son, not a man who speaks God’s wisdom to us.

Thought of the Day 11.19.08

It’s useful to remember we live in a culture which is the byproduct of the Enlightenment. As such, we have an almost genetic prejudice to favor rational argument and respect for the free will of others, even if we botch these values regularly. And, just like any other bias, the trick to surviving this one is simply knowing it’s there.

For instance, the other day, I found myself engaged in all out warfare with my toddler. The issue was green beans. After several minutes and multiple theaters of combat, I managed to get him to chew and swallow one bean.

When he looked up at me, I knew victory was mine. I asked him whether he liked it, and, “Ethan like green bean,” was my wreath of triumph. He finished the rest of them on his own.

See, sometimes good parenting means total coercion so that the child experiences something he will love…a very non-Enlightenment principle whose constant use proves that God is a far better parent than we are.

Thought of the Day 11.18.08

Have you ever met someone who seemed to really have it all together? I mean someone who looked good, smelled good, dressed well, spoke clearly, had money, treated people with respect, and was a fabulous spouse and parent?

One thing you can know for sure is that the closer you get to this person, you’ll either start to see the cracks appear underneath all the spackle or else you’ll find yourself hindered from getting close enough to inspect them properly. See, nobody isn’t a mess, but some people are really good at playing the part. And they tend to group together in churches.

Because they think that Christians should look a certain way, they put on their best Christian paint, desperate to convince both you and themselves that they really have Jesus. But only idols look so perfect. Which is why visible flawedness is actually one of the most reliable hallmarks of genuine faith in Christ. And why if you ever find yourself in a church where the people seem to have no problems, you should run away…as fast as possibly you can.

Thought of the Day 11.17.08

Alright, I’ll come clean. I don’t like atheists. No, no, it’s true. I understand them, having been one, but I don’t really like them. They tire me because they’re always talking about a reality I’ve experienced as if it can’t possibly be so, and after awhile I grow weary of explaining to them that, yeah, air is real. But they aren’t the only ones.

I don’t really like Jewish people. I mean they know the Old Testament, which is nice. But they refuse to see that everything in that Old Testament is talking about Jesus, and this stubbornness annoys me.

Since we’re on the subject, I also don’t really like Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jainists, Baha’is, and even agnostics…basically everyone who’s not a Christian.

But here’s the thing. Jesus died for me when I rejected Him. So, if I dislike someone because he rejects Jesus, it would seem that I have basically inverted the Gospel…meaning I’m still not really a Christian yet, either.

Thought of the Day 11.14.08

It’s no oversimplification to say that there are basically three different and incompatible pathways to salvation.

Path 1: I am basically good, therefore I should do what I want. Salvation is created by being true to myself and following my own way. This is the idea behind relativism, modern liberalism, humanism, hedonism, and a host of other silly names.

Path 2: I am not good yet, but I am capable of being good if I try really hard. Salvation is earned by following the rules set forth by God. This is the idea behind every world religion other than Christianity, including many forms of heretical Christianity that have no idea they are heretical.

Path 3: I am not good, and I am incapable of being good. Salvation is received as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ, who alone was ever good enough to save me from myself. This is the Gospel.

So, three paths. Do what you want. Do what is right. Or have faith in Jesus. Which one are you really on? Only one of them leads where you want to go.

Thought of the Day 11.13.08

My sons, being people with taste buds, love candy. And in the aftermath of Halloween, Spencer has had the chance to refine his candy preferences to cherry Nerds, Whoppers, and Kit-Kats. Having depleted his Halloween haul of these delicacies, he requested that I bring some home for him.

So last night I got some at the store and gave them to him. The happiness on his face was beaming, and he kept saying, “Thank you, Daddy.” And even though he was clearly instructed that he would only get them after meals and in small amounts, his radiance was undimmed…until Ethan wanted to hold them. But Spencer didn’t want to share. And as is usually the case with two boys, escalation ensued.

A total gift received with gratitude ten minutes prior was viewed as an absolute private possession now. So I explained to him that half of a big gift is better than all of no gift at all, which he grudgingly accepted. It sure is weird how adults are so completely different from children.

Thought of the Day 11.12.08

Yesterday, I watched in disbelief as a driver passed me and a couple of cars on the right by misusing a turn lane in a construction zone. I was furious with him. But what rational basis could I possibly give for my anger?

He was a rule-breaker? He was selfish? He didn’t want to wait in line? It’s drivers like him who put us all in jeopardy? He stole from me? I might have had to brake? (I didn’t have to, by the way.) These are somewhat flimsy reasons to imagine the use of heat-seeking missiles.

So it had to be idolatry. Only the threat to an idol could produce such a response. And sure enough, there they were. I’m an aficionado of Tallman’s moral superiority bistro, where driving well and obeying social etiquette come with 14 grams of meaning and worth apiece. And seeing another person scoff at my delicacy infuriated me because what I fear the most is the possibility that I’m not really any better than they are just because I do these things this way.

As if I’m valuable only because Jesus loves me and not because I’m a responsible whatever. How can I feel superior because of that?

Thought of the Day 11.11.08

Anger is a powerful emotional response to a negative circumstance you care deeply about. But what’s the opposite of anger? This question recently generated a raging discussion on my radio show.

Peacefulness is the opposite in terms of not experiencing strong emotion. Ambivalence is the opposite in terms of not caring. Joy detaches from circumstance entirely and derives meaning from God. And happiness is really the opposite of sadness, not anger. Thus, finding a word that is the positive equivalent of anger’s negative proved rather elusive.

In the end, the best candidate is probably delight, the key being that you can be delighted with a person. The weird thing is how difficult it was to come up with a proper opposite to a concept we are all so easily aware of, a difficulty which indicates a cultural mindset unhealthily imbalanced toward familiarity with anger.

Perhaps if we practice cherishing delight at least as often as we cherish anger, this imbalance might subside.

Thought of the Day 11.10.08

Last week, in the delivery room, I experienced something very unusual: a total sense of helplessness. My wife was in pain, and, unlike the nurses who could comfort or instruct her, any such effort by me would earn words hissed in the tone of profanity. This I know from past experience. She wants me to stand there silently, not touching her. My penance, I suppose. And like a good husband during his wife’s labor, I do whatever she wants.

It made me ponder just how accustomed we Americans are to having control over everything. We rebel at any imposition upon our agenda, from box tops that don’t open properly to the indignation of actually having to wait for a gas pump. Impotence is incompatible with our national identity.

And yet, the irony is that this very sense of power, more than any other single factor, may be the river steadily eroding our faith. Eventually, God’s help becomes irrelevant to those who are so capable of helping themselves.

Thought of the Day 11.07.08

Days after the election of Barack Obama, many people are elated while others are depressed. I think that both sides are spectacularly misguided in their thinking.

I’ve known a lot of couples before they were married. When given the chance, I’ve tried to be honest with the fiancĂ©es about concerns, particularly if I thought they would actually listen. But I have always had a simple policy after a wedding: I support the marriage. No matter how opposed I was to the decision, it’s been made, and my only task afterward is to help the couple make it work. Anything else would be petty, immoral, and selfish.

What both sides in this election miss is that the victory belongs not to the winning candidate but to the entire country for having this process in the first place. We should celebrate a finished election, just as we should celebrate a finished marriage.

Whether he was our guy before, the President-elect is our guy now. And our job is the same as it always is: to make this country flourish under it’s legitimately elected leadership.

Thought of the Day 11.03.08

Christianity is as simple as this: you have to hate trees.

What on earth does that mean? It’s very simple. If I give you a choice between a tree and a human being, and I say you have to choose between them to save one, but not both, what do you do? Well, obviously you choose the human being because a person matters so much more than a tree. In essence, you love the human and you hate the tree.

This is what Jesus meant when He said that we have to hate our spouses and our friends and our brothers and our sisters and our parents compared to Him. Just as any human being is infinitely greater in value than any tree, so, too, God is infinitely greater in value than any human being.

That’s why the idea of choosing any human being or anything they have to offer, whether it’s their money or their opinion or anything about them, over God is as incomprehensible as the idea of choosing a tree over a human being.

So what is Christianity? The hatred of trees.

Thought of the Day 10.31.08

In the book of 2 Samuel, there is this famous story about how Absalom stages a coup d’etat against his father, King David. In the process, Absalom seeks the guidance of one of David’s wisest men, Ahithophel.

But David, learning of this development, sends his other friend, Hushai, secretly into the court to trick Absalom into rejecting Ahithophel’s counsel. This plot works, and Absalom follows Hushai’s advice. In response, Ahithophel does an amazing thing: he travels home, sets his house in order, and kills himself. (2 Samuel 17:23)

Like so many people, Ahithophel had based his identity on being wise, which meant being listened to. And as soon as his advice was ignored, he lost all sense of meaning in his life, and he was devastated. His wisdom and influence were his idols, and without them, he had nothing. If only he had rooted his identity in God instead of in the talents God gave him, he could have been spared this catastrophe.

Thought of the Day 10.30.08

This country is facing a major decision on election day, as it always does. But one of the things I keep hearing from conservatives is almost a terror at the prospect of Barack Obama getting elected. Although I share most of the concerns people have about this possibility, the prospect of his Presidency doesn’t cause me to be so worried.

See, it’s simple for me. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain is God. And if God sees fit to install someone as President who does ruinous things, well, perhaps God has some goal in mind I just don’t understand. Then again, it is logically possible that we conservatives could all just be wrong about what an Obama Presidency might do to this country.

When we see who God is, we become humble. When we see who God is, we gain peace. But peace that can be disturbed by a political outcome isn’t rooted in godly humility, but in the arrogance that we know better than God what the future should be.

Thought of the Day 10.29.08

I like to keep a microwave dinner in the office freezer, just in case. So, last week, when I went to retrieve my Salisbury steak “meal,” I discovered it missing. I was annoyed at first, but luckily I had eaten a late breakfast and wasn’t really all that hungry. But what could have happened to it? Well, it could have been thrown out by mistake. Or someone could have wrongly thought it was his own. Oh, well. I’m out a dollar.

Otherwise, someone knowingly stole it. But this makes me sad, not angry. First, I’m glad to know I fed him for a while. But what saddens me is to imagine either a thief has been emboldened to steal again or else a decent person has suffered fear and guilt over stealing and now probably feels estranged from me, unnecessarily.

If only he had asked, I gladly would have shared. And if only he would confess, I would gladly forgive. A relationship is far more important than some silly infraction. This lesson I learned from my Savior.

Thought of the Day 10.28.08

Have you ever seen someone so beautiful that you just stop and stare and almost can’t look away from them? Now imagine being surrounded by a hundred equally beautiful people. The face of Jesus looks like that.

Have you ever eaten something so delicious that you just closed your eyes and leaned back to savor the taste? Now imagine being fed morsel after morsel of such food from an entire buffet of delicacies. The presence of Jesus tastes like that.

Have you ever heard music whose purity of sound and perfection of composition were so penetrating that you almost cried with pleasure? Now imagine this concert lasting for days with every instrument of the world played to perfection. The voice of Jesus sounds like that.

Now try to imagine, if you can, all of these sensations overwhelming you simultaneously for all of eternity. When we say that nothing compares to knowing our Savior, we mean something like this.

Thought of the Day 10.27.08

“Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for God has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you,’ hence we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Despite frequently quoting this powerful passage of Divine assurance, I worry that many people who do reference it may have missed the main point. God is not promising to provide for us materially. Just the opposite. He is telling us to beware caring too much about such things lest they displace our total satisfaction with the one thing He does promise to always deliver: His Presence.

It’s not that we can’t suffer. It’s that when we realize what true suffering is and what it’s not, it will become impossible for any material circumstance (good or bad) to compare to the sumptuous feast of God being in our lives.

Thought of the Day 10.24.08

In Matthew 22, Jesus compares heaven to a wedding feast thrown by a wealthy king for his son and attended only by poor people. Shockingly, when the king finds one of them inappropriately dressed, he furiously has him thrown out of the hall.

In the past, this parable frightened me because it seemed to say that God’s final judgment would reject anyone who wasn’t wearing the appropriate works. But I recently realized a very different (and obvious) message.

The only way any of these destitute people could have been properly clothed was if they had been offered the king’s own robes. The rejected man was thrown out for having the audacity to refuse this lavish gift and stand there in his rags.

And once I saw that, at God’s feast, I get to wear the white wedding gown Jesus’s perfect life earned for me, this story stopped causing me to tremble in fear and inspired me to fall down and worship in overwhelmed gratitude.

Thought of the Day 10.23.08

“Would you like to come over to my house for a party?”

There are two thoughts most people have after hearing such a question, although politeness discourages asking them. What will be served, and who will be there? In other words, we’ll gladly come if we’re likely to have a good time.

But Christians often mistakenly treat this as some unworthy hedonistic impulse to be restrained rather than embracing it as a God-given desire of people made in His Image. The Creator makes no such mistake, which is why Jesus opens His ministry by rescuing a wedding celebration, repeatedly uses a feast to represent heaven, and finishes His ministry with a dinner party.

Rather than trying to squelch our bodily love for food, wine, and companionship, we should enjoy them for their own sake even as we anticipate the greater, truer food, wine, and companionship that these earthly pleasures point towards. Both in heaven and on Earth, Jesus loves a good party.

Thought of the Day 10.22.08

So far in my Christian life, I’ve found four different ways of inappropriately using God.

1. Following God as a way to be more wealthy and healthy, using Him for financial and medical benefits. This is sometimes called the prosperity gospel.
2. Following God to have a better marriage, using Him for relational benefits. This is sometimes called Christian counseling.
3. Following God to become more wise, using Him for intellectual benefits. This is sometimes called theology.
4. Following God to become more moral, using Him for character benefits. This is sometimes called Christianity…mistakenly.

Having tried these four (there may be others I’ve missed), I’m now beginning to really see that the purpose of following God is to get the benefit of having God. And if I only ever get that one precious benefit, I’ll spend eternity joyously counting my blessings on one finger.

Thought of the Day 10.21.08

In my experience, people usually believe wrong things because the full implications remain hidden, along with the contradictions. Usually, a good rephrasing will do the trick.

Here’s an example: “I don’t want to let this country be overrun by immoral people who deny basic American values.” Obviously, right?

Now try this: “I don’t want to spend my time with immoral people like adulterers, fornicators, and gays.” Still sounds almost wise, doesn’t it?

But rephrase it this way: “I can’t stand to be around people who are hostile to God and Christianity.” Uh-oh. Something has gone wrong here, since this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did.

See, Christ did not come to proclaim a moral code. He came to conduct a reclamation project that makes raising the Titanic look like a 6th grade science fair entry. This required Him to actively seek out people drenched in sin. And probably our biggest delusion is thinking that living in a ethical gated communities will ever properly embody that divine ministry.

Thought of the Day 10.20.08

Imagine that you have never seen a diamond before and I give you one. You’re amazed by it, right? But what if I then take you into a room filled with thousands of diamonds and jewels of all sorts. Yours seems like just a trinket in comparison.

Imagine that you’ve never seen any airplanes before and I give you a paper one. It’s cool to play with, right? But then I take you into the cockpit of my F-16 and we fly at supersonic speeds into heaven. Paper airplanes aren’t quite so captivating anymore.

Imagine that you’ve never seen explosives before and I blow off a single firecracker in front of you. Exciting, right? But what if I then take you to the 4th of July celebration in downtown Chicago. One firecracker seems sort of silly in contrast.

You see, Christianity isn’t about loving this world less. It’s about the unavoidable apathy towards it one gains from any substantial encounter with the majesty of God.

Thought of the Day 10.17.08

Many Christians make the mistake of rejecting situational ethics because it sounds incompatible with a belief in absolute truth. Here’s the problem: virtually all ethical questions are situational because they deal with particular people in particular circumstances. The real issue is how the sometimes conflicting universals play out in that concrete scenario.

For instance, was it wrong for Jews to break the Sabbath? Of course. Was it wrong for Jesus to heal a lame man and command him to carry his load on the Sabbath? Of course not. But the Pharisees wanted to kill Him precisely because they believed so strongly in impersonal absolutes that they couldn’t see the more important principles Jesus was honoring in that act.

See, part of the reason God came in the flesh was to show us that He is not merely a set of abstract ideas, but the Source of wisdom for real people in real circumstances.

Thought of the Day 10.16.08

When will I be happy?

I’ll be happy when the market recovers.
I’ll be happy when my children start behaving better.
I’ll be happy when my candidate gets elected.
I’ll be happy when my car gets fixed.
I’ll be happy when my boss treats me with respect.
I’ll be happy when my favorite show is back on.
I’ll be happy when liberals become more smart.
I’ll be happy when homosexuality goes away.
I’ll be happy when other drivers are more courteous,
I’ll be happy when my cancer is in remission.
I’ll be happy when the colder weather comes.
I’ll be happy when my team wins.
I’ll be happy when Roe v Wade is overturned.
I’ll be happy when I make more money.
I’ll be happy when my mom stops meddling in my marriage.
I’ll be happy when I have a girlfriend.

I’ll be happy when I really understand the fact that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead as my Lord and Savior.

Thought of the Day 10.15.08

This morning, Spencer and I were rolling a matchbox car back and forth at the atrium of the doctor’s office when it went over the edge into the vines and foliage. Having previously rescued objects from this area, I went to retrieve it. No luck. So I looked some more. Nothing. I looked…and looked…and looked for this white car in the two or three inches of dark green leaves, but I kept not finding it.

I couldn’t fathom how something so visible could be so hidden in only a few square feet of easily movable underbrush. So I kept looking. Surely I couldn’t continue to fail. Any moment I would see it. Besides, giving up would mean admitting that the time already overspent had been wasted, too. And I could easily envision success and the savory triumph that would come with it. But after 20 minutes of searching, I forced myself to quit.

Resisting the temptation to spend even more good time after bad by admitting failure was far more painful than the loss of the car itself. Perhaps there’s a lesson here about our current financial circumstances.

Thought of the Day 10.14.08

I was recently given the opportunity to speak as the opener for a well-known Christian comedian, an honor which I appreciated. After I did my thing, I decided to hang around for a little while to hear the beginning of his comedy set. As you know, I loves me some comedy.

But I was disappointed. I recognized that the guy was doing a rare thing (conservative Christian comedy), and yet I didn’t find many of the jokes funny. So I didn’t laugh much. But I was clearly in the minority, since most everyone in the audience was laughing a ton.

Still, I almost found myself being annoyed at their response until I realized something. I knew I had done exactly what I was supposed to do that night. And I suspect that he was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing that night. The difference is that we were doing two different things. And so be it. God built us differently. It’s really quite absurd of me to think that God would judge him by the purposes He planted in me.

Thought of the Day 10.13.08

We recently noticed our four-year-old misbehaving more than usual and also failing to good-behave as much as he should. So, after discussing it, we made a chart for the refrigerator with good and bad behaviors and started keeping score, giving smiley faces and a reward for each day with more good than bad.

Here’s what happened. At first it was just monitoring to get a realistic picture of where he stood. Then we’d remind him about marks on the chart when appropriate. But in just the last few days, something extraordinary has happened: he has actually begun initiating the good behaviors himself and reminding us to give him a good mark.

See, we knew he thrived on approval. And this insight paired with a simple flick of the pen has worked where corporal discipline, scolding, and time-outs had all failed. And though we obviously want him to eventually do the behaviors for their own sake, we also understand that he has to get accustomed to the taste of virtue before he will ever start ordering the dish for himself.

Thought of the Day 10.10.08

I’ve read dozens of books on how to be a good husband and tried every suggestion they contain. But you know what I found out? Women hate to feel manipulated. They don’t like to participate in relationships that feel like transactions.

So when I bring flowers or give candy or write poetry or give backrubs, there can’t be even the faintest whiff of the idea that I’m doing this in order to make her more willing to do the things I desire. Unfortunately, there’s an entire marital advice industry built around teaching spouses how to be superior manipulators in precisely this way. All I know is that my wife can smell a negotiation from a mile off. And if I do things for this reason, I lose ground with her.

But if I do loving things simply to bless her, expecting nothing in return, then, ironically, it actually does make her want to do more for me. So I guess women are sort of like God. Who would have guessed?

Thought of the Day 10.09.08

“The family that prays together, stays together.” I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it on bumpers. I’ve probably even said it. But is it true? Well, one of my best friends was a pastor whose wife led the worship team. They prayed together plenty, but still wound up divorced before ten years of marriage. And they aren’t the only ones. So, perhaps we should say, “The family that prays together has a better chance of staying together,” but who has time for such nuanced accuracy?

Yet, even if this more modest phrase is true, doesn’t it seem to imply that the main purpose of praying is to maintain family solvency? I always thought that the reason we prayed was to have a more intimate relationship with God. And shouldn’t we be satisfied if our pursuit of Him produces that and nothing else?

I pray with my family, and I believe it’s useful to do so. But given that Jesus told us we must put Him ahead of our families, perhaps we should be more cautious about sloganizing an inversion of those priorities.

Thought of the Day 10.08.08

Hedonism is a philosophy which seeks to maximize personal pleasure, generally of the carnal or physical sort. Ever since the advent of the slogan, “Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” we’ve seen a constant increase in American hedonism. But, of course, one needn’t be a total reprobate to be a hedonist.

One might simply enjoy sports or television too much, or perhaps food, more commonly called gluttony. Then there are less tangible forms such as pursuing the emotional stimulations of anger, drama, and humor. This is the sort of hedonism which worries me the most because it’s the kind which ultimately begins to categorize all other people based upon how entertaining they are to me, thus treating all others as mere objects for my pleasure.

In such a culture, one discovers that it’s not enough to be merely good. One must be entertaining as well. But what happens when being good becomes so devalued that it’s merely an optional add-on to being entertaining?

Thought of the Day 10.07.08

As any parent of multiple children knows, every child is different. Different in personality, learning style, aptitudes, interests, and even different in moral disposition. Consider my own sons. The simple truth is that one is far more good by nature than the other. He’s more compassionate, empathetic, generous, obedient, cooperative, and helpful. And given their very young age, you’ll never convince me this isn’t an inborn difference.

So here’s the important question: should we cater to the deficiencies of the other son by redefining the rules and standards so they match him better? Should we enshrine his inferior moral impulses simply because they’re natural for him? Doing so would simply mean recognizing who he is and allowing him to be himself, right? Of course not. We teach our boys the same standards and expect both of them to attain them even while we fully acknowledge that one boy has a significant lead on the other one from birth.

You see, the fact that people “are” a certain way from birth tells us simply nothing about what moral expectations they should be held to.

Thought of the Day 10.06.08

Whenever I read the story of Jonah, I’m always struck by his bitterness toward the Ninevites. His hatred drives him to disobey God in the beginning and then to be furious with God in the end. But there’s something even more surprising in this story which is so easy to miss.

In focusing on Jonah’s flaws, we usually forget to ask the fairly obvious question, “Why was Jonah disobedient?” Simply put, Jonah disobeyed God precisely because of his tremendous faith in God. He knew that God was merciful, and he knew Nineveh didn’t need to hear a preacher to deserve destruction.

So he knew that the only reason to send him there was bring salvation. And Jonah further knew that God would only send him there if it was going to work. So the very reason Jonah disobeyed God was because he had such absolute confidence both in God’s mercifulness and in God’s effectiveness

Say what you will about Jonah, the man had tremendous and accurate faith in God and His character.

Thought of the Day 10.03.08

In the movie, Star Wars, there’s this famous scene with Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi dueling light sabers while the rest of the team tries to escape on the Millennium Falcon. Seeing them fight off in the distance, Luke watches in horror as Vader strikes Obi Wan down. Enraged, he shoots several Stormtroopers with his blaster as the team flees onto the ship.

Even though I’ve watched this scene over 50 times, yesterday I had a new and disturbing insight. Stormtroopers are people, too. But we don’t view them this way. They’re just obstacle to be eliminated, whereas Obi Wan is our friend. Because of this, we sympathize with Luke’s rage at the loss of his beloved mentor.

But somebody loves the stormtrooper, too. He has friends who will miss him and maybe even a wife and children who will mourn him. But we’ve been taught to not think about this, an oversight which is absolutely vital if we are going to enjoy feasting vicariously on Luke’s wrath. It is a scrumptious dish, after all.

Thought of the Day 10.02.08

All companies try to cut costs by making someone else pay the price for what they do, a tendency economists call externalizing. For instance, polluting externalizes the costs of cleanup to the locals. Eliminating medical coverage externalizes an expensive benefit to employees. And persuading the federal government to buy your bad financial instruments externalizes the results of greed and stupidity to the American taxpayer.

But even though economists use this technical-sounding term, most of us would call it something simpler: selfishness. For any entity, including companies, there are two basic dispositions: trying to make others pay for you and paying for yourself. And because cleaning up your own messes is the key both to being moral and also to building a functioning society, we instill this habit in children from their earliest age.

Isn’t it interesting that we expect more from our toddlers than we do from the major elements of our corporate citizenry?

Thought of the Day 10.01.08

Confusion about opposites is the source of many problems in life because we end up fighting the wrong things. For instance, courage doesn’t come from eliminating fear, but from mastering it. Likewise, intimacy doesn’t come from suppressing disagreement, but wisely navigating it.

But perhaps the greatest illustration of this error is in the realm of theology. Those of us who recognize God as God often mistakenly think the opposite of godliness is devil-worship. Since we certainly don’t do that, we think we must be fine.

Yet in reality, the opposite of serving God isn’t serving the Devil, but serving ourselves. That’s because the greatest of all devils isn’t Lucifer or Satan, but us. So being self-serving IS to engage in devil-worship. And we’ll forever mistakenly believe we’re fine until we realize that all along we’ve been avoiding the wrong opposite.

Thought of the Day 09.30.08

Whenever we see a parent being too harsh toward his children, we naturally encourage him to be more tender and forgiving. Not because having rules and enforcing them is a problem, but because unmerciful parents will always exasperate their children, who desperately need love and affirmation. Such parents need to learn to act more like God, imaging Whom is all parents’ primary task.

But what about the harshness of children? I know so many people who hold grudges against their parents, refusing to bless and honor them because of some cherished injustice. Yet aren’t these children being just as unmerciful? Parents crave love and affirmation every bit as much as children do. Thus justice without mercy is at least as grave defect in children as it is in parents.

Though it’s true that there is no greater wound than the rejection of a parent, it’s even more true that there is no greater anguish than the rejection of a child. When God commanded us to honor our parents, it’s possible He understood this.

Thought of the Day 09.29.08

“Christianity is just a crutch for weak-minded people who can’t handle the cold harsh reality about life. It’s just a cop-out for people who don’t want to process this reality and the implications of it. Christians just aren’t strong enough to handle the disillusionment that comes from losing a cherished fantasy. When life is difficult, and circumstances are beyond your power to fix, Christians turn to the promise of some Savior in the sky who is going to rescue you from this painful and frustrating world. What Christians should do is stop being such weak-willed people and grow up. All this talk of faith and salvation is evidence that you aren’t strong enough to deal with the truth.”

If someone said this to you, what would you reply?

I know what I would say.

“Guilty as charged. I’m weak, needy, and impotent. Thank you for so clearly identifying the incompatibility of pride with loving God.”

Thought of the Day 09.26.08

As a persuasive technique, mockery is both effective and dangerous for the same reason: it makes a moderate orientation to something uncomfortable. See, if the mockery is correct, then the thing is so wrong that it’s actually funny, and we laugh to indicate our increased opposition. But if the mockery is unfair or incorrect, then we become angry at the manipulation, and our opposition diminishes or reverses.

Thus, mockery depends upon polarization, which is the exact opposite of peacemaking. And once something has been mocked, it is very difficult to have a real discussion of it because real discussion presupposes the possibility of conversion. And no one wants to be a convert to absurdity.

This is why it is better to say that our opponents are wrong rather than ridiculous. It avoids making it too hard for them to convert to our way of thinking, but it also makes it easier for us should we ever need to admit our own mistakes. In all things, charity.

Thought of the Day 09.25.08

I love my new house. I love my new car. I love watching television and movies. I love wearing nice clothes. I particularly love eating good food. And I love my job and the esteem that it brings. But recently, I’ve been thinking some very troubling thoughts.

When Jesus was in heaven before He came to Earth, He had it all. He had the best of everything, including the pride and dignity of being God. But because Love is more important to Him than all of these things, He gave every single one of them up in order to redeem you and me. He left every comfort one could possibly imagine and sacrificed it all for the sake of acquiring us, a sacrifice made all the more poignant because He fully deserved everything He enjoyed.

How little I must know Him, then, that I am so comfortable enjoying all the things I love about my life while there are others who either do not know Him or else suffer in ways my own trivial sacrifices might remedy.

Thought of the Day 09.24.08

Despite years of begging God to fix me, I still sin. Why? Well, here’s one possibility. Whenever I sin, I feel awful, and my shame reminds me how badly I need the atoning sacrifice of Christ and how I’m no better than anyone else.

Thus, God uses my daily sins to keep me humble. And much as God might keep some people poor to avoid having them destroyed by the greed and selfishness that can come from premature wealth, I believe God allows me to sin to prevent me being destroyed by the pride that can so easily come from premature righteousness.

Greater than all the sins of unrighteousness combined is the sin of the righteous man who forgets his own need for a Savior. Consequently, my great hope is that one day I will be so immune to pride that God will finally be able to trust me with a sinless life. Until then, praise God for protecting me… from myself.

Thought of the Day 09.23.08

At my house, everyone’s been sick in the last week. Not just sniffles and coughs either, but the really unpleasant stuff. But even as I had my sleep interrupted 10 or 15 times last night, I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky I was. Being sick reminds me of how smoothly my body runs ordinarily. Having sick children reminds me of how grateful I am to have been given such massive blessings in such tiny packages. And not wanting to each anything reminds me of how much I appreciate good food most of the time.

See, here’s the thing for me. No matter what God ever gives me or allows to happen to me, I’m happy. Happy because the one necessary thing He has given me is the knowledge of His Son which brings with it the guarantee of eternal fellowship with Him. And there is literally no amount of suffering that can befall me in this world which could even come close to offsetting that gift.

So anytime I find myself getting down about any of the trivial things I don’t have, I hope I have the presence of mind to remember the one magnificent thing I do have.

Thought of the Day 09.22.08

I love psychology because it helps me understand other people and interact more wisely with them as a result. One key psychological lesson is recognizing the difference between someone who is genuinely attacking you and someone who is actually attacking himself by attacking you.

For instance, people who profess a very restrictive moral code are sometimes disproportionately outraged at the indulgence of others. See, the restrictivist feels indignation that others enjoy something he has practiced denying himself, especially when he still wants to indulge and secretly worries that his abstinence may be a form of unnecessary suffering. It’s far easier to attack the people who threaten to remind him of all this than it is to deal with the real conflicts within himself, and this is precisely what he does.

Having this insight allows us to respond to his attacks with pity and love, seeking to comfort a deeply pained soul rather than to simply refute a healthy debate opponent.

Thought of the Day 09.19.08

In the last few weeks, our country’s economy seems to have come unhinged: the government takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, serious problems at several major trading houses, the bailout of AIG, and a ludicrously volatile Dow. And all of this on top of a weak dollar and absurd gas prices (although both have gotten slightly better recently).

Commentators haven’t been shy about using terms like “catastrophe,” “total meltdown,” and (my personal favorite), “economic 9/11.” Many people are feeling anxiety and fear, especially as they consider the hits their personal portfolio seems to have taken. But I see this a different way. Is God still God? Is salvation still in Christ? Is America still the land of freedom? Do we still have our families and friends? And, for perspective, even if the American economy got significantly worse, would we still live a lifestyle that is the envy of the world over all of history?

Here’s my point. Don’t look to the news or the ticker for peace and perspective. They never emphasize the right things.

Thoughts of the Day 09.18.08

Some random thoughts:

“If you can’t say anything nice, then you can probably get huge ratings in talk radio.”

“Would you be willing to pay one half of all the money you earn in order to receive all the services the government does for you?”

“The Constitution says that we formed this country ‘to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.’ What is a baby in the womb if it isn’t ‘our Posterity?’”

“A young child quickly learns either that he can get more of what he wants by crying or else he gets rebuked and learns that he’s not entitled to everything he wants. At what age is it appropriate to stop calling children brats and start calling them lobbyists?”

“Are we committing idolatry every time we complain that the world hasn’t aligned itself in every minute detail with our own will?”

“Are rhetorical questions a very effective way of making a point?”

Thought of the Day 09.12.08

Yesterday, at dinner time, I had an unusual craving for Kraft macaroni and cheese, so I set about making some. Since I normally make dinner for the boys as well, I made an entire box. While it was cooking, I told Spencer what we were having, and he started protesting, “No, I don’t want macaroni and cheese. I want something else.” When I checked with Ethan, I got a similar response. But I told them that’s what I was making, and they could either eat it or go hungry. I wasn’t going to make a second meal just for them.

Their negative reaction surprised me, though, because I know that both of my boys love macaroni and cheese, especially the way I make it. I also knew that once they tried some, they would change their mind. Sure enough, when I gave it to them (still protesting, of course), they ate it like wolves, each demanding extra servings, in fact. In the end, I barely got enough for myself.

Still, one thing keeps bugging me. Why do we protest and complain about the things that God brings into our lives? (Matthew 7:7-12)

Thought of the Day 09.11.08

People in dating relationships always want to know whether this person is the one they should marry, and I say the key indicator is the willingness to change and sacrifice for each other. Unfit partners are reluctant to do either because they are only interested in the relationship so long as it’s convenient to them.

In contrast, good partners are willing to do (and give up) whatever it takes because the other person has become more important to them than themselves. When someone is essential to your life rather than just a pleasant add-on to it, such choices become simple. That’s why sacrifice is the only true music of love, and marriage requires a duet.

Yet, if sacrifice is proof of love, we can begin to see how much God loves us, since He gave up His very God-ness to be humiliated on our behalf. The only question is whether our lives demonstrate the same willingness to sacrifice and change or whether our professions of devotion are just the easy lip service of partners who aren’t really marriage material.

Thought of the Day 09.10.08

There are basically four kinds of people when it comes to happiness.

First, there are those who condition happiness on something impossible. “I will be happy if George Bush never was elected.” I will be happy if my parents had never mistreated me.”

Second, there are those who condition happiness on something possible but outside of their control. “I will be happy if other people don’t slow me down in traffic.” “I will be happy if abortion becomes illegal.”

Third, there are those who condition happiness on something possible but mostly within their control. “I will be happy if I am earning enough money.” “I will be happy if my marriage is strong.”

Finally, there are those who condition happiness on something that cannot fail. “I will be happy if God can be trusted.” “I will be happy if my identity is in Christ Jesus.”

Anger is the most reliable indicator of idolatry since it shows we have allowed something other than God to determine our happiness. Thus, anything that can make us angry is essentially something we worship. If so, we discover some very surprising things in our lives that we must admit we worship.

Thought of the Day 09.09.08

Consider for a moment some of the contradictory things our culture teaches us:

~Earn as much as you can, but feel guilty if you have more than others.
~Eat every delicacy you can afford, but be sure to stay thin and fit.
~Enjoy sex as often as you like, but avoid having too many children.
~It’s who you are on the inside that really matters, but plastic surgery is helpful, too.
~Religion is so important that it must be protected by our Constitution, but religion is so unimportant that you can be totally fulfilled without it.

Unhappiness can come from many sources, but unhappiness is virtually guaranteed whenever you internalize incompatible values. Thus, a culture which actively promotes conflicting messages must inevitably produce miserable citizens. And the only solution is to either be countercultural or heavily medicated. But real happiness is not for sale in a pharmacy.

Thought of the Day 09.08.08

Idolatry is really just a strange-sounding word for a pretty simple concept: being obsessed with things that are good, but not good enough to warrant obsession. And the way to know whether you’re obsessed with anything is to imagine how you would respond if it were taken away from you or destroyed. If you are attached to it, you’d be sad or angry. If you idolize it, you’d be devastated.

See, everyone worships something, and idolatry is just the misdirection of this impulse to worship. As such, it can’t be stifled, only redirected. Since only God warrants such adoration, the choice is fairly simple: be properly obsessed with God or be improperly obsessed with something else.

The challenging question is whether we are so attached to God that losing Him would be the most devastating thing we can imagine. Few of us can say we are because, in all honesty, we’re just part-time lovers. And salvation is simply God’s promise that one day we will know the joy of loving Him full time.

Thought of the Day 09.05.08

I used to marvel at the rudeness so often publicly shown to parents of large families until I realized that such critics are just using anger to stifle the doubt and guilt they feel about their own decision to stop having children. This insight helps explain the vitriol of the attacks by so many people on the left of Sarah Palin.

It’s not her conservatism, her beauty, or even the bump she gives to McCain. It’s more primitive than that. It’s because her life rebukes them. She has five children, two of them after the age of forty. When her infant son was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, she chose life. And when her own daughter was discovered pregnant (a hypothetical commonly used to challenge pro-lifers), she helped her choose life, too.

In short, they must demonize her because her choices so clearly condemn their own. Make no mistake, when your example disproves someone else’s deeply internalized rationalizations, they will try to destroy you. After all, the only other option would be to -repent.

Thought of the Day 09.04.08

Imagine two men living in a desert for years and years. With real food so scarce, they are eventually reduced to eating dirt, which miraculously manages to sustain them. Naturally, eating dirt leads them to discussions about which dirt is better than others, and they even learn where to find the good dirt to eat and which dirt to avoid. Over time, they become connoisseurs of dirt, not always in agreement, but certainly very refined in their skill at enjoying this ridiculous diet.

Now imagine that they are not alone, but that thousands of people are with them in the desert who treat them with great respect for this keen ability. One day, a man walks into this community offering filet mignon to everyone for free. At first people were reluctant, but some taste it and are delighted, wanting more.

In response, the ruling dirt experts have him killed. They were far too invested in debating the virtues of various kinds of dirt to allow someone else the embarrassing audacity of giving their people real food.

Thought of the Day 09.03.08

I’m always fascinated by the absurd things everybody says, especially children. My current favorite is, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” Consider the implications. If someone finds my misplaced wallet or my stolen television or my lost child, they can just keep them? Tough luck for me, I guess. Or as another ridiculous phrase would say it, “Too bad, so sad.”

For my part, I was always taught that people have property rights even when they’re not there to enforce them. But put aside the endorsement of theft here. Both phrases completely discount the pain being suffered by another person after explicitly recognizing it as either sadness or weeping.

In contrast, the heart of Christian ethics is the Golden Rule, which tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. And could anything be less golden than keeping someone else’s treasure while you callously tell them, “Finders keepers, losers weepers?” See, in reality, possession is zero tenths of the law.

Thought of the Day 09.02.08

If you know me, you know that I love me some baseball. And one of my favorite parts of the game is the singing of the national anthem. But I’ve noticed something over the years. These days the performers often seem to think that the purpose is to see how distinctively they can sing it, both by changing tempo and by doing vocal maneuvers the audience can’t possibly follow. I don’t remember it being this way when I was a kid.

Instead, I remember being just barely able to hear the singer because everyone else was singing along so loudly. And I loved it. It wasn’t because the singers were less spectacular. It was because they knew the difference between an impressive solo and an encouraging lead vocal. They seemed to understand that their job was to lead us all in honoring the country, not to simply glorify themselves under the pretext of patriotism.

Oh, sure. When we all sing together, what we hear may be lower in technical merit. But I can’t help but be convinced that it is far greater in the merit that really matters.

Thought of the Day 08.29.08

I’m a big believer that it’s better to have the right sort of conversation even if you come to the wrong answers than it is to have the wrong sort of conversation though you arrive at the right ones. For example, the recent McCain/Obama event at Saddleback church bothered some people because they thought it emphasized faith too much. They’re absolutely correct.

The greatest threat to a liberal culture isn’t conservative ideas, but a religious conversation. See, even if such a discussion leads to the wrong conclusions, at least it properly connects the ideas of religion, morality, and politics. So even though I’m bothered when God and His Word are misunderstood, I’m far more bothered by them being ignored. If people start with God and get it wrong, well, at least they’re starting in the right place.

And what this culture needs more than anything else is to embrace the idea that starting with religion is a norm, not a conversational foul. We can fix everything else if only we can get to that place first.

Thought of the Day 08.28.08

Last week on my way to work I was driving past a grade school when suddenly a soccer ball came across the fence and bounced onto the street. I slowed down, hoping that other cars behind me had seen and would slow down as well. The ball came to rest in the gutter, and we all carefully drove by.

But a moment later, I turned around, drove past the ball on the other side, made another u-turn, and pulled over just behind the ball. By this time, a small crowd of kids had gathered at the fence, watching intently to see what fate would befall their beloved plaything. Some of them were gesturing for my help, as though they hadn’t yet comprehended my unusual maneuvers. So I got out, grabbed the ball, threw it over the fence, and gave a slightly admonishing, “Try to keep it in the yard from now on, okay?” Some of them said, “Thank you,” but mostly they were just off to play again.

And all I could think about this little escapade was, “How would I have responded if they had been my own children?” My answer determined my actions, which then became obligatory as a member of the village.

Thought of the Day 08.27.08

I’ve recently found myself writing editorials on the subject of homosexuality, and I’ve gotten two basic kinds of responses. One sort tells me how hateful I am or how stupid I am or how I would probably be happier living in Saudi Arabia. I always use these comments as a chance to respond as sweetly as I possibly can in order to frustrate their expectation that Christians are vile people.

The second sort tells me how much they appreciate my writing on this subject, which encourages me to keep saying what needs saying. But these emails also often praise me for being so brave, which makes me slightly uncomfortable.

Bravery is doing what is right when there is significant personal risk, but I don’t really take any risks in writing my columns. Now it’s true that some people react with anger and harsh words, but being attacked with words doesn’t seem like a danger to me. Rather, it’s the clear evidence that ordinary people who don’t know the truth are being challenged by it. As such, it’s more of a reward than a punishment, at least in my eyes.

Thought of the Day 08.26.08

In what can only be described as good parenting and culture propagation, I have successfully introduced my children to Star Wars. Because they love it Danielle recently bought a pair of sippy cups, one with Yoda and the other with Darth Vader. Well, at four years old, Spencer is well beyond sippy cups, but his love for the movie overcomes him whenever we give Ethan the Vader cup and he earnestly asks for the Yoda one.

So, the other morning, I inadvertently grabbed the Yoda cup for Ethan’s milk. I was about to get the Vader one so Spencer wouldn’t be upset, but then I decided to go ahead. I thought it would be a good opportunity to provoke Spencer and then instruct him about not being too attached to things. Rather than shielding him from his own character issues, I was hoping to bring them to the surface so he could work on them.

In the end, he never said anything, which indicated that he was better off than I suspected, at least in this instance. It’s good to take advantage of teachable moments, but it’s sometimes even more useful to manufacture them. We are teachers, after all.

Thought of the Day 08.25.08

Friday morning as I was getting ready for work, I had to make a decision I always have to make: take a lunch or eat out. Because I was broadcasting from a different location that day, part of me thought it would be a good idea to pack a lunch. That way, if things got hectic, I was set. In fact, sometimes, even for an ordinary show, I get so behind that I have to make do with whatever I have stashed in my office…usually a can of soup or Ramen noodles. But Friday I decided to play it loose.

And that’s when it dawned on me. Not only do I get to eat every day (a luxury many in the world don’t enjoy), and not only do I get to eat as much as I want of pretty much whatever I want when I eat, and not only do I get to do this three (or four) times a day, but I live in the midst of such prosperity that I can actually leave the house with nothing but a little piece of flat plastic and rest assured that in the half hour of driving from my office to another location later that day, I will pass so many restaurants that I can be happily fed with absolutely no planning whatsoever.

Thank you, God, for helping me remember just how much you’ve given us.

Thought of the Day 08.22.08

Truth-telling is a difficult thing. There are so many ways to tell the truth and go wrong that many of us wind up simply choosing to avoid telling the truth altogether. Consider the judges on American Idol and America’s Got Talent. Each show has a harsh truth-teller who seems to enjoy using the truth to wound people, a sweet, demure truth-avoider who seems to think being nice is more important than being honest, and a wild card who oscillates somewhere between these two errors.

While the blunt lashes from the tongues of Simon and Piers are clearly not a Christian ideal, neither are the sweet niceties from the mouths of Paula and Sharon. Though Randy and David are regularly less than perfect, at least they seem to be trying to find a way to be as honest as possible while also being as loving as possible.

As Christians, we must exemplify both of these because abandoning either is unacceptable. Fortunately for us, we have a Savior who both gave us His example and guides us with His Spirit in just such difficult endeavors.

Thought of the Day 08.21.08

One of the fascinating things about criticism is how easy it is. Generally speaking, critics are people who are only good enough at an endeavor to find the flaws with what others are actually good enough to create. Because of this, critics also often lack the compassion that comes from having your own creative work criticized.

And one of the things I always worry about is the danger of people like me (who write op-eds, do talk shows, or even make jokes for a living) being so intent on finding the flaws in everyone else’s proposed solutions instead of offering our own solutions to the problems themselves. It’s all too easy to ridicule people or their ideas. Every second-grader has this talent.

Think of it this way. Hunting for stupidity will always be easy and superficially rewarding, whereas hunting for solutions will always be difficult. I’m not much of a hunter, but it seems that if you go out looking for ducks, you’re unlikely to come home with deer.

Thought of the Day 08.20.08

Most of our lies aren’t actual deceptions but rather false impressions that we allow to exist, often because we haven’t even realized that we’re allowing them. For instance, here’s what honesty might sound like in a couple of common cases:

"Hi, this is Andrew, and I’m not answering the phone right now. You can leave your name and number, but I’m usually pretty slow to get back to people. You’re better off just trying again later or emailing me."

"Hey, Jeff, I just wanted to let you know I’m running late for our meeting because I decided to hit the snooze button twice this morning. Traffic is well within the bounds of normal."

"Well, Brenda, since I’m watching the Olympics this week, I probably won’t get your report done by Friday, but I can get it done by Tuesday if that’s okay with you."

See, lying is often just a matter of saying what everyone else says and not thinking about it…that and our desire to be perceived better than we deserve. But a little deliberate honesty might help everyone get along better.

Thought of the Day 08.19.08

As many of you know, I’m prone to being judgmental and having pet peeves. No, no. It’s true. For instance, when other people use my broadcast studio for their own shows on the weekend, they often move stuff around. So every Monday morning, I have to waste a whopping 10 or 20 seconds putting chairs and microphones back where they belong.

One thing I always let bother me was the computer screen, which I need in one place but which gets moved every weekend. Even though I totally understand why it needs to move, I feel like this is my office and guests should put things back where they belong. But they don’t. So last Friday I tried something. I moved it myself before leaving.

On Monday it was still in the wrong place like always, but now I had the joy of knowing that, since I was responsible, there was no one else to be peeved at. And I had also spared some stranger the irritation of having to move it himself. By submitting to and serving the needs of others, I actually managed to turn an irritant into a gift I could feel proud of.

Thought of the Day 08.18.08

Wanting to protect our children from themselves, we’ve installed a variety of safety devices in our home such as outlet plugs, electrical cord protectors, and knob locks. None of these bother me much since they are easy to install and easy to work around. Then there’s my nemeses: the drawer latches. Disturbingly hard to install and frustrating to use, but I manage. At least until the other day.

I needed to get into the “semi-dangerous utensils” drawer, but I couldn’t get the latch to release. I tried and tried and tried the maneuvers that always work, but they didn’t. So I just pulled hard, and it opened…along with a small white piece of telltale plastic shrapnel indicating the unthinkable, I had broken the device. What was my punishment?

For several days now my boys (who seemed to know immediately what had transpired) have enjoyed relocating the potato masher and the spatulas and the pie server all over the house, which is about a hundred times more annoying than the drawer latch ever was. Lesson? Actions done in temporary frustration rarely decrease overall frustration.

Thought of the Day 08.15.08

Imagine a hypothetical conversation between two very stupid feet during an ordinary stride.

Right foot: “Okay, now everybody focus on lifting up and stepping forward. Now go. Wait a moment. What’s left foot doing? Just when we’re most in need of lifting and extending, you’re doing nothing. What’s the matter with you?!”
Left foot: “What’s the matter with me? You’re the one who’s doing everything backwards. This is the time when we most need to be standing firm, not flailing about like some castle in the air, you heretic.”
Eyes: “Both of you are wrong. The real job is to focus and look for the right address.”
Feet: “Huh?”

Just because we are all members of one Body, that doesn’t mean we are all built for the same function. And even if we are, as with the feet, we might be given conflicting instructions that only make sense to a God who is trying to make His Body walk. Forgetting this leads us to mistake differences for sins.

Thought of the Day 08.14.08

One thing that women don’t always understand about men is their fundamental insecurity about who they are and their place in the universe. Men have a deep need to prove their value, which means that they derive a tremendous amount of their identity from what they do. Why else would we build skyscrapers, wage wars of conquest, and compete for little fake bronze figures atop three dollar trophies? This is also why unemployment is so devastating to most of us.

Men are constantly seeking to prove their manhood, and cultures traditionally facilitated this through rites of male passage and by delineating unique roles and responsibilities for men. In our not-really-so-wisdom, we’ve abandoned these practices and called it progress or equality.

But God knew better. The reason He made priesthood and eldership uniquely male domains was to prevent them from ever becoming womanly so that men would never think that seeking and serving God was anything other than a truly masculine thing to do…virtually a requirement of manhood.