TOD 02.01.08

What percentage of the vote does God get? I don’t mean in politics, I mean in the elections you hold daily inside your head. Think of your decision-making process being like a tiny little Senate with 100 votes from various political parties including reason, desire, habit, spouse, friends, parents, law, morality, and God. How big is God’s voting block?

I suppose some people would say He should get all 100 votes, but even Jesus didn’t demonstrate such a dictatorship when asking the Father for a reprieve. It seems more correct that God wants 51 votes (maybe 60 just to end filibusters) which means you’re willing to do what He wants, even if just barely. In all honesty, most of us probably grant God fewer seats than this, which is why we sometimes obey Him and sometimes not. Lacking enough seats Himself, He must form coalitions with other parts of us to get His agenda across.

If so, do you think God is fully satisfied having less than a majority? And why don’t we allow Him more votes?

TOD 01.31.08

My wife prefers the club on her car put on in a particular way which I find highly inconvenient, but I do it whenever I drive her car. My wife thinks that soap is a magic fairy dust that cleans in ways mere water cannot, so anything she might use gets washed with suds. My wife particularly dislikes it when the magnetized latches on the entertainment center doors are not fully pressed in, so I always try to do so.

My wife thinks that toothpaste and gel might somehow become dangerous edibles for our children, so I dutifully place them underneath the sink behind a safety lock on the door. And my wife worries that we might accidentally burn down our apartment complex by leaving a stove burner on, so I often go back inside to double-check that is not the case.

Why do I do all these things? Because that’s what submission means; deferring to the judgment of another when you think it’s batty. And not just when the person is watching, like slowing down when you see a cop, but precisely when she is not. Honoring someone else’s will only when you would get caught for not doing so isn’t submission at all. It’s the preamble to adultery, among other things.

TOD 01.30.08

There are three basic kinds of people: the benevolent, the malevolent, and the just. The benevolent want people (or a particular person) to receive better than they deserve. The malevolent want people to receive worse than they deserve. And the just want people to get what they deserve. Most of us have a default setting of justice. We want wrongdoers to suffer and rightdoers to prosper.

Until recently, however, I had always made the mistake of thinking that wanting to see victims of evil restored to their prior condition was a way of emulating God’s benevolence. I was wrong. Defending the innocent is just the parallel desire to prosecuting the guilty, giving people what they really deserve.

Evil is wanting people to suffer unjustly, justice is wanting people to only suffer justly, and goodness is wanting them to not suffer. As good as justice is when compared to malevolence, I have to remind myself that it’s not as good as emulating the grace of a benevolent God.

TOD 01.29.08

I was recently having a conversation with someone about how we deal with other people, and she said that she admires me for being willing to tell people what I really believe, even if I know they’re likely to disagree with me. I told her that it’s easy to be brave on the radio, but I also said that sometimes withholding our opinions can be a much more effective tactic than freely sharing them.

It depends on the situation and how well I know someone, plus silence is an excellent alternative to vain dogmatizing based on pride rather than love of the other person. But ultimately, we can deceive ourselves by thinking we’re building up enough credit for those important moments of influence which never actually occur. Instead, honesty along the way guarantees influence because people will respect you if they know you tell the truth.

Even if it’s unpleasant for them to hear it, most people have a built-in respect for truth. As the Bible says, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue.” (Proverbs 28:23)

TOD 01.28.08

My dad says that one of the most important ideas he ever acquired was that the best way to understand a society is by observing the questions it doesn’t even think of asking. That a concept is just missing from the intellectual vocabulary of a culture says more about it than even if it had answered the question incorrectly. I recently stumbled across one of these while doing a program about the benefits of having grandparents around.

Since the tremendous benefits to children of being able to see their grandparents regularly are so obvious, it shocked me to realize that no one ever asks, “What are the moral obligations of grandparents?” The reason we don’t ask is because such a question verges dangerously close to criticizing them. Obviously, if we start listing obligations, then it’s possible that not all grandparents satisfy them. Specifically, “Are grandparents morally obligated to stay near their children?”

Our society already makes the mistake of telling older people their goal in life should be to stop being productive. Why do we also seem to think that the best way to lead and guide their descendants is for them to move to another state when they retire? We’d never endure someone forcing such a separation. Why is it any less a problem when done voluntarily?

TOD 01.25.08

I don’t know if you’ve heard about this yet, but one network is apparently developing a new show called High School, USA about an average American high school. Even though it’s going to be on in prime time, they’ve been given special permission by the FCC to show the kids swearing, smoking, using drugs, drinking at parties, and engaging in lewd discussions. Apparently, the episodes will feature gangs, academic cheating, and bullying.

Now, thankfully, they will also show students learning, making friends, and being mentored by adults who care about them. But, obviously, there won’t be any praying or religious activities of any kind. So, given all these known content issues, the question I’m wondering about is whether most parents will allow their teenage children to watch this show. I suppose many will.

But for those of you who wouldn’t, my other question is why would you let your kids attend a real igh school whose fictional counterpart you wouldn’t let them watch on TV? And, no, there is no such show in the works…it wouldn’t be decent enough to air.

TOD 01.24.08

Every time I write a column, I get at least a handful of very angry responses. These used to baffle me because they almost always seemed to come from people who had not understood what I had written. So I would try to clarify things. Then I realized something. It wasn’t that they hadn’t finished the article or that they hadn’t understood what I was saying.

Instead, the problem was that they can’t understand what I’m saying. Not because I don’t say it well (not usually, anyway), but because what I’m saying is literally too painful for them to comprehend. Since something in them knows that what I’ve said is right (and dangerous to them), the only way to deny it is to misunderstand it and show the misunderstanding to be wrong. This explains both the anger (usually a sign of fear) as well as the lack of comprehension.

So now that I’ve grasped this, I usually just thank them for taking the time to read my column and share their thoughts. Who am I to push twice on a fragile point in someone’s mind? That would just be mean.

TOD 01.23.08

We are hearing a lot of theories right now about what the government can do to avoid a recession in the United States. I also have a theory. If we grant the premise that government can fix the problem, then mustn’t we accept the conclusion that government was the problem in the first place? Any federal action which might alleviate the “crisis” now would seem to incriminate them for their failure to have taken it earlier.

One reply might be that things were too hard to predict previously. But, if so, what has suddenly made prediction so much easier? In short, it seems irrational to expect that the people who are responsible for the problem are capable of fixing it. But here’s another theory. Government can’t fix an economy because government’s only product is government.

If this is true, we would expect smart people like our country’s founders to have known so and to have deliberately not given government any economic responsibilities other than to prevent theft and coin money. After reading your copy of the Constitution, which theory do you think is correct?

TOD 01.22.08

As everyone knows by now, it’s Presidential election season, and so far it’s been absolute chaos. Rather than just two or three candidates, there are still as many as nine contenders. Each one touts his accomplishments and lays out his new proposals, but I have a simple question I’d like to see each one asked: “Can you please name me five things not specified in the Bill of Rights that you think government has no authority to do?”

I want this because, except for Ron Paul (whom I do not support), most all of the candidates believe that the federal government can do anything that people think is a good idea. In contrast, our Constitution actually says that the government can only do what it has strictly been given the power to do by enumeration. Everything else is off limits, such as health care, education, stem cell research, etc.

I say etc. because the whole point of the Constitution was that everything not specifically listed was an “off-limits etc.” And my real question is whether any of our viable potential Presidents still believe this.

TOD 01.21.08

Questions God probably will not ask us on Judgment Day:

~Did you keep your car clean enough?
~Did you point out enough people’s flaws to them?
~Did you wear the correct brand of clothing?
~Did you go out to eat at enough nice restaurants?
~Did you despise the appropriate people strongly enough?
~Were your vacations fully relaxing?
~Did you spend enough hours surfing the web?
~Did you read the newspaper every day?
~Were you adamant enough in your opinions?
~Did you know all the words to enough Top 40 songs?
~Did you watch enough television?
~Did you know enough about American celebrities?

Although none of these things are inherently wrong, the embarrassing truth for most of us is that we can answer yes to many or all of these questions. I just worry this will end up the same as being fully prepared to pass an English test, but discovering that we’re actually in Geometry class.

TOD 01.18.08

I find myself being affected by who I listen to on the radio. Now, obviously, the issues and ideas presented by the person directly impact my thinking, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean that the tone of the show also has an impact on my demeanor. If the host is gentle, I find myself being more calm. If the host is mocking, I find myself feeling sarcastic. And if the host is quarrelsome, I find myself being more agitated.

We’ve had an abundance of commentators lamenting the evils of sexuality in media, but precious few have observed that anger seems to be at least as common a sales pitch as lust. Just like with lust, the appeal of anger is powerful and contaminating. As Proverbs 22:24-25 says, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself.”

In other words, beware entertainers who sell anger. Their information may not be worth the cost.

TOD 01.17.08

Although we hadn’t watched The Apprentice in a while, we’ve recently been intrigued again by the celebrity version. One of the expressions that gets used a lot on that show (and elsewhere) is, “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”

Of course, no one says this when he’s done something wonderful and loving for another person. It is said exclusively when people are mean or harsh with each other, as in, “You’re completely incompetent, and you made terrible decisions. It’s inconceivable that you actually earned an MBA. You’re fired. But don’t take it personally. It’s just business.” In other words, it’s okay to treat people badly so long as there is a profit to be had, since that’s the nature of business.

Jesus taught a very different notion. He said that we should use money to make friends (Luke 16:9). To Jesus, money is a tool for helping people and building relationships. To Donald Trump, people are a tool for making money. Since these would seem to be incompatible viewpoints, the important question is whether you’ll choose to be “the Donald’s” apprentice or the Lord’s.

TOD 01.16.08

“Daddy, I want to go watch race cars.”
“Well, you can either watch Underdog or else we can go see the cars.”
“Um, I think I want to watch Underdog movie.”
“You’re sure? We can do whichever one you like, but we can only do one. Are you sure you want to watch Underdog and not go see race cars.”
“I think so. Yeah, I want to watch Underdog movie, and maybe we can go see race cars next weekend.”
We watch the movie.
“Now can we go see race cars?”
“No, honey. You chose between them, and you decided that you wanted to see the movie today.”
“But I want to go see race cars.” Sniffles
“Well, we don’t have time to do that. Did you like Underdog?””Yes.” More sniffles.
“What do you say?”
“Thank you, daddy, for letting me watch Underdog movie. Can we go see race cars later?”
“Spencer, what’s the Tenth Commandment?”
“Be content with what you have.”
“Now do you see what that means?”“Um, sort of. Daddy, will you play a game
with me?”

TOD 01.15.08

There are essentially three different elements to thinking: knowledge (what you know), focus (what you think about), and wisdom (how you think). If any of these three are missing, the process will not produce the best results. Similarly, since there are three main aspects of thinking, there are three main kinds of disagreements.

Disputes may arise over the essential facts of the question because some parties may be ignorant or misled. Disputes may arise over the correct solution because people may not all be equally competent at interpreting information according to sound principles. And disputes may also arise over the significance of the issue itself because knowing the difference between the vain and the significant is one of the most challenging skills of all.

So how does all this matter? First, like any skill in development, finding the exact source of the problem aids in correcting it. Second, if the point of disagreement can be isolated to just one area, you have now discovered two areas of agreement on which to build common ground.

TOD 01.14.08

The FCC can teach us something vital about evangelism. Certain words can’t be said on TV or the radio, and, when they occur in a sound clip, they are edited over with a bleep sound. Unfortunately for the listener, this is useless. Though the actual full word is obscured, the hearer’s brain reconstitutes it just as surely as if it had not been . The brain is quite capable of hearing what is not technically said.

Thus, though broadcasters claim to not use the word, the impact, now heightened with the bleep’s emphasis, is not at all diminished. Why is this important for evangelism? It’s simple. Our job it not to say what is true. Rather, our task is to make people hear what is true. As communicators of the Gospel, including every good Word God has to say about every topic, knowing the difference between what is said and what is heard is mandatory.

In teaching God’s truths, the ultimate vanity is being so proud of what we say that we are indifferent to what they hear.

TOD 01.11.08

We Christians in America shudder when we imagine the oppression against our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. In some countries, becoming a Christian could cost you your job or your family. In other places, it could land you in jail or get you executed. Owing a Bible is a crime in many locations, and evangelizing is forbidden in even more.

When we consider the possibility of such things happening here at home, we are outraged. We would fight tooth and nail to preserve the sort of freedoms that our fellow Christians lack elsewhere in the world, and rightly so. And yet, in spite of our powerful lust for religious freedom, I wonder how many of us have married ourselves to the concept in such a way that, were our lifestyles transplanted into those other areas, they would get us arrested.

Just as has been said about literacy, the Christian who does not spread the Gospel has no advantage over the Christian who cannot spread the Gospel. Why bother screaming to keep a right which we then nullify with our silence?

TOD 01.10.09

Dying for someone is clearly an act of courage. But perhaps it’s not an act of great courage. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. I admire those who die for a cause, such as Christ or a loved one or a country. That, indeed, is noble. But as much as I admire this, I think that such sensationalist thinking misses the fact that such choices are often fairly obvious and easy because they happen quickly and hurt for just a short time.

In contrast, it is the small, daily, repeated sacrifice of things much less than our lives for those same ideals that requires great courage. Sure, I’d die for my wife, but would I turn off the baseball game when she wants me to talk to her? Sure, I’d die for Jesus, but would I give an hour of my time to an elderly person? Sure, I’d die for my country, but would I lead a discussion group for Junior high students on the meaning of the Constitution?

It takes great courage to die for something, but it takes an even greater amount of courage to live every day for that same thing…the sort of courage we all have the opportunity to demonstrate.

TOD 01.09.08

Much ink has been spilt over the years by people trying to convince each other that America either was or was not founded as a Christian nation. What if it doesn’t matter?

To those who say Halloween originated as a demonic event, I reply that today it is kids and costumes and candy. To those who say that martial arts started as Eastern spiritualism, I reply that, so long as it is done without meditation, it is just biophysics. To those who say that Christmas trees are druidic idols, I reply that, unless you’re bowing down before them, pretty dying trees are just pretty dying trees, like big smelly flowers.

You can’t evaluate a practice by it’s origins. Instead, you must look at its current reality. Thus, although it seems like an advantage to plant the Christian flag over the founding of this country, the real questions are whether we are today a Christian nation and, more importantly, can you explain why you think we should try to be so regardless of whether we are?

TOD 01.08.08

Proverbs 18:9 teaches us, “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys.” This is far more than just a hyperbole discouraging laziness. Imagine a particular day in which one man builds a house and another man burns it to the ground. In contrast, imagine if the builder had simply stayed in bed all day. No construction, no arson. At the end of both days, value is the same: no new houses. (Of course, I’m ignoring the lost raw materials only for simplicity’s sake.)

That’s what this proverb is getting at. Time is nothing but the potential to build things, serve people, and create value. Failing to use our time productively deprives the world of these valuables just as surely as if we actively destroyed such work by others. We are in effect robbing the universe of the riches it could have held.

A hungry man doesn’t care whether the food he doesn’t receive was from a farmer being too lazy to harvest or from a burglar destroying the food pantry. His hunger doesn’t know the difference. The imperative, “Whatever your hand find to do, do it with all your might,” is much more than just a piece of occupational advice.

TOD 01.07.08

I dislike expressions which depend on bad logic. For instance, “God gave you two ears and one mouth, you should use them that way.” If so, then wouldn’t biology also require that we listen more than we breathe and use our fingers about five times as much as we use our elbows? Surely such absurd conclusions are no more invalid than the other one. When I said this on my show recently, a caller challenged me to find a pithy replacement that might more rationally encourage people to listen more. I didn’t have to look far.

“He who restrains his words has knowledge…Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise…” (Proverbs 17:27-28) “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” (Proverbs 18:2) “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” (Proverbs 18:13) Perhaps they aren’t as cute as their modern substitute, but at least they have the virtues of being time-honored and not illogical.

Besides, wouldn’t it be nice if people taught true principles by way of the Bible rather than silly analogies?

TOD 01.04.08

We all judge others. Contrary to what some people say, this is natural, and the more you try to stop judging, the more deeply into self-hatred you will sink. It’s as futile as trying to eliminate hunger or sexual desire. Just as with those other drives, the key to handling the judgment impulse is learning how to indulge wisely rather than foolishly.

Instead of merely following our appetites, we learn to satisfy them according to good principles. We replace immature judgments, like those based on race or beauty, with mature ones, like those based on competence or integrity. Sometimes we even set aside legitimate judgments because of more important concerns, such as befriending sinners or forgiving people.

For my own part, I have had to learn to judge people not by whether they share my beliefs, but by whether we can talk with each other. I learned to stop making agreement the price of admission to my companionship. Such a price is simply too high for the people God wants me to love.

TOD 01.03.08

A relativist is someone who thinks that he can decide morality for himself. The error is thinking this is a matter of degree. It’s not. You either are one or you are not. Oh, sure, most people don’t look like moral anarchists. They only abandon certain parts of morality.

They wouldn’t murder, but they might have premarital sex. They wouldn’t steal, but they might disobey their parents. They don’t realize that there’s no difference between a partial rejection of morality and a total rejection of it. The phrase “just a little disobedience” is absurd because there are only two options: morality and relativism. Morality means following God, a culture, or a philosopher such as Kant. Relativism means doing what morality requires unless I don’t want to.

That’s the key. If I retain the power to decide when to obey or not, my only submission is to myself. So even if I look moral most of the time, I’m really putting on a charade. Thus, it’s simple. There’s no such thing as a little relativism.