Thought of the Day 07.01.08

Sometimes I think going to church can confuse us about our place in God’s plan. We see the pastor preach and the worship leader sing, and we mistakenly think they are doing the real work of the Kingdom while we just help support them. But this is exactly backwards.

What they do is wonderful, but a big part of their task is to assist and enable the rest of us in what we do. They help the architect be a more Godly architect. They help the mechanic be a more Godly mechanic. The nurse, the maid, the engineer, the lawyer, the landscaper, and so on. Their job is to help the rest of us glorify God more in what we do. Which is why it’s so surprising that laypeople sometimes think that they are second-class citizens in God’s economy because their ministry is in the workplace. How silly!

God can be glorified by a flower or a fish, and a tree or a chipmunk can surely preach the glory of God. Why wouldn’t the same be true of whatever you do for a living?

Thought of the Day 06.30.08

“In the free marketplace of ideas, Christianity will prevail.” I’ve often heard this idea expressed, and it’s frequently been my own voice doing the talking. But I’m not so sure anymore. Not because Christianity won’t prevail, but because I no longer feel comfortable saying Christ is a spiritual product you shop for at Religion-Mart and buy because He’s the most intellectually economical.

See, comparisons imply similarity and proximity, and if Jesus is merely your best choice, as opposed to being your only choice, then you haven’t really understood the choice yet. Consider marriage. It’s one thing to start dating because this girl is better than the others, but unless she becomes the only girl you can imagine, you aren’t ready to marry her. The goal isn’t to find someone you can live with, but to find someone you can’t live without.

And if someone thinks he can live without Christ, then he doesn’t yet really know what it means to live with Him. Saying Jesus is the best way is very different from saying Jesus is the only way.

Thought of the Day 06.27.08

“Have it your way right away.” “For all you do, this Bud’s for you.” And my favorite, “You deserve a break today.” Contradicting our parents, ad slogans encourage us to be selfish, and it’s killing our society. At least that’s what I thought until I went to Wikipedia looking for examples to make my case more convincing.

Instead, I found a page with about 800 slogans, the vast majority of which did not cater to selfishness as I expected. Most were cute or even described a product feature or benefit. And it wasn’t until I neared the end of the list, feeling increasingly frustrated at not finding the ammunition I wanted, that I realized my error. I had been so interested in making my point that I had almost failed to notice the evidence.

Oh, I still believe that we’re too selfish a culture and advertising doesn’t help, but I am reminded once again that we must always be open to the possibility that the evidence will invalidate our cherished dogmas, especially the pessimistic ones. If that’s true of ad slogans on a web page, it’s surely even more true of our Bible, which was designed to correct us.

Thought of the Day 06.25.08

One of the most frustrating thing about writing these thoughts every day is the pressure to once again come up with something brilliant to say. And of course my standard for them isn’t merely that they are worth reading or even very good. My scale is calibrated against the best ones I do. Knowing that I’m sometimes capable of a ten causes me to be frustrated when I only score a 5 or 6, even though I rationally know that’s still well above the surrounding culture’s average of 1 or 2.

But there’s a baseball expression that helps me manage my perfectionism. “Good hitters take what the other team gives them.” Pitch selection and defensive alignment may make it impossible to hit a home run or even a double, so a good batter observes this and goes for the single to keep the inning alive. He knows that reaching base is always better than making an out.

So I’ve learned to be content taking the base hits I can get while always anticipating the thrill of the occasional walk-off home run. Good advice for any perfectionist, I think.

Thought of the Day 06.25.08

We’ve always known that referees make mistakes, but before television, debates about what actually happened on a sports play were essentially unsolvable. Nowadays, of course, we have instant replay, and we regularly discover that the ref got it wrong. But as a philosopher, I want to ask an odd question. Why don’t we ever say that the camera got it wrong?

Sounds silly, right? But it’s essentially an epistemology question. We assume cameras don’t make mistakes whereas human eyes do. In fact, we trust our eyes so little that we don’t even like to be dogmatic until after we’ve seen the replay. Our trust in cameras is not just total, it’s unquestionable. A ref who dared to challenge the camera would be laughed out of the profession, and even the referees have accepted that the role of the camera is to verify or correct their calls.

And whenever I hear people say that true science will always confirm the Bible, I want to caution them lest, in celebrating the times the camera supports the ref, they unwittingly embrace a system which sets up science as the infallible instant replay for the fallible Scriptures.

Thought of the Day 06.24.08

Over the weekend, I was at a relative’s house when she remarked humorously about my attire. I had arrived in a white Cardinals’ jersey, but because we were eating lunch with my boys, I had switched to a red Cardinals’ t-shirt. “We’re playing the Red Sox today,” I explained with impatience. She sensed that further probing was unwelcome, but it got me thinking about why I do this.

I guess it’s my way of expressing solidarity with my team. It’s what any real fan does. Imagine if someone told you that he was a big Cubs fan, but he never wore Cubs attire. What if he never listened to the games? What if he didn’t even make time to watch them or go to them live? What if he didn’t know the starting roster or where his team stood against the others? And what if he didn’t really seem to care whether his team won or lost. At some point, you’d say he wasn’t really a Cubs fan at all.

Being a fan means being invested, knowing some things, and participating regularly. So the only question for us is whether there are enough indicators that we are truly fans of Christ or not.

Thought of the Day 06.23.08

I’m becoming more and more aware of the value of parental propaganda. Here’s what I mean. It’s good for my sons to respect me. It’s good for them to appreciate all I do for them. And it’s obviously good for them to obey me. But how do I accomplish all this? By making them love me.

See, I’ve heard countless men say that they knew their dads loved them because they went to work and provided for the family, but they never felt loved by their dads. That’s bad government. It’s not enough to just do the tasks and hope your constituents will feel loyal in return. You must personally educate them and actively cultivate their love for you.

Mom’s love is never in doubt because her investment is obvious. But if dads really want their children to receive the blessings that come from respecting, appreciating, and obeying their fathers, they must win the hearts in addition to the minds of their children. Hugs, kisses, hair tussles, and saying, “I love you.” A lot. These are key elements of wise parental propaganda.

Thought of the Day 06.20.08

~“Andrew, my roommate’s driving me crazy. We’re having this ongoing feud about religion. He even emails me while I’m at work. He was raised Catholic, and now he’s an atheist. And you know me. I don’t mind a good fight, but I just don’t know what to say to him anymore.”
~“Quit arguing with him.”
“What do you think is the most terrifying thing for your roommate to imagine?”
“Well, I guess he’s frightened that Christianity might actually be right and he’s been wrong all these years.”
“Which is why he’s so desperate to prove you wrong. The louder he yells, the more scared you know he is. And the only reason for being scared is being unsure, right?”
“That makes sense.”
~“So when you fight, you let him use anger to dispel all his fears. But when you don’t fight, your calm will unnerve him even more. Besides, if he’s gone from being just opposed to acting afraid, then he’s actually making progress toward accepting the truth. So leave him alone and wait for the time when he’ll become open to your input. ”
~“That’s worth a shot. Besides, it’s devious, and I like that.”
~“Jesus called it being as crafty as serpents, but as harmless as doves.”

Thought of the Day 06.19.08

After my long hunt to find a place to buy them at non-exorbitant prices, I’ve recently been building model airplanes with my son. In fact, last week, I brought one home to do with him three times. But then a funny thing happened. He started asking me every day if I brought one home. That’s a reasonable question. What wasn’t reasonable was the angry fit he threw when I told him I hadn’t. Same thing the next day, which I again corrected him about.

On the third day, I actually had bought one because a coupon was expiring, but I told him I hadn’t. He wasn’t as upset this time. But for the few days since then, he has still been asking every day and expressed some degree of disappointment or anger. I’m waiting until we go a few days where he either doesn’t ask at all or, more ideally, asks and says something like, “That’s okay, daddy, thank you for the ones I already have.” At this point, I’ll surprise him with the new one.

Why? Because I want him to be grateful. Not for my sake, but for his own spiritual health. And if I think giving him what he keeps asking for wouldn’t be the best for his soul, what sort of father would I be if I gave it to him?

Thought of the Day 06.18.08

The other day I had a chance to meet one of my coworkers’ kids, and I did what I always do. I praised him to them. Children need to hear from other adults that their parents are smart and good. This is the communal aspect of the 5th Commandment. Yes, we must honor our own parents, but we must also honor parents in general, especially in front of their own kids. In short, we should all try to be the friend of parents.

The question is: is television such a friend? See, we can complain that TV has violence, profanity, sexuality, and crudeness. All true. But the worst thing is that TV ignores parental authority by marketing products and programs directly to children of all ages. It’s not that parents can’t intervene and control what their children watch. It’s that they shouldn’t have to. In this way, television shows that it really doesn’t care about the family.

Anything other than actively honoring parents is dishonoring them. By which standard television is a very bad friend indeed.

Thought of the Day 06.17.08

Every discussion of homosexuality these days includes some mention of the idea that people are “born gay.” For the sake of argument, let’s just grant that this might be the case. Even so, so what? The idea that people have innate dispositions to do inappropriate things isn’t unique to gays. In fact, it’s so far from unique to them that it’s one of the cornerstone premises of Christian theology.

Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants all agree about this one concept: mankind suffers from original sin, a polluted condition that causes every one of us to do things we shouldn’t do from our birth. Thus, in a very real sense, we might say that we’re all born gay, although historically we’ve preferred the wording that we are all born sinners: a condition that necessitated a Savior but must never be alleged to have been part of God’s intended design.

We may be born gay, but that certainly doesn’t mean it was God who made us that way.

Thought of the Day 06.16.08

As the father of two so far and a believer in big families, I often find myself befuddled by the things I hear other people say about their decision to postpone having children. They refer to lack of money, uncertainty in a career, the desire to have “just us” marriage time, being too busy, or not being “old enough” yet, whatever that means.

But all these excuses are really saying the same thing. “Right now is not a convenient time for us to have children.” I have a simple answer for that. There will never be a convenient time to have children. Children by their very nature are fundamentally inconvenient. They frustrate us. They limit us. They cost us, both in time and money. And they are a constant source of irritation. Everyone knows this, but parents also know that they are totally worth it.

And the one nice thing about having them earlier rather than later is that you get to enjoy them for longer and they get to enjoy you for longer. The cost is the same, the only question is how long you’ll get to experience the reward. And if you are waiting until a convenient time to have children comes along, I can assure you of one simple thing: you will die waiting.

Thought of the Day 06.13.08

If the goal of evangelism is to reach the most people, then converting leaders seems to be the best strategy. In contrast, Jesus deliberately ministered to the most unloved people in society: lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Why?

Well, for one thing, a doctor is most needed by the sick, not the healthy. The outcasts need Him the most, which means they are the ones most likely to be open to Him and to express the greatest gratitude to Him for what He offers, whereas “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” But there’s another important reason as well.

Though leaders surely have greater influence, they also are much more heavily invested in all the systems of this world. For them to give up everything and follow Jesus requires massive (and improbable) sacrifice. In contrast, the outcast’s lack of fame, power, and money means that his hands are virtually wide open to receive what Christ has to offer. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Note for those paying close attention: Yes, we know this is the same one as yesterday. =)

Thought of the Day 06.11.08

In an effort to do with my son as my father did with me, I went to Wal-Mart recently to buy him some model airplanes and model rockets, but I was stunned. Not by the price, but by the fact that Wal-Mart didn’t even stock models anymore, and the rockets they had were mostly all pre-made. Obviously I don’t blame them. They’re a business which sells what people buy.

That’s why it made me so sad to think that so few kids these days build models with their dads that the biggest retailer in the world doesn’t even stock them anymore. Their shelves are lined with finished toys that beep and whir, but boys in need of fine-motor-skill development, attention to detail, and (most importantly) the joy of creating something themselves, certainly don’t require more battery operated distractions.

What they need is to learn the value of wasting a few hours constructing something difficult with the patient assistance of their fathers: toys that require imagination both to build and to play with as well.

Thought of the Day 06.10.08

Gratitude and contempt are funny attitudes because they are so infinitely adjustable. For instance, one day last week when I was fasting, a friend came into my office offering me some leftover pizza from his lunch at a nice restaurant. I thanked him and sat there lusting after it briefly before I moved it to a place of safety in the office refrigerator. I would have gladly eaten every last bit of it, but I was fasting.

I brought it home, brought it back to work, home again, and again back to work before finally eating it today. It was delicious, but it didn’t entice me as much when I could choose from any food I desired. So did anything about the pizza change to earn such varied responses from me? Not at all. Only the strength of my desires changed.

And it is certainly useful to be reminded that my life is so luxurious that I can be so fully satisfied with my options as to hold delicious gourmet pizza in contempt. Truly, thank you, Lord, for your bounty. Please help me remain grateful for it all.

Thought of the Day 06.09.08

One of the amazing blessings of fatherhood has been the experience of doing things for my children which give me the sense of doing as God does toward me. This brings me the joy of feeling as He feels, the camaraderie of common purpose with Him, and a greater understanding and appreciation of Him as my Father. Yet surprisingly, most of these things are quite small.

For instance, when my family was away recently, I happened to notice a dime sitting in the grout crack of our garage floor. As I bent over to pick it up, the thought occurred to me that Spencer would get far greater joy out of finding this dime than I would. So I left it there in anticipation of the day he would find it for himself. Then, just yesterday, having forgotten the incident, I spied the dime again and went to pick it up again before I remembered my crafty plan to give my son joy. So I returned the dime yet again.

He still hasn’t found it, but this miniscule act of restraint gave me some perspective about why God might sometimes choose to let us do a wide variety of things for ourselves such as solving problems, overcoming obstacles, and helping other people. He’s just leaving dimes in the grout cracks of life for us to enjoy picking up.

Thought of the Day 06.06.08

In thinking about contentious social issues like gay marriage, it’s very important to keep in mind the distinction between personal holiness and public virtue. For instance, though many Christians believe it’s wrong to drink alcohol, use profanity, or neglect church-going, few of us want these behaviors criminalized. That’s because these are matters of personal holiness, not civic necessity, and the impulse to legislate them is called totalitarianism.

To avoid this, our opposition to gay marriage must explain how granting gay relationships full legal status will either adversely affect them or the rest of us or will at least fail to help society enough to justify the benefits granted. This is generally much more difficult to do than the emotion surrounding the issue would indicate, but it both can and should be done.

Nonetheless, we must constantly check that that both our real motives and our stated reasons are properly leading us to legislate morality rather than improperly leading us to legislate holiness.

Thought of the Day 06.05.08

If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we are scandalously selfish. For starters, we all disobey God because we think that either our wisdom is greater or our desires are more important than His. Then, we excuse our sin by saying, “Well, at least it’ll only hurt me,” as if this charade of nobility atones for it.

But my sin does more than just damage my own soul. It also offends and grieves God, causes me to glorify Him less, and deprives Him of His due honor. It even keeps others from coming to Him because I am now a less enticing ambassador. Further, my sin poisons my social community and can earn us all the wrath of God, even if everyone else does what is right (as we know from examples in that of Achan after Jericho in Joshua 6-7). And then I have the gall to praise Jesus for delivering my soul from destruction, as if the only thing that mattered all along was the dubious benefit to me of avoiding punishment I deserve.

Of all the monsters which strangle my soul, the tentacles of my selfishness penetrate the deepest.

Thought of the Day 06.04.08

I just saw my new favorite bumper sticker on a car yesterday. It said, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Now, obviously, it is meant as a tweak on the old saw, “Don’t believe everything you hear (or “read,” or “see on TV”).” But the tweak is really important, since those older sayings, though valuable, commit a major mistake: they presume the reliability of our own thoughts. And this updated version reminds us that the biggest source of error in our lives is not something “out there,” but everything “in here.”

Think of it this way. Imagine that God thinks at a level ten and that the most unwise person in history thinks at a zero. We’ll optimistically put you at a three. Clearly, when a one talks, you recognize it as foolishness because it’s so far from your own mental comfort zone. But what happens when you encounter a six? You think he’s crazy, not because he is, but because he’s just so far from what you know. And you’re so accustomed to trusting yourself that you never even realize what a dangerous mentor you might really be.

So if the Bible is a ten, we should expect at least two things from studying it. One, it will regularly tell us we’re wrong. And two, it will regularly strike us as absurd. But then again, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

Thought of the Day 06.03.08

Imagine that you live in a third-world style shanty hut with no plumbing, a tin roof and a dirt floor. Then one day, a man comes to you and makes you a rather unique offer. He says he wants to build a marvelous skyscraper on your land, but he doesn’t want to buy it from you. Instead, he wants a lifetime free lease on the building so he can use it for his offices and organizations, and he’ll give you the fully furnished top level to live in when it’s done.

But there is one catch. You have to personally bulldoze the shanty and destroy everything in it yourself, and you’ll be essentially homeless for a while during construction until the penthouse is ready. You know that this man always keeps his word because others in your city have already accepted a similar deal from him, although others have not.

Would you take this deal? Or would you be afraid to give up the rickety old shack you’ve known for so long and the garage sale quality possessions you’ve surrounded yourself with? As for me and my house, we’ve chosen the skyscraper.