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.