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?