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.