Thought of the Day 03.02.09

We all like to think of ourselves as being pretty good, and, as we mature we learn how to show other people what they need to see in order to form such an opinion of us. Of course, the truth about what’s really inside is often different.

For instance, people who listen to me on the air probably think I’m a pretty decent guy. But the people I work with are less impressed because they see me in my unguarded moments. Naturally, my friends think even less of me for the same reason. And my family thinks the least of me because it’s impossible to keep up any fa├žade around your wife and kids. Though I’d like to deny it, stressful situations that make me act like a jerk are simply revealing what my family already knows.

Naturally, God calls us to be far better. But He doesn’t merely command this. He actually led the way Himself, managing to pray for his murderers even as he was tortured to death.…so that we could eventually become like Him in reality rather than merely when we’re on the radio.

Thought of the Day 02.27.09

We know gossip is wrong. It’s using negative information to build rapport with someone on the basis of mutual superiority by marginalizing a third person who isn’t present. It’s cowardly because we would almost never talk the same way in the presence of that person. And it’s cancerous because it is springs from malice and treats other people’s flaws as a delicacy to be consumed for our pleasure.

And yet, it’s entirely likely that most of us have never recognized the most common form of gossip because we’ve been thinking of it as a definition rather than as a collection of hideous features. See, everything that’s wrong with gossip is just as wrong with the gossip which does not even involve a second person: that which we perform within our own heads.

When we silently scoff at other people’s flaws, misdeeds, or annoyances, we are engaging in an act every bit as community-destroying as gossip. The only difference is that no one can catch us because we do it secretly in the most hidden place of all. So here’s the question to ponder: would you speak of someone in his presence the way you think of him in your mind?

Thought of the Day 02.26.09

It takes a pretty good leader to build a company from the ground up, starting from nothing and turning it into something large and successful.

It takes a decent leader to keep that company running, preserving it from declining too much.

It takes a poor leader to run that company into the ground, ruining it and turning what was once a thriving and prosperous entity into a shambles.

But it takes the greatest leader of all to rescue a ruined company and rebuild it into something at least as great as it once was.

The fact that God created this world is amazing. The fact that we could so quickly and thoroughly ruin it is also fairly amazing. But the most amazing thing of all is not a Creator God or a sinner man, but a God who is so skilled that He could actually take the beyond bankrupt mess we made out of His beautiful corporation and turn it into something even better than He originally made. That’s truly impressive.

Thought of the Day 02.25.09

My two older boys continually fight with each other, which is essentially just another way of saying I have two older boys. When they fight, I ask them the same question. “Do you love me?” They both say, “Yes, daddy.” “Good. Now I want you to love each other the way I love you, and that’s how you can show me that you really love me.” “Okay, daddy.” This usually works for about 90 seconds or so, but that’s okay because I’m more interested in embedding this principle than in it working just yet.

When I had a birthday recently, my sons both gave me gifts…which was nice. And every day when I come home, they give me a hug and tell me they love me. And every night they kiss me good-night.

But one of these days, I hope they will realize that the only real way they can show me they love me is by obeying me and loving one another. See, at some point, all those other expressions of love start to seem rather hollow if they aren’t backed up by showing me love in the way I really want it.

Thought of the Day 02.24.09

Imagine a young woman looking into the eyes of her man, asking, “Sweetheart, do you love me?” “You know I do, honey,” he coos back. So she presses him by asking, “Sweetie, why do you love me?” What is a good answer to this question?

One approach is to list all of her virtues such as beauty, intelligence, and faith. In essence, “I love you because you are lovely.”

Another approach is to describe how she benefits him with happiness, pleasure, and encouragement. “I love you because you please me.”

Yet a third approach is to talk about his own flaws and explain how who she either fills or remedies them. “I love you because you complete me.”

But there’s a fourth approach which is quite different. Imagine him saying simply, “I love you because I love you.”

At first, this almost seems insulting, since there is no praise in it. But in reality, only this answer offers what she really wants: an unconditional love she cannot lose by becoming less lovely to him, less satisfying to him, or less compatible with him.

Interestingly, it is also God’s own explanation of His love in Deuteronomy 7:7-8.

Thought of the Day 02.23.09

When I run a mild fever, I either ignore it or chalk it up to something temporary. When I run a medium fever, I take some medicine. And when I run a high fever, I go to a doctor. In my opinion, anger and resentment are a lot like a moral fever. Let me illustrate.

“How dare you speed while I obey the law!”
“How dare you cheat on your taxes while I pay my fair share!”
“How dare you go to strip clubs while I stay loyal to my wife!”
“How dare you take a government bailout while I scrimp and save to pay my mortgage on time!”

Such high fever statements reveal our secret desire to do the wrong others are doing because we actually believe doing so would make our lives better. Our resentment shows we actually covet their evil.

In short, we envy the wicked when we should pity them for harming themselves. Why? Because we don’t yet really know the difference between a healthy soul and a diseased one.

Thought of the Day 02.20.09

Driving annoys me. Well, not so much driving itself, but other drivers. Now, obviously the ideal would be for everyone to drive like I do, but I know that’s unrealistic. Instead, all I ask for is some consistency.

For instance, if I’m driving behind someone who’s going less than the speed limit, no problem. I’ll just pass around him. But when I do that, sometimes he speeds up. Now I have to decide whether to accelerate even more or slow down and resume my journey behind “Mr. Consistency.” See, all I really want is for people to just be more predictable, you know, like inanimate objects. That way I can work around them and get done what I need to get done.

In short, they would be much better suited to serving me if only they wouldn’t be so darned human. I just don’t understand why God would make everybody else such a challenge for me if He really loves me. Well, I guess He just doesn’t realize what’s truly best for me.

Thought of the Day 02.19.09

Socrates rather infamously claimed to know nothing. Thinking this was a quantum improvement over error, he went about proving to others that they didn’t know anything either, a habit which eventually got him lynched. Although one might question the value of self-exploration which only leads to ignorance, I think there is a lesson here for Christians.

Our first command is to love God fully. Of course, love presupposes knowledge, and the Christian shorthand term for the knowledge of God is the Gospel. But at some point, those of us who seek God realize that we don’t really love Him and we don’t really know Him, truths which our actions clearly show and which prove that we don’t really believe the Gospel.

Admitting this failure is painful, but it is the pain of self-revelation. As such, it is a major checkpoint on the path to real intimacy with God and the holy life which grows from that. Whereas Socrates’s sense of ignorance was an endpoint, the Christian’s sense of unworthiness is a whole new beginning.

Thought of the Day 02.18.09

All Christian parents worry about what will happen to our children when they go off to college. We hope their faith has been sufficiently grounded to withstand the withering assault college (and modern culture) are likely to wage against it. Putting aside issues about whether we should trust God to do this work or whether we are responsible for it, let me offer a simple analysis.

As has been said in other contexts, “The man with a theory is always at the mercy of the man with a more enticing theory. But the man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with merely a theory.”

Although it is good to catechize our children so that they know how to think and speak Christianly, the far more urgent need they have is for vivid, transformational encounters with God out of which no one will ever be able to persuade them. And, truth be told, isn’t that what we all need for a more solid faith, too?

Thought of the Day 02.17.09

Let’s consider some very unpleasant questions:

If your kids turned out to be delinquents and your marriage collapsed, but you still had Jesus, would you be satisfied?

If you lost all your possessions and had to live on the street and beg for your meals, but you still had Jesus, would you be satisfied?

If you became unable to do your job for reasons of sudden incompetence and lost your reputation and personal pride in your work, but you still had Jesus, would you be satisfied?

If the society around you fell into total moral chaos, but you still had Jesus, would you be satisfied?

If you were forced to eat tasteless food, give up sex, and forsake all forms of entertainment, but you still had Jesus, would you still be satisfied?

If you contracted a disease which made you physically disfigured and caused you constant bodily pain, but you still had Jesus, would you be satisfied?

See, we all presumably know we’re supposed to say Jesus is more than enough for us. Some of us even sing those words. But the reality is that while He might be more than enough for our minds, He is not more than enough for our hearts…not yet at least. And that alone is the explanation for every sin we commit.

Thought of the Day 02.16.09

In my ethics classes, I always taught my students a concept called the excellence model. The short idea is that all behavior is either good (A), bad (C), or neither good nor bad (B). But because we are so interested in showing that we are “not wrong,” we spend most of our effort clarifying the boundary which divides B- from C+. Yet, in admitting that we are somewhere near the B/C line, we have also admitted that we’re nowhere near the A+, or real moral excellence.

I see the same problem in Christianity. We spend so much time fixated on precisely what is and is not required for someone to move from damnation into salvation that we almost totally neglect the much more significant question: what does full-blown, radical, world-transforming Christianity look like, and how do we get there?

Yes, it’s good to cross over that line and know that it’s happened, but the Gospel is the power of God to reach that highest goal, not merely to barely qualify for heaven.

Thought of the Day 02.13.09

One of the most basic formal fallacies in logic is called “affirming the consequent.” Though it’s difficult to explain, it’s easy to illustrate. Here are some examples:

"If a woman is pregnant, she will develop a big belly. Sue has a big belly. Therefore Sue is pregnant." Obviously Sue could just be overweight.

"If a man drinks poison, he will die. Jim is dead. Therefore, Jim drank poison." Obviously Jim could have died from many other causes.

"If I watch a boring movie, I fall asleep. I am asleep. Therefore, I watched a boring movie." Obviously, I’ve successfully slept many times without the sedative help of a bad movie.

The fallacy flows from the fact that qualifying for the broader category does not logically qualify you for the narrower subset of that category. Here’s a more poignant example:

"If a person loves God, he will do lots of good things. I do lots of good things. Therefore I love God."

Tragically, the entrance requirement for God’s eternal companionship is loving Him, not merely imitating someone who does.

Thought of the Day 02.12.09

When I hold a newborn in my arms, I find myself totally transfixed with wonder at this tiny human being. Yet, in Whose image is such wonder created?

When I see a sunset that colors the entire sky, I want to stand still and just bathe in the beauty of the scene. Yet, by Whose hand is such beauty painted?

When I cuddle with my wife, the excitement and pleasure pushes all other concerns away, filling me with happiness. Yet, like Whom do we seem when we rejoice in the embrace of such loving companionship?

You see, transcendent moments captivate us and make time seem to stand still. Yet such moments of bliss are not simply better versions of this life. Instead, they are moments when the veil which separates us from the presence of God becomes so precariously thin that we can almost smell the feast of eternity with Him.

Thought of the Day 02.11.09

This morning, my wife gave the boys haircuts, a process they hate to varying degrees. Her solution for their natural fidgetiness is to offer them a small reward if they sit still. In this case, she promised them a piece of the gingerbread houses they made last week.

When he was done, Ethan immediately wanted his payment, so I grabbed the roof piece and handed it to him. Well, this just was not acceptable. He was upset because he hadn’t gotten to pick for himself. So I apologized and put the piece back on roughly as it had been before, and I offered him the house. He pondered momentarily before picking the exact piece I had given him before, which made me chuckle.

See, this is basic human nature. When someone else tries to make a decision for us, we protest, but if we are allowed to decide for ourselves we are very happy, even if the end result is no different. Effective leadership, then, is often a matter of letting subordinates choose, especially among options all of which are acceptable to you.

Thought of the Day 02.09.09

One common criticism of conservative Christians is that we are legalistic, teaching people to try to earn God’s favor through good behaviors like attending church, tithing, avoiding drunkenness, and only having sex within marriage. The allegation is that we judge sinners, instead of representing the grace of Christ to them. If this is true, it’s a serious indictment because it would make us the modern-day version of Jesus’s worst enemies: the Pharisees.

But are conservatives the only ones susceptible to this heresy? It seems the same criticism could be leveled at liberal churches, who teach people to try to earn God’s favor by embracing alternative sexual practices, loving all races, serving the poor, and avoiding judgment. In other words, they practice a very different, but equally vigorous form of Phariseeism.

Regardless of which rules they endorse, any church that teaches people to leverage God through good works is misrepresenting Christianity. And neither side of the moral spectrum has a monopoly on this danger.

Thought of the Day 02.06.09

“Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1) must be the most misused phrase from the Bible. In fact, because it is unloving to withhold wisdom from people who need to hear it, Jesus also instructed us to “Judge righteous judgment,” (John 7:24) Just as I admonish my children whom I love, I should love others enough to admonish them when necessary.

Yet even with my children, for whom I have deep and unwavering affection, I still find that I sometimes scold them too quickly, too harshly, or even too selfishly. In other words, even when my motives are nearly pure, there are still times I have illicitly chastised them. And if so, then how much more likely is it that I would confront people I barely know and care comparatively little about in an even less Christlike way?

It’s not acceptable to keep our mouths shut. But it’s also not acceptable to allow our mouths to fly so recklessly open when the depth of our love for those we admonish is obviously not yet where it should be.

Thought of the Day 02.05.09

Why does the Bible tell us that Christians should not marry non-Christians? Well, one serious problem is that love is built on knowledge and understanding, but if your spouse doesn’t know and understand Christ, then Him being the center of your identity will always be a barrier between you.

And if you attempt to cultivate your devotion to Christ, your focus on Him will tend to marginalize your spouse. On the other hand, if you attempt to cultivate your devotion to your spouse, your focus on that person will tend to marginalize God.

If you were a single parent dating someone who did not and likely would not ever love your child, you would never get married because you would know that eventually you would have to pick between them with disastrous consequences.

So the key is not that this is forbidden, but rather that the very nature of a truly united marriage is simply impossible to build on the foundation of such basic incompatibility. Simply put, both of you deserve better.

Thought of the Day 02.04.09

“I think I’d rather not live at all than be homeless.”
“The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20)

“The thing that keeps me going is knowing I can depend on my friends no matter what.”
“The Lord turned and looked at Peter And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, "Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times." (Luke 22:61)

“At least if my major life projects are doing well, I’ll be okay.”
“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” (John 6:66)

“As long as I’m in control, I can be happy.”
"And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible,
the hour might pass Him by." (Mark 14:35)

So the real question starts to seem quite simple: If my notions of success define Christ as a failure, are they worth keeping?

Thought of the Day 02.03.09

In the area of interpersonal ethics, two major breakthroughs must occur in our thinking for us to become morally mature.

The first happens when we realize that other people are like us. Their needs and desires matter as much as our own do. Thus, it is unacceptable to live as if what happens to us matters but what happens to others does not. This process of outgrowing selfishness usually takes quite some time, perhaps our whole lives.

The second happens when we realize that other people are unlike us. This means that they cherish different things than we do. Thus, serving them requires putting ourselves in their framework to discover how they experience joy and also learning to rejoice in their joy even if its source makes no sense to us.

Awareness of the equal worth of other people combined with drawing satisfaction from seeing them get what they value makes it possible to possess a vital Biblical virtue: love.