Thought of the Day 05.01.09

The working hypothesis behind capitalism is that people are rational, meaning they will generally act in their own self-interest. Whether they really are is another matter.

Yesterday, Baskin Robins had their annual 31 cent scoop day. Economic theory would tell you to expect a significantly higher demand when the prices are dropped so low. Economists would not have been disappointed. My family and I stood in a line that stretched at least twenty deep out the store last night for about fifteen minutes waiting for our cheap ice cream.

During our wait, I overheard others quip that they could probably buy a half gallon for less money at the grocery store next door and even sell it to the crowd at 20 cents a scoop for a tidy profit. Still, no one left the line. Obviously, their analysis didn’t consider flavor variety, product quality, and ambiance. The only other conclusion is that people are not fully rational.

All I know is that my three scoops were delicious.

Thought of the Day 04.29.09

In Bible interpretation, as the expression goes, people can easily miss the forest for the trees. Consider the subject of polygamy, a practice which most modern people rightly abhor.

If a person starts taking the Bible seriously, it will to frustrate him that polygamy isn’t more strongly condemned. Far from making a rule against it, Genesis shows all the patriarchs engaging in some form of it. Realizing this, people find many clever ways to rescue the Bible from its glaring omission. But it’s not really necessary.

Precisely because the Bible shows us these examples, we can see for ourselves the twisted family relationships and suffering polygamy causes. In an ancient world where plural marriage was normal, the Bible would have been revolutionary not because it prohibited polygamy but because it dared to portray it so honestly as a corrupt practice.

Genesis condemns polygamy as soundly as any commandment could by showing the reasons in flesh and blood. Yet to a proposition-oriented culture too scientific to read stories properly, such obvious conclusions sometimes escape us.

Thought of the Day 04.28.09

It’s pretty clear from the Bible that the one single good thing in the universe which we need is the love and companionship of God. Everything else counts for nothing when compared with that one need. If so, then God’s parental love for us should mean that He would be willing to do whatever is necessary to bring us that one thing.

Consider the implications of this for pain and suffering. Adversity usually drives people to seek God, and even if they’re seeking Him for those reasons rather than to get the real blessing of Himself, well at least they’re seeking Him, right? The uncomfortable corollary to this is that when things are going well, we often neglect God because we feel we can do just fine apart from Him, an error which inhibits our faith.

But if it’s true that frustration drives us to seek God and satisfaction makes us indifferent to God, then we might say that the real challenge in theology is not in explaining the existence of pain and suffering, but rather in solving the problem…of prosperity.

Thought of the Day 04.27.09

Checking out at the grocery store the other day, my father and I ran into a problem. I was trying to use a rain check on some ground beef, which was apparently not so easy to do. Even without anyone behind us, the cashier began getting very frustrated about his inability to get the register to process it properly.

As he grew more agitated, I smiled and looked calm, my dad offered a sympathetic joke, and we both offered suggestions to help. But it’s only days later that I realized how badly I missed an opportunity to apply Christ to this man’s life.

I should have said something like, “You know, Jesus got frustrated by things a lot, too. And whenever I feel stressed, it comforts me that Jesus knows what I’m going through and cares about my troubles. And whenever I remember that, whatever is bothering me seems a little less important somehow.”

Would it have worked? Only God knows. But the next time I have the opportunity to comfort someone, I intend to let Jesus be the one to do so.

Thought of the Day 04.24.09

According to a recent column, suppression of speech is no longer just happening in regressive societies. Even European countries are now prosecuting people for unacceptable speech. But despite the author’s horrified tone, I must admit that I didn’t feel much concern. I yawned because it was still Europe rather than my own precious America. And I was selfish and wrong for doing so.

Oh, sure, some would encourage me to care because such shifts can eventually come to this country, too, if we aren’t careful. But that’s just a more enlightened version of selfishness. The real issue is that liberty is an inalienable right conferred upon all human beings by God, which means I must resist the impulse to care a little less about distant oppression merely because it doesn’t threaten me.

If human rights are real and embedded in all humans, then I must always care deeply about their violation in anyone’s life. That’s what it means to love my neighbor as myself, no matter how distant a neighbor he is.

Thought of the Day 04.23.09

Whenever a Christian leader has his ministry destroyed by scandal, most people are shocked, but I don’t personally find it so surprising. Here’s why.

Can a woman be beautiful and yet have a heart very far from God? Can a man be incredibly skillful at building a business, yet still not love God? What about a sports superstar? A musician? A filmmaker? A doctor? A person can do any of these to great effect without having a relationship with God.

So then, is it possible for someone to master a body of knowledge, apply excellent communications skills to it, and bless people presenting it from a pulpit without really knowing God himself?

We needn’t speculate. The Bible itself tells us that a man may have all knowledge and still lack love (1 Cor 13) or even do amazing ministry works without even knowing Jesus (Matt 7). So both those who are listening and especially those of us who are speaking must never make the mistake of thinking that a thriving ministry is the same thing as a thriving faith.

Thought of the Day 04.22.09

I have a reputation for not being punctual, and it’s a reputation I certainly deserve. But it is interesting how such a reputation forms and persists over time.

For instance, our station has always had a mandatory 10AM meeting on Tuesdays. Since everyone else is already in the office at that time, being there is easy for them. But because my day normally starts at noon, I never found it so convenient. This, combined with my natural tendency to tardiness, means that I have been five minutes late to that meeting often enough to be known for it.

What’s fascinating is how people react to me now. When I’m late, they often make a joke about it, which is fair. But even when I am on time (or early), people still usually make some sort of joke about it, which functionally reinforces their belief of me as unpunctual, despite actually having been on time that day. Thus, even disconfirming evidence is internalized as reinforcing the prejudice.

Certainly, I am fully to blame for having this reputation in the first place. But it is interesting how little incentive there is for me to fix this problem when the possibility of ever being acknowledged as having done so seems so remote.

Thought of the Day 04.21.09

When I recently commented that loving a person requires loving what he loves, someone replied that loving sinners does not require loving the sinful things they love doing. Though I agree with him, there is more to be said here.

If it’s true (and it is) that love requires knowledge, we can easily see that I can’t really love a sinful person unless I know of his sins. Ignorance of his flaws means I can only love a fake him who lacks those problems. But even if I know of his sins, there is still a barrier between us if I have never experienced a similar desire for them. I can’t truly understand him because I’ve never suffered his temptation nor yielded to it, and the fact that his sin doesn’t tempt me makes me more prone to judge him too harshly.

That’s why the most effective ministers are those who have both suffered and overcome what afflicts us. It’s also why the flaws which God has fixed indicate our natural areas of ministry. If so, then suffering them is best viewed as coursework in God’s seminary because they prepare us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Thought of the Day 04.20.09

In Plato’s Republic, one character (Glaucon) claims that otherwise decent people will all behave badly if they have the ability to get away with whatever they want by becoming invisible (wearing the Ring of Gyges). Since only fear keeps us from doing what we shouldn’t do, we need as many layers of external accountability as possible to deter us from acting out our evil desires.

But what if God doesn’t merely want us to behave better, but to actually become better? And what if the only way to get there is by forsaking every fear-based and external form of restriction we’ve ever known and embracing the total acceptance of God through Christ?

See, the Gospel isn’t terrifying because it asks bad men to become good, but because it asks good men to give up all the false forms of self-control we’ve always relied upon to make ourselves good so that we can instead become what God really wants us to be: the sort of people upon whose behavior that ring would have no effect whatsoever.

Thought of the Day 04.17.09

One of my favorite things is finding aspects of our modern culture which can be used to share real truth even if the author of the art didn’t intend it that way. I like to think of it as preaching from a secular text. Let me give you one example.

The rock band Nickelback has an extremely popular song in which they sing as if from the perspective of an ordinary person who dreams one day about having all the money, women, pleasure, and fame that typically comes from being a “Rockstar.” In short, the song was about how people want to be Nickelback or how they wanted to become themselves before they were yet.

Although the song is very good, the video is truly brilliant. In it, celebrities, sex symbols, blue-collar workers, and even children all lip-synch this song in praise of rock culture, the point being that all Americans want what MTV is selling. The amazing thing about this video is its honesty. The picture painted is beyond absurd, although I suspect that neither Nickelback nor any of the video’s participants realize this.

But that’s exactly the point. Everyone from the little to the large in our country is so taken by the allure of the song’s empty rewards that they don’t even realize how ridiculous it is to espouse such desires so unashamedly. Thus, precisely because the video is such a frighteningly accurate expression of our current culture, it also winds up being one of its most scathing critiques.

Thought of the Day 04.16.09

“Have you heard about John’s affair with his intern? Yeah, his wife is going to get everything in the divorce. Of course you heard that Steve is going to jail for two years because the IRS caught him cheating on his taxes, right?.

“Speaking of which, isn’t it outrageous how this President is wasting so much of our money at a time like this when the economy is tanking so badly? I don’t think things are going to get any better for a very long time to come. But it’s no wonder with all those illegal immigrants coming over here to sponge off our social services and take our jobs.

“As if we didn’t already have enough problems with flu season and all the drugs in our schools. And to top it all off, I got stuck in traffic for twenty minutes today because of some rollover accident on the Eastbound I-10 at the 101 and I had to listen to how the D-Backs lost and how miserably hot it’s going to be next week. Man life is rotten.”

Hopefully you would never choose to spend much time with a person this persistently negative. But then the question is, “Why do you watch the news and read the newspaper regularly?”

Thought of the Day 04.15.09

Is it always enjoyable to be loved?

At first glance, this seems like an absurdly easy question to answer. Since nothing is more enjoyable than being loved, obviously all expressions of love should be enjoyable, right?

But not so fast. Am I expressing love when I spank my children? Am I expressing love when I tell them they may not have cookies instead of spaghetti? When I correct their grammar? Yes to all, right? But do they enjoy these clear indicators of love? Not so much.

Furthermore, when I exhaust myself carrying my boys around the zoo, they don’t likely appreciate it any more than if I had actually remembered to bring the stroller. But the love shown was far greater because of the sacrifice it endured.

So expressed love is sometimes enjoyable, sometimes painful, and sometimes just intellectually comprehensible. If so, then it’s pretty easy to understand why we occasionally misinterpret the loving actions of other people, and possibly even of God.

Thought of the Day 04.14.09

There’s a simple philosophy in life that is far more accurate than any of us would prefer: easy and valuable rarely overlap. The general truth is that things which are good usually take work, and things which don’t take work usually aren’t good. This is why laziness keeps us from so many blessings.

For instance, all of us prefer people who treat us well, make us laugh, don’t betray us, and are easy to get along with. But, truth be told, we get more from the difficult people. They develop our patience, our forgiveness, and our humility. Plus, it’s the messed up people who really offer us the chance to discover and cultivate whatever God has planted in them to fruition.

So it is with art. Though we like movies, books, and music that’s easy and don’t offend us, the most valuable art is usually that which challenges and even bothers us.

Redeeming that which is Godly in both people and art is a talent which grows through much difficult practice.

Thought of the Day 04.13.09

Some people say that America can’t be a Christian nation because the freedom which stands at the core of our identity, especially freedom of religion, is incompatible with our government endorsing one particular view of truth, morality, and salvation.

But there is miles of room between a government endorsement of Christianity and a total expulsion of religious liberty. America has one flag, but Americans still express their own identities through a multitude of symbols other than this one. Even if the government buys Fords, that doesn’t stop me from driving a Honda. Similarly, affirming Christianity nationally does nothing to preclude people from disagreeing and worshipping otherwise individually.

Furthermore, Christianity values freedom and teaches forbearance toward those who disagree. After all, a pretty obvious part of loving our enemies is giving them the freedom to be our enemies in the first place. Believing all people are created equally in the image of God drives us to respect them out of egalitarian humility. Thus, far from thwarting wide freedoms for all people, Christianity is the most uniquely reliable foundation for them.

Thought of the Day 04.09.09

Grammar is divisive. If you speak poorly, those with proper grammar will judge you for your errors. If you speak well, those without it will either resent you for reminding them of their inferiority or actually make fun of you because they don’t even realize how flawed their own usage is.

For instance, if I say, “I am faster than him,” I sound normal to most people, even though it’s ungrammatical. But if I say, “I am faster than he,” I please those who are educated, but I sound like a total nut to everyone else. As someone who lives in communications and doesn’t want to alienate people unproductively, this problem bothers me.

Fortunately, in this one case, it’s possible to please everyone by simply saying, “I am faster than he is.” I don’t know how long this particular construction will remain friendly to both sets of ears, but as long as I can so easily be all things to all people, I intend to do so.

Thought of the Day 04.08.09

When I think about Christ’s crucifixion, I tend to think of Jesus as the obedient child suffering the unimaginable pain of being completely rejected by a Father Whose perfect love is all He’s known for all of eternity.

And sometimes as I focus on this part of the event, I find myself picturing God the Father almost as a sort of overbearing tyrant throwing thunderbolts at Jesus and exacting every last bit of punishment necessary from Him.

But as any parent who reads the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac knows, the anguish Abraham must have felt for what he was being asked to do must have been just crushing. If so, then it stands to reason that Jesus wasn’t the only One suffering on the Cross.

We might do well during this Holy Week to consider the awesome suffering of the Father both during the crucifixion and also during the separation from His cherished Son which followed it.

Thought of the Day 04.07.09

Many people have a negative view of money, which I believe comes mostly from just not understanding how money works and the good that it does.

For instance, loving people work hard to benefit their fellow man with deeds and gifts that make their lives better. But most of us aren’t good enough to do this when we don’t have to or don’t get rewarded for doing so. So money encourages us to produce as if we love our neighbors, even if we don’t really.

Similarly, self-controlled people only take what they need. But the truth is that most of us will take far more than this if something’s cheap or free, just because it’s free. So limited money causes us to consume as if we are self-controlled, even if we really aren’t.

Thus money functions as a sort of moral technology, making lazy people behave like they’re generous and making greedy people behave like they have self-control. Though neither change a man’s heart, we shouldn’t underestimate the societal value of such improvements in man’s behavior.

Thought of the Day 04.06.09

“God, I love you. It’s just your people I can’t stand.”

We’ve all heard people say this, often in passing. Perhaps some of us are even guilty of having said it ourselves. Yet far from being a harmless bit of condescension, this is a profoundly heretical assertion. Although the person saying this believes He is criticizing the Church, in fact he is exposing his own deadly ignorance of God’s Nature.

Consider some similar statements for illustration:

“Mr. Taylor, I love you. It’s just your wife I can’t stand.”
“Mrs. Johnson, I love you. It’s just your children I can’t stand.”

Precisely because the things we love are the deepest and most meaningful expressions of who we really are, loving a person is inseparable from loving the things that person loves and rejecting them means rejecting him. Thus, until we eagerly love those whom God loves, we can’t say that we truly love God Himself. And God’s love is not the love of people as perfect as He is, but of flawed people.

To the idolatrous and legalistic, such love seems profoundly stupid. And judging from their paradigm that love should be given to the worthy, God’s love actually is profoundly stupid. Nonetheless…

“Reckless, foolish, imprudent, and risky;
Your love alone, oh God, is worthy of worship.”

Thought of the Day 04.03.09

During a recent show on whether practical jokes are immoral, a caller asked me whether there weren’t more important things to be discussing. She was implying that such a topic was itself an immoral waste of time, an implication not to be taken lightly.

See, I think persuasion and argument are a lot like music. When first acquiring an instrument, you learn basic skills, play notes, and practice scales and simple melodies. Soon, these become warm-ups for more complicated (real) practice. And eventually, you apply the skills honed on these rudiments to play far more complex pieces of music.

Likewise, I firmly believe that the problem with our approach to this culture isn’t that we’ve spent too little time on hard issues like capital punishment and the Trinity, but that we’ve spent too little time on much easier issues like practical jokes and NCAA brackets. Learning how to play small, unemotional issues is the vital prerequisite to competently playing complex overtures like abortion and the exclusivity of Christ for salvation.

Thought of the Day 04.02.09

Atheist: Christianity is just wish fulfillment. You look around this world and discover that people let you down and betray you, so you invent a God who never does. You see sickness, pain, and death, so you invent a heaven with none of these things. You see evil go unpunished and good get no reward, so you invent a supreme Judge who remedies this. In short, your religion is nothing but a fantasy version of a reality that is too difficult to accept as the sum total of human existence.

Christian: Well, psychologically, this is plausible. But have you considered the possibility that God is the best advertiser ever, partially creating and partially allowing a world characterized by “almost but not quite” at its best and horror and pain at its worst so that we will both appreciate and yearn for exactly who He is as a result of having experienced the misery of a world just partially separated from Him?