Thought of the Day 07.01.09

How is it possible that Jesus could suffer separation from God the Father for only three hours, and that would be enough to compensate for all the suffering we would all endure in hell for all of eternity? After all, He knew it was the Father’s plan, and He knew He’d be getting the Father back soon enough, right?

When I was first dating my wife, I was obsessed with being in her presence. When I was with her, I was enthralled. And when I was apart from her, I was virtually useless for anything because I was thinking about her. Well, both of us being in college, we obviously had to separate at times just to attend class. But even though I knew I would see her again in a few hours, it was agony just to be apart.

See, although we use the word “love” to describe both my zeal for my wife’s companionship and the Son’s zeal for the Father’s, I worry that doing so hinders us from comprehending the magnitude of the latter devotion, if only because it sounds a bit like saying that a candle and the sun both emit light.

Thought of the Day 06.30.09

Surely the most bewildering aspect of the Christian faith is it’s central tenet: that in suffering on the Cross, Jesus paid off all the sins of humanity. Although substitutionary atonement itself can be baffling, even harder is comprehending how just three hours of Christ’s pain could pay off this massive debt.

But what if we take that seemingly absurd idea seriously and start from the premise that Jesus did, in fact, pay enough? Well, then the only solution must be that His love for the Father was so majestically vivid that a mere three hour interruption of it was adequate to match all the suffering of billions of people in hell for eternity.

And the amazing thing, which can only barely be comprehended, is that we will have eternity to share in and experience this same sort of bliss. A bliss whose sweetness must make even the greatest agonies of this life seem like mere nicks and scrapes by comparison.

Thought of the Day 06.29.09

Have you ever noticed that you think differently about purchasing things when you don’t have as much money as you would like?

I mean, let’s say you go to the grocery store with a credit card and a $5,000 limit. Even at your splurgiest, you likely wouldn’t spend more than a few hundred bucks, but you’d pretty much buy anything that seemed appealing, right? And if you’re like me, a lot of that stuff would sit in your pantry or refrigerator unused because it turns out not to be stuff you really wanted that badly after all.

But let’s say you went to the store with three twenty dollar bills and nothing else. You might complain about having to be more selective, but your cart would contain only the stuff you really wanted. And it would all be the most economical brand of that stuff, right?

Oh, sure, it’s nice to be able to buy anything we want, but the reality is that we all shop smarter when we have limits that distinguish the merely good from the best in what we want.

I wonder if this concept has ever occurred to anyone in our Congress.

Thought of the Day 06.26.09

I have Legos. Lots and lots of Legos. I’ve accumulated them over the course of my life, some from gifts, some from garage sales, some just bought. And the reason I kept them all these years was because I liked messing around with them and because I knew that one day I would have my own children to enjoy them with. And now at age five, Spencer really likes building things with me.

Well, the other day he made some remark about what he wanted to do with “his” Legos when he grew up. I immediately corrected him by explaining that the Legos are mine, other than the ones that have been specifically given to him, and I intend to keep them when the kids leave home. After all, how would I divide them among several children, and why wouldn’t I want to be the grandpa with the cool Legos to play with? But I reassured him that he was welcome to play with them all he likes until he grows up and leaves my house.

Precisely because they seem so identical on a day-by-day basis, my son had made the very common error of mistaking stewardship for ownership.

Thought of the Day 06.25.09

A friend of mine recently moved away and gave me all the food in his kitchen, since he couldn’t keep it, including a case of bottled water. I’ve had a strange relationship with these bottles. Obviously, I’ve been drinking them, but I’ve also had the opportunity to give them away.

Although I would never withhold something as trivial as a bottle of water, I still have to admit that part of me hesitates momentarily before remembering that I didn’t pay for them. The fact that they were given to me has made it easier to give them away to others. Now I know that it’s ridiculous of me to have such a stingy impulse, and I know that bottled water is a truly trivial example. But that’s sort of the point.

I can’t help but hope that a time is coming in my life when I will finally and fully realize that everything I have, from my measly bottled waters to my savings account and my cars and my house, was all given to me just as freely by an extremely generous God. And until I’m willing to give it all away as easily as a bottle of water, that day hasn’t arrived yet.

Thought of the Day 06.24.09

Last night while driving home, I saw something that I have grown unaccustomed to in the era of photo-radar: a really aggressive fast driver. As he passed us all, I felt inside me a growing sense of glee because I knew there was a camera array just over the next rise. So I waited and watched for the satisfying burst of law-enforcement vengeance.

Alas, he hit the brakes just in time and then sped away. I was crestfallen. But then I realized something. Compared with the fantasy ideal of a world where every reckless driver gets caught every single time, I have reason to be disappointed. But compared with the real world of six months ago where they almost never did, I have reason to celebrate.

The important thing is not whether every violator gets his just desserts, but whether more of them do. And under the new system, far more do get tickets, everyone else drives more evenly, and Valley driving is generally safer overall, which is the real ultimate goal. See, it’s always important to celebrate significant improvements, especially since our critical-oriented human tendency is to bemoan and focus on any failure to achieve perfection.

Thought of the Day 06.23.09

I recently had a lengthy conversation about forgiveness with a friend of mine in which I was encouraging him to be more forgiving than he wanted to be. Basically, he didn’t want to forgive someone who might not be truly repentant. Observing that even God doesn’t receive everyone into heaven, he argued, “What, are we supposed to be more forgiving than God?”

I pondered that for a little while before realizing that not only are we supposed to be more forgiving than God, but that the very heart of Christianity is built around the idea that we are supposed to do many things differently than God precisely because we aren’t Him. Since God alone can know the true heart of someone, I am told to forgive people lavishly, even recklessly. Since God alone can be trusted to execute justice, I am told to refrain from taking my own vengeance.

So, yes, we are supposed to forgive more than God and punish less than God. But all this really means is for us to start believing that He will always be a better God than we are.

Thought of the Day 06.22.09

It’s vital to realize how many of our ethical intuitions are based on what we perceive as normal, which is basically what we’ve repeatedly seen and been told. This realization leads us to be alert against the tendency to respond from our well-rehearsed biases rather than from our rarely-rehearsed principles. Here’s what I mean.

The government recently announced a plan to pay car owners as much as $4,500 if they will purchase a new car with better gas mileage. Many people, myself included, were outraged at this. At the same time, however, the government will pay first-time homebuyers $8,000 for buying a house this year. Far from being bothered by this, many people are saying you’d be a fool not to buy one now, between this offer and the depressed prices.

So why the outrage over car subsidies but a favorable embrace of house subsidies twice as big? Simple. We’ve been long conditioned to the idea that government should help people buy houses, but the idea that government should help people buy cars is new…for now.

Thought of the Day 06.19.09

Listening to my wife teach Spencer how to read this morning, I was moved with great compassion for him, given the tremendous complexity of English. Our language is hard enough to speak properly, and then just when you’ve almost got that mastered, we show you how much harder it is to write!

Of course, you start by learning certain rules of spelling and pronunciation. But even here, things aren’t simple. Each of the vowels and many consonants have several possible sounds. And of course, when you start combining letters, everything sort of goes haywire. C at the beginning of a word sounds like K, but in the middle sounds like S, unless it’s with a K, in which case it seems to do nothing at all. Each of the vowels has several possible sounds.

Then, you learn that different sounds might have the same spelling and that the same sound might have different spellings. So even if you master all the rules, there are still loads of exceptions: cases where you just have to know the answer and there simply isn’t any explanation in terms of other rules. Cite sounds like sight, and Decalogue should have been spelled Dessalog.

And listening to all of this made me realize how similar English and God’s Will are, and how much compassion we should have on people who are struggling to learn either of them.

Thought of the Day 06.18.09

“The Bible is a socially regressive text that demeans women, restricts pleasure, and teaches all sorts of offensive things. We are far too advanced a culture to embrace something so primitive.” How would you respond?

Well, assuming that the person is properly understanding the Bible, the issue is actually pretty simple. The speaker is starting from the premise that God will always agree with him. Thus, any text which doesn’t endorse his opinions cannot be from God. In effect, this means his god will always be what skeptics claim our God is: a human invention.

Here’s another possibility. People are flawed and, therefore, often hold flawed opinions. But God is perfect and thus will often disagree with us. Moreover, if we are to have a relationship with Him, He absolutely must be able to refute us. Otherwise, He is neither God nor even our mere equal, but such a complete subordinate that we might better call Him our slave. For my part, I prefer a God Who is sufficiently greater than I am that He can correct me when I’m wrong.

Thought of the Day 06.17.09

A little while back, I had a funny, inconvenient thing happen to me. A guy I had recently met who was a big fan of the show had wanted to have lunch with me to get my input on a radio program he was launching. Naturally, I was excited about helping him.

After a wonderful lunch and discussion, we got in his car to come back to the station, but it wouldn’t start. Apparently, he had a broken gas gauge and didn’t realize he’d run out of gas. But he was so embarrassed and ashamed and couldn’t stop apologizing for it. Even after he had gotten some gas, he seemed so crestfallen and distressed, despite my assurances that it was no big deal.

Although I was sort of flattered, his behavior basically showed that he had put me on some special, celebrity pedestal. In a sense, he had made an idol out of me, and was just a little too worried that this gaffe would doom our fledgling relationship. But would I really be worth losing as a friend if I could be offended by something so small?

Thought of the Day 06.16.09

Why do people who are saved by Jesus still live lives in pursuit of money, fame, power, achievement, and pleasure? It’s fairly simple. Because though we teach salvation by Christ, we don’t teach the whole spectrum of what salvation means.

Do you derive all of your significance in life from your relationship to Jesus? Is the very meaning of your life and identity rooted exclusively in Him? Is Jesus the source of your greatest satisfaction and happiness?

See, even though we know we are saved by Christ, in truth most of us still use other things to meet our real needs. So we act as worshippers of them rather than of Him. We’re not acting contrary to our faith, we’re acting in perfect alignment with what we really have faith in.

When we fully love Jesus, we will find ourselves indifferent to money, fame, power, achievement, and pleasure. But so long as we still love these things we will, to that degree, remain indifferent to Him.

Thought of the Day 06.12.09

Last week, I found myself trying to park at a meter around 7:30 in the evening but without enough coins to get me safely to 8:00. Unfortunately, there were no shops to get change at, so I resorted to asking the few people I saw. One lady eventually just gave me a quarter, which was terribly kind, but the first response I got made me realize something about myself.

These two guys I asked said they didn’t have it and not to worry. I should just take a risk and “live a little. It would be okay.” Easy advice for them to give, right? But, having just seen an enforcer wandering around, I was none too eager to risk five minutes of meter time costing me a $30 ticket.

Only later did I realize just how sinful both of us had been. See, parking at a meter without paying is breaking the law, which they endorsed because I wouldn’t get caught. But rather than being aghast at their criminal pragmatism, my only objection was that I might be. The idea that I should either pay the meter or park elsewhere on principle hadn’t occurred to either of us.

Thought of the Day 06.11.09

Imagine a religion which taught that right standing with God could be achieved by following a moral code. How would that religion talk to people in the culture around it? Now compare that with how you talk to people in our culture and see whether you are inadvertently evangelizing for that religion rather than for Christianity.

Next, imagine another religion which taught that all people already are fully accepted by God no matter what they do and that they can’t dishonor God nor matter how they live. How would that religion talk to people in the culture around it? Now compare that with how you talk to people in our culture and see whether you are inadvertently evangelizing for that religion rather than for Christianity.

All of us who know the Gospel still tend to err toward one or the other of these extremes. But until it is easy for people to know that we aren’t representing either of these two false religions, then whatever else we may tell ourselves, we aren’t yet representing Christianity.

Thought of the Day 06.10.09

“You have to forgive me because you’re a Christian.”

The problem with a person making this demand isn’t so much that he’s misunderstood what Christian behavior looks like so much as that he’s misunderstood where Christian behavior comes from.

See, my willingness to forgive does not come from a rule I’m obligated to follow. Instead, it comes from my own gratitude toward God for His forgiveness of me. In turn, I choose to honor Him by offering forgiveness as a free gift to other people who have wronged me.

But the fact that I am imitating and honoring God by offering this gift must never be perverted into someone thinking that he is entitled to receive it. The beauty of gift-giving is thoroughly soiled when the recipient tries to pry it out of your hands as an entitlement.

Even more problematic than this, though, is the idea that forgiveness is a transaction which I can coerce you into giving me through a show of repentance and a moral prod. Real contrition simply doesn’t behave this way.

Thought of the Day 06.09.09

I think a pretty good case can be made that any culture is best defined by what it considers sacred. The difficulty is finding what really is sacred in spite of what people say is sacred.

For instance, our culture says that life is sacred, but abortion and warfare tell a different story. Divorce statistics show that family is not sacred to us. And tattoos, cosmetic surgery, and sexual immorality invalidate any claims that our bodies are sacred to us.

Actually, freedom comes pretty close to being sacred, as proved by the fact that it regularly overrides other sacredness candidates. For example, although many people hold the flag and religious images sacred, defiling either is kept perfectly legal in the name of freedom, so long as you own them.

There is one thing, however, which is so sacred that you may not deface or destroy it, even if you own it. The one and only thing our culture considers sacred enough to make defiling it into a federal crime…is our money.

Thought of the Day 06.08.09

I don’t particularly enjoy horror movies, although I’ve seen quite a few. But one thing I like about horror movies is that they depict evil as a real thing, aggressively coming to get you in spite of, and sometimes because of, your virtue. Also, horror movies often show the truth that you are more likely to be destroyed by evil if you behave stupidly, like by opening that door “just to see for yourself.”

But even though they show evil as a real thing, horror movies also can be very misleading about it’s true nature. For example, few of them ever do justice to the supernatural essence of demonic activity. But the real problem with horror movies is the portrayal of evil as spectacular when the truth is that most evil is quite ordinary.

Far more evil has been done by “normal” people than by lunatics and madmen. It’s not the masked man with the chainsaw we need to fear, but the slumlord who bribes the inspector rather than repairing the building. The midnight stalker scares us in a movie, but I’m more disturbed by the medical claims adjuster who denies a needed treatment he could have approved.

As Hannah Arendt put it, evil is banal. Boring. And when we conceive evil through the eyes of Wes Craven or Eli Roth, we both deceive ourselves into a false sense of security and we distract ourselves from the evil all around us…and within us.

Thought of the Day 06.05.09

In hosting a radio show, I’ve grown accustomed to emphasizing my points with sound effects and music. I do this with a laptop-sized electronic device. So when I was given the chance to preach at my church recently, I really wanted to use this machine to enhance the sermon.

Well, one of the challenges was finding a suitable stand for it to sit on. Two chairs would be too low to use conveniently. A music stand wouldn’t be strong enough to hold this very expensive piece of equipment. And I just didn’t have anything to do the trick.

But then on the way home Saturday afternoon, I saw that my neighbor had a bunch of garage sale leftovers sitting outside for free. Among the items was a two-drawer file cabinet exactly the right height and size for my needs. It worked perfectly on Sunday morning.

Now I know this may not seem like a major act of Providence, but to me it was yet another reminder that God cares about every detail of our lives and delights in providing for us in unexpected and creative little ways, too.

Thought of the Day 06.04.09

Many Americans believe that faith is naïve and gullible whereas doubt is savvy and sophisticated. In reality, faith and doubt are the very same thing, merely in opposite directions.

Faith is the word we use for belief in the presence of uncertainty, and doubt is the word we use for disbelief in the presence of uncertainty. This means that both faith and doubt are forms of unwarranted belief in the sense that neither is demonstrably provable. Yet despite having this same basic substance, our culture has somehow internalized the surprising notion that unproven disbelief is superior to unproven belief.

So, if I have faith in God, then I might just claim to doubt the non-existence of God. Likewise, I might say the atheist simply has faith in God’s non-existence. If doubt is better than faith, I can thus win the God argument just by inverting the proposition. The silliness of such a move shows why saying doubt is better than faith is a lot like saying negative numbers are better numbers than positive ones.

Thought of the Day 06.03.09

All of America is discussing Sunday’s murder of Dr. George Tiller, a notorious late-term abortion provider. Although pro-lifers aren’t likely to shed any tears over the death of this man, we must unambiguously condemn the actions of his murderer.

Some may find this tension baffling, but it’s important to recognize the distinction between means and ends. In this case, we certainly can be glad that some babies will not be killed late in pregnancy. Nonetheless, we must condemn both parts of the means used to get there: killing Dr. Tiller and doing so by vigilante action.

Christians ultimately believe that God is sovereign over everything in this world. This means that we can endure the existence of some evil because we know that a much more powerful God does so as well. Also, because we have the example of Christ who died for His enemies rather than killing them, we know that our foremost obligation in this life is to demonstrate the Gospel we claim to believe.

Thought of the Day 06.02.09

Boy, I sure hope there’s baseball games in heaven, because I can’t imagine spending eternity without being able to enjoy the playoffs.

I wonder what the food will be like in heaven. I sure hope we get to eat meat, because eating filet and lobster every day would be heaven for me.

I wonder if God likes rock and roll, because an eternity without good music would be unbearably boring. I sure do hope it’s not just organs and pipes all the time.

Putting aside the fact that the Bible teaches that heaven comes to us rather than the other way around, all of these people seem to be missing the main point. The only thing about eternity which matters is that we get to be with God. And the only thing about hell which matters is suffering His absence. And until God becomes so magnificent to us that an eternity spend in His presence eating rice and listening to elevator music without a television becomes thrilling to imagine, we can’t really say that we’re ready for heaven.