Thought of the Day 08.03.09

As I was getting my oil changed this morning, I decided to go walk up the street in search of a coffee shop or diner where I could sit and work while I waited. As I did this, I had a very strange sensation. I perceived people watching me, and not just watching, but watching and feeling superior to me. I even wondered if anyone was having trouble reconciling a well-dressed, middle-aged professional walking through central Phoenix in the middle of the day.

And a part of me sort of wanted to give some indication to them that I’m really a car owner who just happens to be walking because my car is in the shop. Of course the reason I had such ridiculous thoughts is embarrassingly obvious.

When I see people walk, I don’t merely feel sorry for them for having to do so. I also sort of feel better than them. More responsible. Economically prosperous. Better. It never stops amazing me how easily arrogance doesn’t just sneak into my mind, but actually camps out there unnoticed until God reveals me to me.

Thought of the Day 07.31.09

I remember driving home from our small group on the 4th of July watching fireworks in the distance all over the Valley and then parking to watch one show near our house. As you would expect, my boys were loving it. Fire. Loud noises. Pretty colors. All the essentials for preschooler fun.

But as the show went on, I noticed something that I remember being true of myself when I was young. Spencer kept repeatedly asking me, “Is that the finale, daddy? Is THAT the finale, daddy?” I don’t know why, but once you ever tell a kid that fireworks ends with the finale, you can never untell them. And they obsess about it during every show. After fifteen or twenty times, I told Spencer, “Don’t worry, son. You’ll know the finale for sure when you see it. You won’t have to ask.”

This didn’t stop him from continuing to ask, though less frequently, but it dawned on me that the answer would fit another question, too. How do you know you’ve had a genuine encounter with Christ? Well, once you do, you’ll stop asking that question.

Thought of the Day 07.30.09

After checking my receipt at the grocery store the other day, I discovered a mistake. The cashier had charged me $2.99 a pound for garlic when I had actually bought mushrooms at $3.49 a pound. Having only bought a handful, the difference was just a few dimes.

Nevertheless, I went back to him and showed him the error, saying, “I think I owe you some more money.” He apologized and told me the difference was on him since it was his mistake. So I thanked him and left.

This wasn’t the first time. In fact, I always check my receipt carefully because I find errors between a fourth and a third of the time. Sometimes it favors them, sometimes me. Either way, I always find a manager and fix it.

But the weird thing to me is how surprised they always are when I’ve underpaid, making a big deal of how impressed they are with my honesty. This makes me uncomfortable because, to me, honesty is an obligation, not a virtue. And certainly if I’m willing to point out errors that get me money, I must also point out errors that cost me money. Isn’t that the essence of the Golden Rule?

Thought of the Day 07.29.09

My middle son, Ethan, has great interest in games, at least he has a great interest in game pieces, which he likes to spread around the room or, if given enough time, the entire house. Well, he recently decided that the best use of the four different colored boxes of Cadoo cards was to dump them all on the floor and mix them together. My own perspective on this way of playing the game was not so favorable.

So I told him he needed to clean up his mess before I would play anything else with him. This meant sorting the cards back into their separate colors, orienting them all the same way, and returning them to the boxes. Of course, I knew in advance that this task would be impossible for him. So I told him that I would help as long as he was working, too. In essence, this meant I would do it all, but at least he would have to sit there with me while I did it.

Then, one of those wonderful parenting moments happened. My other son, Spencer, offered to help Ethan. Spencer gave up some other activity so he could do for Ethan something he couldn’t do for himself but which his father was requiring of him. I wonder Who taught him that lesson?

Thought of the Day 07.28.09

My wife recently wanted me to order something from Bath and Bodyworks for her grandmother’s 80th birthday. This morning, while looking at the receipt, she asked me, “Um, honey, where did you order that gift card from?” My heart sank as I realized I had ordered it from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Stupid man!

I instantly apologized, but she was understandably disappointed and didn’t immediately forgive me. That’s when I got a bit defensive. I thought, “It’s an understandable mistake. I bet it happens all the time. Next time I won’t do her any more favors. Besides, she’s supposed to be more forgiving as a Christian wife.”

That’s when it hit me how wrong I was. Aside from turning my true anger at myself into false anger at her, I was actually treating forgiveness as if it was an entitlement rather than a gift. If she wanted to be angry at me, well, I deserved it. And unless I started from that premise, I’d never be able to appreciate her forgiveness as the unearned gift it would be. Now I need to be forgiven for my crummy attitude on top of my purchasing error.

Thought of the Day 07.27.09

After a recent discussion with someone both on my show and afterward via email and blogs, I found myself thinking about the issues a lot. Now, in my life, I’ve found that playing and replaying imaginary discussions is a great way to develop my thinking on a subject. And the more energetic an encounter is, the more I tend to do this afterward, much as I expect athletes replay at-bats so they can become better hitters.

But even though this is valuable, it was starting to annoy me how much I was doing so in this case. It almost felt like an obsession. And I suddenly realized that I was paying more attention to this person and our argument than I was paying to Jesus. So I immediately switched to praying instead, especially for the other guy, which instantly brought a sense of peace.

And that’s when I realized what a colossal error I had been making. Instead of trusting God to have His way in this situation, I had been trusting in my ability to persuade this man with superior arguments. It’s just so easy to forget Who’s really in charge.

Thought of the Day 07.24.09

Imagine a slightly different conversation between Jesus and the rich young ruler:

RYR: What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
Jesus: Why do you want eternal life?
RYR: Because I want to persist.
Jesus: But what if eternity is punishment?
RYR: Well, yes, that would not be ideal.
Jesus: What if all of eternity you spend growing ever more infatuated with the thing you prize the most?
RYR: Yes, that sounds nice.
Jesus: What if that thing is God?
RYR: Yes, I can see how that might work.
Jesus: What if that thing is you?
RYR: Sure, that would be fine also. I am quite a guy, after all.
Jesus: But what if you spent all of eternity discovering just how little of you there is left when all of God is removed from you? And yet what if you continued to fall more and more in love with something less and less lovely?
RYR: Well, that would be a horrible thing.
Jesus: So do you want eternal life merely so that you may go on existing, or do you want eternal life so that you may go on enjoying the presence of the only thing that can actually continue to satisfy you as you behold Him for all of eternity?

Thought of the Day 07.23.09

I recently found myself engaged in a ferocious argument with a pastor over the relationship of baptism to salvation. Although we both agreed that all Christians should be baptized, I was saying that baptism is an essential part of salvation, and he was saying it is not. In my opinion, I lost this argument by a small margin.

Naturally, I found myself thinking heavily about these issues for the next day or so. This drove me to study my Bible with tremendous passion, and, in the end, I am even more firmly convinced that my position is correct, surely a discouraging result for my friend.

But the great value of our discussion is that it gave me new questions to take with me on my exploration of the Scriptures. I wanted to find out if his use of passages was valid. I wanted to see if there were sold replies to his assertions. In short, losing (or something close to it) invigorated my thinking on the subject, and forced me even more deeply into understanding why I believe what I believe.

And even if we do not agree, I truly hope he has been enjoying similar results. That is one of the great benefits of vigorous Biblical dialogue.

Thought of the Day 07.22.09

On my way to and from work, I often drive through the I-10 tunnel while listening to a radio show. This means that just as Dennis Prager or RC Sproul is making some fabulous point, I can’t hear him for 30 seconds or so, an excruciating interruption. I have actually found myself leaning forward as if moving my body closer to the exit will accelerate the reappearance of the radio signal. This does not work .

Then I get angry. First at the radio station, as though they prefer me to not get the signal. Next at the tunnel engineers, as though they set out to irritate talk show listeners. But then I must eventually admit that I have known of this problem and could have avoided it by going up the ramp and over the tunnel on the streets. “But that would have been slower!” Yes, of course.

And so ultimately I have to merely be angry at the circumstance of not being able to drive as fast as I want and listen to the radio I want without any interruptions I don’t want all of the time. Did I mention I’m an American?

Thought of the Day 07.21.09

I’m fairly adventurous when it comes to ideas, people, and art, trying anything new and interesting. But for most everything else in life, I’m pretty resistant to novelty.

When I find a product that works, I generally will use it until it breaks and then try to find the exact same one again. Once I find the best route to work, I drive it every day unless my nemeses in the roads department thwart me. And although I love going to new restaurants, my goal is always to find the best thing on the menu and then order it every subsequent time I go there.

But with the things I really care about, like my career, my money, and my family, I’m not adventurous at all because the consequences seem so steep. That’s why I’m constantly amazed whenever I think about the early church.

They had no written text, just word of mouth. Their beliefs made them total outcasts from their society. And they were the first people in history to hold their beliefs. Their faith was truly adventurous. By contrast, mine was merely obvious.

Thought of the Day 07.20.09

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most undercelebrated event in human history.

Sounds like a strange thing to say, right? I mean, hundreds of millions of people celebrate this event every day or at least every week. And surely there is no more famous event in all of history. It’s so famous that it caused the birth of this man to become our standard for measuring time. Nevertheless, I stand by my statement.

See, the question isn’t whether it’s more celebrated than any other event. It is. The real issue is how adequate the celebration is compared to its significance. If a Rolls Royce were selling for just $5,000 more than a Chevy Impala, it would still be wildly underpriced.

And to put the point simply, if every person spent every hour of every day celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that would merely be fair. And as far short of that barely passing grade we fall, I feel quite justified in repeating that this is the most undercelebrated event in human history.

Thought of the Day 07.17.09

I have a new favorite passage in the Bible; one that has brought me great frustration and even greater joy by forcing me to rethink everything I thought I knew about the Book. At the end of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is walking incognito with His disciples on the road to Emmaus and winds up delivering a sermon to them. Luke writes, “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)

The importance of this verse is woefully easy to miss. In simple terms, it asserts that everything in the Old Testament is understood correctly only when it is seen as pointing toward Jesus. Far from being a set of stories that teach us how to live right, the Bible is actually a thousand floodlights whose sole purpose is to display the glory of the Son of God.

According to this verse, every Bible story ends with the same message: Isn’t Jesus amazing? And any telling of those stories which doesn’t end there misleads us and robs our Savior of His due regard.

Thought of the Day 07.16.09

Imagine that we’re friends and one day I tell you that I’ve decided to liquidate all of my investments and convert them into one single commodity like olive oil futures or Microsoft stock. Most likely, you would be horrified at my violation of the basic financial principle of investment diversification.

My flagrant disregard for such deeply ingrained concepts like “having a back-up plan,” “hedging your bets,” “keeping your options open,” and “not putting all your eggs in one basket” would shock you because these ideas form the very core of our American economic psyche. But there’s a problem.

The problem is that the principle of diversification is fundamentally incompatible with success in the two most important areas of life: marriage and our salvation in Christ. And if exclusive and singular devotion is the key to those endeavors, we just need to make sure that success in money management doesn’t teach us how to fail in the things that really matter.

Thought of the Day 07.15.09

Have you ever worked with someone who was totally motivated by money? I mean someone of whom it could really be said that he loved money more than anything else? A person like this is really interesting to watch and think about.

For instance, imagine he encounters a potential client who is abrasive, demanding, and obnoxious, in short, a detestable person. Most of us would treat them accordingly, but not the money-lover. Putting aside his personal preferences, he can sweet-talk, entertain, and even become quite chummy with Mr. Difficult…so long as there might be a profit in it.

Of course if the prospects ever fade, so will the nice-guy act. But the money-lover is capable of working with almost anyone and enduring almost anything so long as there is a commission to be had from it.

And although most of us find such people disturbing, there is actually something admirable about their devotion and what they will do in the pursuit of their true love. I wonder what would happen to this world if we Christians loved God even half as zealously as that?

Thought of the Day 07.14.09

On the average American road, there are two tribes of people: the law-abiders and the law-breakers. The tribes might prefer their own labels, such as “safe drivers versus reckless drivers” or “slow drivers versus good drivers,” but I think mine are the least prejudicial.

Naturally, these tribes react very differently to the presence of police. When a cop is driving nearby, law-abiders feel safer and reassured whereas law-breakers feel nervous and frustrated. And when someone has been pulled over by a cop, law-abiders rejoice a little bit whereas law-breakers feel pity for the person, plus a little relief it wasn’t them.

Differences noted, these tribes are also fascinatingly similar. Each thinks their tribe behaves well and wisely. Both take pleasure in having contempt for the other tribe. And both are ashamed of being thought a member of the wrong tribe.

And although it’s interesting to contemplate which tribe a Christian should belong to, I would at least hope no Christian would stay very long in a tribe that held other tribes in contempt.

Thought of the Day 07.13.09

No doubt about it, parenting is complicated. For instance, my wife recently discovered a stuffed cheetah on sale at a store which the boys desperately wanted. So she bought it. When I got home, after hearing about how the boys played with it all day, my immediate question was, “Did you consider buying two?”

Here’s why. If they become very attached to it and it subsequently gets lost, having a back-up cheetah could prove very useful. Several near-catastrophes with Spencer’s beloved, raggedy blue hippo taught us this lesson. But there’s another benefit to buying two: no fighting over scarce resources.

On the other hand, since we know they will fight over the one, maybe this is a better way to force them to develop social skills like sharing and getting along with others. Buying extras to avoid the conflict may not best serve their developmental needs.

In the end, we stuck with just one, and as such things often go, it turns out that only Spencer really likes him anyhow. As I say, parenting is a complicated thing.

Thought of the Day 07.10.09

One of my favorite pieces of recent legislation is House Resolution 615 being offered by Representative John Flemming (R-Louisiana). In short, it would encourage Congressional members who vote for Barack Obama’s health care plan to actually use that plan themselves rather than the much more luxurious system they currently enjoy.

His idea, of course, is that we should be very suspicious whenever the cook doesn’t want to eat the food, and perhaps forcing him to do so would serve to improve its quality. At the very least, when the lawmakers suffer (or benefit) along with the rest of us, their own self-interest will help deter the passage of bad laws. But why not go even one step farther?

I know it wouldn’t work for everything, but what if Congress led the way on all innovative legislation by volunteering to be the test subjects for it themselves? Rather than making one giant new law for everyone, why not try it on themselves first to make sure it’s good? If they aren’t willing to do so, then they obviously aren’t really convinced of its value.

I guess I’d just like to see Congress put its medical care where its mouth is.

Thought of the Day 07.09.09

Browsing around my local Christian bookstore recently, I came to the marriage section. Here I saw all sorts of advice books on how to understand and get along with the other gender, thereby creating a healthy home life.

As someone who has learned from many such books, I was suddenly bothered by the thought that most of them could easily be read and applied by someone who is a member of any religion whatsoever.

If so, one possibility is that the principles will work to improve their marriages, but without developing any faith in God. This means they would solve the pressing problem, but not the real problem in their lives. The other possibility is that the principles won’t really work when separated from faith in God, and the book would fail to help them very much.

At the very least, these books don’t seem to be saying that Christ is our most important relationship of all, which raises a question. Can a book which neither points to Christ nor directly glorifies Him by name be properly called a “Christian” book?

Thought of the Day 07.08.09

The other day I was listening to a news story about a charity that helps underprivileged kids. What seemed like a good story quickly turned bad, however, when they began discussing how the president of the charity had been caught misusing funds.

Instead of buying books for the kids, she has been leasing a luxury automobile. Instead of buying lunches for the children, she has been wining and dining her romantic partners. Instead of helping the kids get computers, she had bought a whole new home entertainment center and hi-speed Internet service. In short, although she had been using some of the funds properly, she had been pilfering the vast majority of it for her own personal luxuries.

What was her defense? “What’s the big deal? After all, it was my fundraising skills that got that money for us in the first place.” Awful, right?

Now the good news is that there was no such woman in the news. But if God gives us money to use for His purposes, then the bad news is we must all admit that, essentially, we are her.

Thought of the Day 07.07.09

The other day, I saw a melancholy looking girl waiting for a bus and listening to her i-pod. It made me pause to think of just how much misery there is, even in our wonderful country. But after a moment of sympathetic sadness, I sort of got angry at her.

“She should be more grateful for all the blessings in her life. How dare she be unhappy in this prosperous land when so much of humanity has it so much worse than she does!”

And that’s when it hit me. I’m a materialist!

Somewhere deep in my thinking is buried the idea that material prosperity is the key to happiness and that its lack justifies misery. So if people have anything to be grateful for, they should be happy, and if they don’t, well at least their depression makes sense. And yet, reality shows rock stars often being horribly miserable even as the poorest of slumdwellers lives joyfully. Why?

Because our deepest needs aren’t solved by economic, political, or physical prosperity. Only Jesus Christ can touch us at our cores and bring us the joy we really desire.

Thought of the Day 07.06.09

Of my two older sons, Ethan is far more physically affectionate than Spencer. Ethan wants to be held when he’s upset, he tackles me when I get home from work, and he thoroughly enjoys rough horseplay and wrestling. Naturally, being a physically affectionate person myself, I also enjoy this.

But something extra-special happens on those days when they haven’t taken a nap and have gone to bed early. Just to avoid any late-night irrigation, I carry each of the sleeping boys to the bathroom and make them go potty just before we go to bed ourselves. Well, when Ethan is done, I slip my hands under his armpits and lift him up to my chest, at which point he wraps himself around me like a starfish as I carry him back to bed. It’s a sensation which no words can express.

And the thing I keep pondering is how those wonderful moments would never have been possible if we had decided to quit after having just one. Just as I never would have seen the radiant smile of our 8-month-old if we had decided to quit after just two.

Thought of the Day 07.02.09

Boy sees hot girl. Boy and hot girl date. Boy grows bored of hot girl. Boy sees new hot girl. Boy leaves old hot girl for new hot girl.

Normally, we’d condemn the foolishness of this boy, who isn’t mature enough to realize that it’s okay for every relationship’s infatuation stage to wear off. But what if it’s not okay?

What if his desire for a continuously satisfying relationship is actually the result of a deeper truth? What if we were, in fact, built to love Someone Whose awesomeness not only wouldn’t wear off, but would actually wear on, growing greater day by day forever? If so, then the problem with our boy isn’t that he has such absurd desires. It’s that he thinks their satisfaction will come wearing a skirt and high heels.

But perhaps there is another lesson here. If he has mistakenly expected his love affairs to be as glorious as God, perhaps some of us have mistakenly come to accept that God will be as disappointing as our love affairs.