Thought of the Day 02.01.10

Leaving my car this morning, I discovered that I can’t use the fob to lock the doors until after they’re all closed. There are several ways I could have reacted to this minor annoyance.

Reaction 1: Why don’t people design things better? I guess this is about the best you can expect from a world engineered by nincompoops who don’t even bother using their own products.

Reaction 2: Yes, this is annoying. However, it’s a really great car otherwise, and if this is the biggest inconvenience in my life, I should be tremendously grateful to have it so good.

Reaction 3: Perhaps there’s a very good reason why it’s made it this way. Every design feature solves some problem at the cost of not solving or creating others. Since engineers usually are perfectionists, it must be very frustrating for them to have to make those choices, especially knowing judgmental pinheads like me are going to anonymously despise them for it later. If I were one of them, I suppose it would be nice if people offered me a little more grace.

I’ll go ahead and spare myself the embarrassment of telling you which reaction I actually had.

Follow-up: A listener emailed me the following explanation. "As per the locking mechanism on you key fob - it's a security device and the locks don't engage if a door is left open - this prevents you from unknowingly walking away from your car thinking it is locked and secure."--John

Someone else pointed out that this also makes it impossible to lock your fob in the car. Just more evidence that what frustrates you (or me) probably has some sort of explanation.

Thought of the Day 01.29.10

My perception of the Jewish leaders of the New Testament is, to say the least, not favorable. Whenever I think of them, I immediately have a negative reaction (almost a revulsion) to them as the enemies of Christ. And until this morning, I basically thought He was as opposed to them as they were to Him.

But then I read in Matthew 8:1-4 how Jesus specifically instructs a leper whom He has just healed to tell no one but go straight to the priest and “present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Later, in Matthew 9:1-8, after the scribes are bothered by Jesus forgiving a paralytic man’s sins, He specifically heals the man, “ that you may know [about Me].” And again in the same chapter, He went to the home of a Jewish leader to bring his daughter back to life, news which spread everywhere. (verses 18-26).

This means that, although the Jewish leaders hated Him, Jesus deliberately reached out to them to show them Who He was, a view I had somehow missed but which seems pretty obvious in retrospect, given His love of all mankind.

Thought of the Day 01.28.10

What, exactly, might it mean to “forsake all others, so long as we both shall live,” to a person making this vow? Here are some possibilities (as told from the male perspective):

View 1: I’d really rather not give up all other women. Unfortunately, my woman requires this stupid promise, and if that’s what I have to do to have her, okay.

View 2: Getting married is the only way to make sure she won’t leave me for another guy. So, since I want security, I’ll give up some freedom in exchange.

View 3: It’s easy to make this vow, since I don’t want anyone else but her. I’m thrilled to get such a great wife.

Oddly, these three views each seem so different until you realize how similar and selfish they all sound when compared with one final possibility:

View 4: I want my wife to know that I am completely hers. I want to serve and glorify her for the rest of my life, and forsaking all others is the only way to really say that.

Thought of the Day 01.27.10

Imagine for a moment that you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend an hour over coffee with someone you really admire. It could be a religious leader, a politician, an author, a sports figure, an entrepreneur, or whoever. Just someone you really respect.

Well, naturally you’d be overwhelmed by the opportunity, and you’d think of your dozen or so questions you’re dying to ask him. But when you sit down, something strange happens. Although your hero begins by answering your questions, he quickly maneuvers the conversation so that you’re doing most of the talking…about your life. And he seems to be really paying attention. In fact, he seems to hang on your every word as you describe even the most boring aspects of your daily life. How honored would you feel? How significant would you feel that this amazing person is paying such eager attention to you?

Now what if this person turned out to be more wise, more powerful, more good, more accomplished, and more admirable than any of the people you might have named for such an honor? Imagine that this person is the God of the Universe. And all He wants to do all day long is sit and listen to you, an activity which He finds enrapturing.

So now one question: Is prayer a duty or an honor?

Thought of the Day 01.26.10

When I’m driving, I typically try to thwart aggressive drivers when I can safely do so because I detest the idea of rewarding them. But, after a particularly unpleasant encounter with a tail-gating, cuts-you-off-once-he-gets-in-front-of-you-driver-of-an-oversize-pickup-truck (shock!), I’m trying an experiment. My new ego-crushing course of action is to always yield as much as I possibly can.

This means when people suddenly decide to turn right in front of me without signaling, I’ll just brake instead of passing around them. And I won’t even honk. When someone is coming up behind me on the highway, I’ll pull over one lane to allow them through, even if I’m already going the speed limit. And if someone abuses the merge lane in a construction zone, I’ll give him room to come in ahead of me.

After trying this for only a day so far, I have to admit I’m much calmer and happier. It’s strange, I thought enforcing virtue would make be happy, but it didn’t. And when I simply started giving grace, it did. At least so far. After all, I’ve only been “taking the high road” for a day.

Thought of the Day 01.25.10

My wife is the smartest woman I know. However, I sometimes fault her because every once in awhile she mispronounces a word. As a late-blooming language snob, I think of this as showing that I am smarter than she, a conclusion I’m not proud of. But the other day I suddenly realized I had it entirely backwards.

See, I grew up around intellectuals. This means I was exposed to a very wide vocabulary, words I learned how to use and how to pronounce by often hearing them. On the other hand, my wife grew up around blue-collar folks, people who were smart but not necessarily in the academic sense. This means she had to acquire her larger vocabulary by reading books. In so doing, she clearly learned the meaning of these words but not necessarily how to say them. Her guesses make sense, but unfortunately this is English, where even rational guesses are likely to be wrong.

Here’s the irony. Whenever she uses a word correctly but with such incorrect pronunciation, it indicates a word she learned on her own. This marker which I had been relying on as evidence of my superiority should actually be a reminder that my education was donated to me whereas hers had to be earned by her own effort. So who’s the smarty-pants now?

Thought of the Day 01.22.10

In any typical office setting, there are basically four kinds of workers.

Type 1. Those who don’t know how to refill paper in the copier. They generally complain whenever it runs out.

Type 2. Those who could refill the paper in the copier but refuse to do so. Oddly, they also generally complain whenever it runs out.

Type 3. Those who refill paper in the copier when it runs out during their print job. They generally complain that no one ever refills the copier but them since they happen to never see anyone else do it.

Type 4. Those who check the paper any time they use the copier just to see if it’s starting to run low. That way other people don’t have to be inconvenienced by having it run out on them.

Having mostly been a type 3 person for many years, looking down my nose at all the others, I have to say that striving to become a type 4 has caused me to complain far less. Who would have guessed that practicing voluntary generosity could displace resentment?

Thought of the Day 01.21.10

Perhaps the easiest thing in the world is to be halfway Biblical. You know, to get just enough of what the Bible seems to be saying to get it completely wrong and yet think you’ve got it right. In other words, the easiest thing in the world is to be a Pharisee. See, I must confess that I am constantly bothered by how Jesus in the New Testament repeatedly responds to His circumstances in precisely the wrong way, either overreacting, underreacting, or just doing the unexpected.

For instance, when foreigners are crowded out of the temple by merchants, I expect a diplomatic request for religious reforms. Instead, He goes berserk, attacking them like a madman. (John 2:16)

When a woman is caught in a capital sin, I expect Him to condemn her. Instead, He quietly, almost aimlessly, entices her attackers to dismiss themselves. (John 8:3-11)

When a local politician mercilessly kills worshippers, I expect a public protest. Instead, He ignores it except to encourage people to change their own ways. (Luke 13:1-5)

And when chastised for seriously inconveniencing His parents, I expect an apology. Instead, He rebukes them. (Luke 2:49)

What lesson do I draw from these and dozens of other, similar examples? Merely this: to not be so sure that my way of reacting to things coincides with God’s way of having me react to things. It’s just far too easy to be halfway Biblical and entirely unChristlike.

Thought of the Day 01.20.10

What, precisely, was so offensive about Pat Robertson’s recent insinuation that Haiti is reaping what they sowed by making a supposed deal with the Devil for their independence? Well, it’s not the idea that God could punish a nation through natural disasters. Gomorrah’s fire, Egypt’s plagues, and Noah’s flood all demonstrate that He can and has done precisely this.

But Robertson didn’t theorize a possibility. He asserted an explanation. And for those of us who also know the stories of Job, the Tower of Siloam (Luke 13:1-9), and the man blind from his birth (John 9:1-12), we know not all tragedies can be chalked up to Divine vengeance. And even the ones which can be have all been “officially” explained this way by God in His revealed Word. Thus, the real problem was Pat proclaiming certainty where the Bible asserts ambiguity. But we can learn a useful lesson from all this.

See, our reaction to Robertson’s clanging gong is very much like this culture’s reaction to our insistence that Christ and the Bible are true, conclusions most of them regard as dubious opinions. When sharing our faith with them, it’s useful to remember what it feels like to have one’s own strongly held uncertainty assaulted by someone else’s confident dogma.

Thought of the Day 01.19.10

The son of a very good friend recently asked if he could treat our house like his home-away-from-home while he trains for a month at Luke. I’ve known Brandon since he was 5, so I of course said yes. But I didn’t really know what to expect since guests are an unknown until you actually have them.

Some people, naturally, are difficult. But even people I enjoy having around can be a different sort of drain because they can turn my place of relaxation and refuge into a work zone, which is psychologically taxing…like going on a vacation and needing another vacation afterwards to recover.

Well, after several days, I can honestly say I’ve never had anyone be around so much and yet inconvenience me so little. The boys love playing with him, and we’ve all done stuff together, but somehow or other it simply feels like he isn’t really there at all, which I mean in the very best of ways. All I know is I have a new goal whenever I stay with other people: to make my presence in their home disrupt their lives and ability to relax as little a possible.

Thought of the Day 01.18.10

Although I live in Phoenix, I’m still from St. Louis, where we love our baseball team. Well, the other day I was driving past an SUV with a Cardinals hitch cover, and I got so excited. Here was a fellow fan, and all I wanted to do was connect with him somehow. Should I honk? Should I wave? We don’t have a universal gang sign, so I wound up doing nothing. But I really wanted to connect with this stranger who I knew shared and would understand my enthusiasm. Unfortunately for me, that response looks an awful lot like idolatry.

I mean, when I see Christian symbols on cars, it doesn’t give me anywhere near the sense of solidarity this did. So what explains this difference? Well, it could be I love the Cardinals too much. It could also be that I don’t love Christ nearly enough. Or it could just be the rarity of such an encounter. When I’m in St. Louis, I don’t have any such impulse, and if I were in a place where few people were Christians, I think I’d be much more excited to find one.

In reality, it’s probably a blend of all three. But the good news is that only someone who knows he’s truly accepted in Christ would be secure enough to understand and admit such flaws.

Thought of the Day 01.15.10

So the other day, I’m driving about 45 miles-per-hour next to this pick-up truck when suddenly the upcoming light which was green turns yellow, catching us both in that unpleasant zone where we have to choose between braking hard enough to stop or going through a light which will probably be red before we’re through. What did I do?

Well, I sped up a little to make it through the light, telling myself that it was the safest alternative, especially with some cars behind me. But as I was doing so, I saw to my horror that the pickup had come to the other conclusion. He stopped as I went through the orange light. And I was furious at him.

See, normally, he would have looked at me going ahead and he would have thought, “Well, if he thinks that’s best, I will too.” And I would have looked at him and thought the same thing. We could have mutually reinforced our bad decision with peer encouragement. Instead, he just had to show me that it was possible to stop, didn’t he? How dare he force me to realize how badly I wanted his peer approval to feel justified in my sin!

Thought of the Day 01.14.10

Right-now-Andrew wants to sleep in for another half an hour. Unfortunately, “A-little-bit-later-Andrew” will then be stressed out getting ready for work.

Right-now-Andrew would like to have a bigger serving of ice cream for desert. Unfortunately, A-little-bit-later-Andrew is the one who has to fit into the same jeans which were just barely large enough yesterday.

Right-now-Andrew would rather watch television than play a game with a three-year-old. Unfortunately, A-little-bit-later-Andrew will have to live with having told his son that he matters less than a TV drama.

Right-now-Andrew isn’t quite sure what to do with this email and would rather just leave it where it is. Unfortunately, A-little-bit-later-Andrew will have the anguish of an inbox with over 300 messages to process.

Now here’s the funny thing. Most ethical commentators would look at these examples and tell you that Right-now-Andrew should be more considerate of A-little-bit-later-Andrew’s needs. Generally, this is true. But it’s just as fair for A-little-bit-later-Andrew to be more mindful of Right-now-Andrew’s needs as well. After all, A-little-bit-later-Andrew only starts to really matter when he becomes Right-now-Andrew. And if Right-now-Andrew’s interests don’t ever matter, then A-little-bit-later-Andrew’s interests never can either.

Thought of the Day 01.13.10

We teach our boys that when people ask for money, the Christian response is to give it if you can. But then we have a problem. Walking around Phoenix (or even driving), we encounter beggars asking for money. Well, for a variety of fairly sophisticated reasons, I generally don’t give to these people. But my children are watching.

Adults would understand all the complexities of the situation. But they aren’t adults. All they know is that daddy is being asked for money. So what should I do? I should give. The example of me giving is more likely to influence them toward good deeds than if I were to try explaining all the complex adult reasons for avoiding it in this case.

Young children badly need to learn general principles like, “Don’t lie,” and, “Give to people who ask.” We can explore ethical complexity and justified exceptions after that foundation is in place. Losing moral credibility with my children would end up costing far more than the mere loss of a few unwisely given dollars.

Thought of the Day 01.12.10

Yesterday on the show, we discussed the problem of screaming children on a plane, where the obvious solutions of either making the other passengers endure or kicking the kids off are both undesirable. But what if this dilemma is really due to a lack of imagination by the airlines? Consider some possibilities:

An airline which only serves people over the age of 18, or 12 for that matter. Does anyone doubt this option would sell, and probably at a premium?

An airline which deliberately caters to families travelling with children, a sort of playplace in the skies. They could sell more seats (since kids are both smaller and weigh less) and provide a big play area in the middle of the plane, making the flight better for everyone.

Or an airline which simply has distinct child and no-child rows similar to the old smoking and non-smoking areas. Having these rows at the front might even alleviate some of the pre-boarding issues airlines deal with.

The widespread affordability of air travel has made the current problem possible. Perhaps a little creative thinking will both solve it and make a profit in the process.

Thought of the Day 01.11.10

Our language has been so ravaged by deconstructing postmodernists that we might be said to suffer from chronic terminology obsession syndrome. People aren’t short, they’re vertically challenged. People aren’t handicapped, they’re differently-abled. And people don’t commit sexual sin, they simply have alternative lifestyles. Yet despite all the effort to reframe our thinking through Orwellian language abuse, one rather unacceptable term seems to have gone unnoticed.

When a person is still alive but with negligible brain function, we say she is a “vegetable.” Perhaps we try to sound slightly more erudite by saying she is “in a persistent vegetative state,” but that’s just the same word with a doily wrapped around it. There are all sorts of terms that could be used for such a person. Non-cognitive. Mentally inactive. Even brain dead strikes me as fairly innocuous.

People are made in the image of God with all the dignities this entails. No matter how much function they have lost, comparing them to produce seems pretty obviously unacceptable.

Thought of the Day 01.08.10

A few weeks ago, I was making our year-end donations, but I was doing it online. Just as I was about to complete the transaction, I realized I was missing a tremendous opportunity. So I paused and went to get Spencer and Ethan. When I brought them into the room, I told them where we were giving, why it’s important to help the poor, and even how much so they would understand the importance of this value to us.

Then we took a few moments to pray for the people who needed help, which turned the rather abstract event of clicking on a web icon into a ceremony of sorts. Spencer even declared he’d like to give some of his own money to help the poor people as well, which naturally warmed this father’s heart greatly.

It was one of those moments that easily could have just passed without squeezing the maximum benefit from it. It’s just one more reminder to me how proactive I need to be at including my children in the things I want them to learn are right and how visible they need my right deeds to be. A good example unobserved is no example at all.

Thought of the Day 01.07.10

On my very first day back from vacation, I decided to de-ice the office freezer, in part because I needed to put something in there. My preferred tool for this job was a large screwdriver, temporarily conscripted into service as an ice pick. I had de-iced freezers this way many times in the past. So what could possibly go wrong?

Well, the little plume of escaping gas after one over-exuberant poke was my answer. Turns out, that’s the refrigerant. (Luckily, it's not Freon.) So yes, in one fell stroke, I felled the refrigerator. And, having admitted my foolishness to my coworkers, I now fully expect to be regularly lampooned by them. In fact, if I don’t at least occasionally find a screwdriver on my desk when I arrive at work, I’ll be disappointed.

You see, beyond mere humor value, such ridicule conveys a very important message. First, it reminds me that I make mistakes, which is good for humility. But second, and more importantly, it declares that my friends love me even with my hilarious flaws. Whereas the laughter of enemies wounds, the laughter of friends heals.

Thought of the Day 01.06.10

As a mathematical snob, I’ve often repeated the old insult that the lottery is a tax on people who can’t do math. That part is true. But lottery players don’t always believe wildly improbable things will happen. After all, they drive, and this despite the much greater odds of dying in a car crash than of winning the lottery.

So why do people believe the probable in driving but the improbable in jackpots? I think the answer is simple: it’s what they imagine. Though people fleetingly imagine car crashes, they primarily imagine and enjoy the experience of driving places safely. But with lottery tickets, they imagine winning, and they imagine it vividly over and over, even at the moment they are wasting their money. This instead of picturing the real things they could buy with the money saved on unpurchased tickets.

So people drive because they picture success and they buy lottery tickets because they picture success. Apparently, imagination is more persuasive than math for significant numbers (sorry) of people.