Thought of the Day 06.01.10

Have you ever read the Bible and failed to understand what you were reading?

Of course, we all have.

Have you ever read the Bible and felt like you did understand it but that it was clearly contradicting you and telling you that you were wrong?


n your experiences with God, have you ever felt confused by God and not understood what He is doing in your life?

Again, this is true for all of us.

In having a relationship with God, has it ever seemed that God was telling you how wrong you were?

Certainly, all the time, right?

Okay. Considering all these obnoxious and bothersome realities here’s one final question.

When you see someone else doing things you either don’t understand or else doing things you are just sure are wrong, one possibility of course is that they are outside of and violating God’s Will. However, can you also seriously consider the possibility that they are in fact perfectly representing the same God who mystifies and even contradicts you in these other, more direct ways?

Thought of the Day 05.28.10

One of the most common criticisms of Christianity is that it is an “easy way out” of the frustrating reality that life is painful and difficult. Christians, so the argument goes, buy into a fairy tale because they’re too strong to handle the truth. It’s a criticism that goes back at least as far as Nietzsche.

In response, Christians have often said that Christianity is anything but easy. “Restrain your lust, restrain your anger, restrain your greed, restrain your pride? These are easy things? Wouldn’t it be easier to deny God and yield to our impulses?” Though this reply is on target toward the objection, I worry that it misidentifies what is truly challenging about Christianity, especially since these requirements are common to all major religions.

See, although moral purity is difficult, moral purity isn’t the hardest thing about obeying Jesus. The hardest thing is emulating God’s ridiculous, foolish, impractical grace: forgiving enemies, giving to people who have behaved stupidly, and putting your own welfare at risk for those who won’t appreciate it.

These commands aren’t just hard, they’re downright irrational, which is why we don’t do them. In truth, we all secretly believe that these most distinctive characteristics of God are actually ridiculous and embarrassing, a judgment we share with Jonah, the Pharisees, and the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal sons. Hence, the real mark of Christian obedience isn’t personal moral purity, but a life which imitates the absurd grace of God. That’s why real Christian repentance must begin here, not with those other sins.

Thought of the Day 05.27.10

If I told you that praying for one hour per day every day would guarantee you to make a million dollars this year and you believed me, would you find a way to pray that much? What if I told you that by praying an hour a day you could be sure to never get sick in any way for the rest of your life?

What if you believed that an hour of daily prayer would result in you having lots of meaningful friendships? What if it would get you a fantastic marriage? What if you could be sure it would make your kids have happy, well-adjusted lives? In any of these hypothetical situations, do you think you could find it in you to pray for an hour each day? Me, too.

Now, what if you believed that praying for an hour each and every day wouldn’t necessarily get you any of that stuff, but that it would result in you having a deep, meaningful, and satisfying relationship with God?

The most underestimated power of idolatry is its ability to hide itself right in front of our eyes every single day.

Thought of the Day 05.26.10

One of the most easily bungled concepts in Christianity is the matter of personal worth. See, it’s very easy to think, “Well, if God chose me, that must mean that I’m pretty special.” However, good doctrine tells people, “No, it’s because God chose you that you have any value at all.” Keeping this distinction clear is understandably difficult, so allow me to help.

Imagine a memorabilia auction with things like a baseball thrown around by Ty Cobb or a ticket stub held by Elvis or even a pen used by Ronald Reagan. Now, consider someone sitting there looking very puzzled and finally turning to you to say, “But those things aren’t worth anything! What’s wrong with these people?” Then, looking like he’s had an epiphany, imagine him saying, “Wow. I guess I never realized just how valuable baseballs, ticket stubs, and pens are.”

You’d know this fellow didn’t understand the situation at all. And you’d feel sort of sorry for his complete confusion about what actually made these worthless, ordinary items so precious.

Thought of the Day 05.25.10

I personally have no opinion on whether wearing a hat is a proper or improper part of spending time with God.

However, years ago I discovered that my father strongly feels that wearing a hat when praying or worshipping is inappropriate. Therefore, as a way of honoring him, I began to do these things with my head uncovered. I did this for so many years that it became ingrained in me as a habit and seemed natural, if not necessary.

But in Israel, I discovered Jews do it exactly the opposite. At holy sites, male visitors are required to wear a head covering. If you don’t have something, they’ll loan you a yamika. Since I wanted to pray in some of these places, I found myself having to pray with my hat on. At first this bothered me, but after a little while, I adjusted.

So which is right? Well, as I said, there’s no necessity either way. But it’s useful to see how such neutral cultural habits develop moral momentum from repetition, and how short a trip it is from there to inappropriate judgment of others who simply don’t happen to follow those same practices.

Thought of the Day 05.24.10

For a moment, I’d like you to try picturing a completely different way of doing education in America. Imagine that one of the required classes for every child was on the religious and doctrinal history of their parents’ choosing. Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists would learn about Christianity. Orthodox and Reformed Jews could learn about Judaism. And Muslim students could learn about Islamic history. The children of atheists could even read Ayn Rand or Bertrand Russell.

Now, obviously, one major effect of this would be the declaration to students that religion (or its lack) is no less important than math or geography, but it would do so in a way that honors the diversity of viewpoint of their parents. Perhaps you don’t think that this could work in a pluralistic democracy like ours. But then again, maybe you’ve just never learned from our “news” media that some other countries do it precisely this way…such as Israel.

That’s right, in a Jewish nation, the government subsidizes the religious education of Muslim and Christian children, which naturally raises a good question: which of our two countries really has the most freedom of religion?

Thought of the Day 05.21.10

Confined together in a van for an entire week, it was inevitable that the Evangelical Christians and their Jewish tour guide would have conversations about salvation and Jesus. What I found fascinating was the sense of frustration once people realized that this Jew knew everything they knew about Jesus and yet didn’t accept Him as Lord.

Their impulse, of course, was to provide arguments to persuade him of the truth of Christianity. I thought this was a mistake, since I thought it fairly likely that in leading Evangelicals on tours for 30 years, he might have had such conversations before. Eventually, it dawned on the apologists that here was a man who knew everything they knew and still refused to believe in the way they did.

This was understandably distressing. After all, if someone else could hold all those beliefs and not come to the same conclusion, how valid can that conclusion be? One must either become suspicious of the conclusion itself or else of the idea that it can be successfully reached by the mechanism of mere rational argument.

Thought of the Day 05.20.10

Having spent a week in Israel with a wonderful Jewish tour guide who knows the New Testament better than most Evangelicals and still rejects Christ as his Savior, my current main theological concern is the evangelization of Jews. Though I still believe everyone needs to accept Christ, I have found it useful to consider just what that would mean for the average Jew.

Imagine that tomorrow someone starts talking with you and ends up saying you should renounce your American citizenship and become a traitor to your country by joining Al Queda. Now imagine he said that Al Queda wasn’t merely true, but actually such an obviously pure expression of American principles that he’s surprised anyone hasn’t joined “Americans for Al Queda.” This line of reasoning would seem at least absurd to you, perhaps even repugnant.

Now of course, in asking a Jew to accept Christ, you know you’re not offering him anything like this. But you should at least understand that this is basically the sort of thing he hears you offering.

Thought of the Day 05.19.10

A friend of mine on Facebook asked the following question: How many people are truly good and how many are simply looking for brownie points from their deity of choice? Great question, right? Here’s what I wrote back:

If my wife's back is sore and she asks me for a back rub, am I doing it because I love her or because I'm hoping she'll return this or some other favor at a later time? The only way I can know it's love is when I know she would give me what I want later anyhow, even if I don't give her the back rub now. But the real question is whether I'll give her the backrub even if I knew I'd get nothing for it in return and if it's really inconvenient for me to give it right now.

In short, I can’t know whether my motives are pure until I’ve had the benefits removed and the price is high. Only then am I finally free to do something truly good for the very first time, and able to find out whether I still will. Love is only revealed when someone has nothing more to offer me, whether because they won’t give it or because they’re already giving everything they have.

Thought of the Day 05.07.10

“Pssst! Did you hear about Jeff from sales? Yeah, he went on that three week business trip to Tokyo, and he was faithful to his wife the entire time he was there.”

“Hey, did you guys hear what Steve from accounting did? He was going over some of his old reports, he realized he had made a mistake, and then he told the boss about it. Isn’t that cool?”

“Hey, you know what I’ve been doing the past few weeks. I’ve been keeping my eye on Suzy from the development team, and you know what I’ve discovered? Get this. She comes to work about ten minutes early every day, and whenever she takes a cup of coffee, she tosses a quarter into the beverages jar.”

“Can you keep a secret? I just heard from Gary that the boss called him into his office and told him he was doing a really good job. Man, it’s great to work with such excellent people.”

“Did you hear about Nancy’s son? He got accepted into three of the four schools he applied to. She sure is some kind of outstanding parent, isn’t she?”

Thought of the Day 05.06.10

Let’s be honest. It’s rare to find a television sit-com these days which one could even consider calling Christian. But then again, that’s going to be true in general of any culture and its current manifestations. They will always be imperfect at best. The question is, can we see anything valuable in them at all to praise?

Well, the television show, “Cougar Town,” is not what you’d likely call a Christian program. There’s enough promiscuity, alcohol, family dysfunction, and vulgar humor to offend any conservative. Nevertheless, it preaches some incredibly deep things in spite of itself.

See, precisely because this little group of suburban misfits is so flawed, their bond with one another becomes a robust image of generosity, acceptance, and forgiveness. There’s just something fantastically beautiful about these messed up people loving each other so unconditionally. One can easily imagine that if a traditionalist were to show up, he would have a much better chance of being welcomed by them than any of them would have of being embraced by a group of his conservative friends. This of course is to their credit. Although their society is imperfect because of it’s immorality, you might say that the community of decent people is often imperfect precisely because it makes such decency into an entrance requirement.

Another truth revealed by this show is the consistent misery and frustration caused by people seeking to have their deepest needs met by something other than Christ. Though socializing, fun, romance, and family are all good things, they aren’t ultimate things. And watching them fumble around and suffer for making this mistake only serves to reinforce the Truth Christians have to proclaim….if only the people who need to hear that message do.

Thought of the Day 05.05.10

In the story of the prodigal sons, the family would have been in disgrace for both the insubordination of the younger son and the foolishness of the father. But the elder brother’s job would have been to defend his family and his father to the community.

How could he have done this? Well, the only plausible spin he could have used was to say it was really good riddance to see such a worthless brother go. Of course, he would have known this was a lie masking the father’s weak and foolish grief, a truth which surely made him resent his father even more over the years his brother was gone. But at least people didn’t know the truth about his dad.

Imagine his fury when not only has the son returned but his sentimental father has actually embraced him back into the family. Every bitterness in him would have been roaring that this fa├žade of family dignity was revealed as a sham. No wonder he reacted as he did.

But of course the real question for us is, “What part of God’s reckless mercy secretly embarrasses us so that we feel the need to lie to cover up the family foolishness?”

Thought of the Day 05.04.10

This past Saturday, after Spencer’s soccer game, we noticed some people on the other side of the lake using remote control boats and decided to go join them since we already had his with us. Dani indicated that she wanted to walk the quarter mile or so around the lake to where they were, so I asked whether she wanted me to walk with her or drive around and meet them. (I know my sons, and I thought Ethan would likely complain on the way back.) She said for us all to walk together, so I joined them.

Well, sure enough, on the walk back, Ethan started moaning about how far it was, asking me, “Why did you make us walk so far?” I was very tempted to say, “Don’t ask me, it was your fool of a mother who made this choice.” Notice I said “tempted to say.” What I actually told him was, “Stop complaining. It’s good for you, and we’re almost there anyhow,” basically telling him what she would have said.

See, when you’re married you have a choice. You can either keep things separate, such as decisions, or you can truly become one. In my house it’s simple. Whether I disagreed with her beforehand, my wife’s decisions are mine afterward, as if I had made them myself. That’s just what it means to become one flesh.