Saturday, December 31, 2011


Christmas is over for most of the world. For Eastern Christians—primarily those in Ethiopia, Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova—it comes on January 6 (or 19, depending on the calendar used, Julian or Gregorian), in connection with Epiphany.

But while Santa has come and gone, and while decisions as to whether one had been naughty or nice in the year have been made, and while gifts have been received and even returned, for one sector of the economy, even here in America, Christmas goes well into mid-February. A sizable portion of their annual revenue comes between January 1 and February 15. All because Americans want to look good.


It’s like someone is orchestrating this with a timer. As if by clockwork, gym memberships explode the first six weeks of every year, recession or no, depression or no, inflation or no. Everyone wants to look good, lose weight, trim the fat, bulge the muscle, lubricate the joint, crank the tendon, let the blood flow, let the adrenaline rise, etc.

There is, typically, a 75–150% increase in membership sales around New Year’s. And most quit by Valentine’s!

For health clubs, weight-loss centers, and other enterprises in the “self-improvement” industry, recidivism is great for the bottom line! Last year, Americans spent $62 billion on these. This industry thrives on our failure to stick to it. They expect us to return again for six weeks next year.

As one commentator noted, this just doesn’t make much sense. In an economic downturn, one could save money by just running outside than on a treadmill, or by lifting cinder blocks than weights. And why do folks give up after six weeks. “It makes more sense to keep that workout going through the winter so that your summer body is sculpted come the first beach day.”

One writer speculates that “People across the country join gyms en masse now because they believe that just having a Gold’s Gym membership will automatically whip them into shape.”

Everyone wants to look good. The key word here is “wants.” Everyone wants to look good. But those “wants” don’t last for more than six weeks, unfortunately. Those “wants” don’t translate into lasting action. Resolutions galore. Execution? A different matter altogether.

While looking good in body is a worthwhile goal, the Bible wants us to look good in spirit, too.

… yourself for the purpose of godliness;
for bodily discipline is only of little profit,
but godliness is profitable for all things,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:7–8

No doubt, there are things other than poundage that we need to shed, habits we need to flee from, in our move towards godliness.

Flee immorality.
1 Corinthians 6:18

… flee from idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:14

…flee from these things [the love of money].
1 Timothy 6:11

…flee from youthful lusts.
2 Timothy 2:22

The hard work involved in changing lifestyles is not as attractive as the mirage of a svelte body. The mirage fades in six weeks and hard work begins to hurt. And we quit.

“Exercise isn’t easy. Most people don’t like it,” one health club executive agrees. “But if they can get past a certain point—usually it’s about two months or 12 workouts—they get committed.”

He’s right. Habits take time to inculcate. Hanging in there is essential.

Submit therefore to God.
Resist the devil
and he will flee from you.
James 4:7

It calls for an act of trust in the One who empowers.

I can do all things through Him
who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

We can. And He will.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


It’s a bit late today, but you can begin planning for next year.

Get a yurt. For the one who has everything. Only $75,000. A yurt, a luxury tent that Mongol nomads use. With one-of-a-kind designer down-filled pillows and even a crystal chandelier (see picture). In a yurt. Only $75K.

Or you could get a $125,000 custom library with custom-carpeting, objets d’art, framed prints, and 250 books of your choice.

Or a $420,000 international flower show tour for ten that goes through Switzerland, Athens, Avignon (France), and Chelsea (London).

All available from Neiman Marcus. All in their Christmas book, an annual display of pricey fantasy gifts, first published in 1926.

Oh, and for $1 million you can buy his-and-her dancing water fountains designed by the company that did the fancy water spouts at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Of course, you’ll need an estate to install that.

I’d accept a $400,000 limited-edition Ferrari. Or a $45,000 ping-pong table.

The cars, by the way, sell out every year, says Neiman Marcus’ vice president of corporate communications, Ginger Reeder. So plan early.

Other stuff that Neiman Marcus has offered over the years? His-and-hers ancient Egyptian sarcophagi (1971; a museum purchased it … and found a mummy in one!). A camel (1967). A bag of uncut diamonds (1972). A thoroughbred racing horse farm with 12–15 horses (2008; $10 million). A zepellin (2004; also $10 million). Ten thousands gallons of Aramis cologne (1969). Mr. Potato Head covered in Swarovski crystals (2004; $8,000).

Someone needs to give me one of these odd things. Instead I get JIF. Woe is me!

I’m gonna have to have a serious talk with Santa.

Come to think of it, I think I’ve already gotten a far better gift than any of those. Making me richer than I can ever be.

For you know the
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though He was rich,
yet for your sake He became poor,
so that you through His poverty
might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9

Rich. That’s what I’ve become, because of this Gift. The Gift of a Person who ransomed me.

… the Son of Man
did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give His life
a ransom for many.
Matthew 20:28

Ransomed from the penalty and power and (one day) from the presence of sin. Were it not for this Gift, I’d be in big trouble.

For the wages of sin is death …,
Romans 6:23

Without the Gift, death would separate me forever from God.

… but the free gift of God is
eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

All because of God the Giver who loved me.

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

And Jesus the Gift who gave himself for me.

He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient
to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:8

And so now I’m rich.

… blessed …
with every spiritual blessing
in the heavenly places in Christ,
Ephesians 1:3

And so I don’t need no Ferrari, no yurt, no sarcophagus, no fancy fountain.
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

Rhea F. Miller, 1922

(I still could use JIF!)

Saturday, December 17, 2011


WARNING: The following story may be too graphic. It might cause emotional disturbances. Viewer and reader discretion is advised.

At least $1 million dollars worth of damages, possibly more. In one fell swoop. Sixty seconds. In one massive 14-car pile-up on a highway in Japan in Yamaguchi prefecture.

All, luxury-car enthusiasts, were driving to a super car gathering in nearby Hiroshima when it happened, destroying eight (yup, EIGHT!) Ferraris, two Lamborghinis, and a few sundry Mercedes Benzes. The most expensive auto mishap ever, at least for 2011.

On second thought: I forgot about the Texan guy who drove his Bugatti Veyron (valued at over $1million) into a salt marsh near Galveston a couple of years ago. He told police that a low-flying pelican (yup, PELICAN!) had distracted him! Go figure! Police suspect insurance fraud. Wrecker driver Gilbert Harrison of MCH Truck and Auto, who had the joy of fishing out the million-dollar vehicle now thoroughly marinated in brine, told the Houston Chronicle that the driver had taken his rather expensive marshy detour in his stride. “He was calm,” Harrison told the Chronicle. “If it had been me, I'd have been cussing, but he was calm.” I agree; if that had happened to me (and if I weren’t a seminary prof), I’d have cussed too. It’s a good thing seminary profs don’t drive Ferraris. What would we do?

Anyhow … back to ye olde land of Nippon.

It all began when one Ferrari driver, in the process of changing lanes, hit the median. This guy spun across the freeway and everyone behind collided with everyone else while attempting avoid the first wreck.

So there it was, a cluster of bright red Ferraris with their “Prancing Horse” medallions, cluttering the freeway in bits and pieces.

Thankfully, no one was injured in the mayhem on the Japanese highway. Serious dents in some wallets did occur, no doubt. Though the owners of these vehicles probably had enough wealth in the first place that those were only minor dents. Scratches. What’s a million dollars? Easy come, easy go.

Do not weary yourself to gain wealth,
Cease from your consideration of it.
When you set your eyes on it, it is gone.
For wealth certainly makes itself wings
Like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.
Proverbs 23:4–5

Here one instant. Gone the next.

Instead the Bible gives us some better ideas regarding wealth.

… the imperishable quality
of a gentle and quiet spirit,
which is precious in the sight of God.
1 Peter 3:4

… rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom
which He promised
to those who love Him.
James 2:5

… be rich in good works,
to be generous and ready to share.
1 Timothy 6:18

Take my instruction and not silver,
And knowledge rather than choicest gold.
For wisdom is better than jewels;
And all desirable things
cannot compare with her.
Proverbs 8:10–11

… the unfathomable riches of Christ.
Ephesians 3:8

… God … has blessed us
with every spiritual blessing … in Christ.
Ephesians 1:3

Not to mention the wealth of the rewards in the afterlife.

Do not store up for yourselves
treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy,
and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves
treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust destroys,
and where thieves do not break in or steal.
Matthew 6:19–20

Yup, there’s more to wealth than is visible here in dollars and cents, wallets and purses, stocks and IRAs. Much more.

Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and the rest. All will disappear. Only “wealth” reckoned by God will last. For ever!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


OK, I have found the answer.

The other day, I went downstairs for something. When I got downstairs, I forgot what I had come down for. (And that’s not the first time.)

But I have found the answer and it is not age.

(Though I won’t deny that I am become a tad ancient and those brain cells—unionized, I bet!—are becoming a bit rebellious, refusing to obey management. And not only that: my hairline is in recession, my weight is in inflation, and overall I’m in depression. I’m a walking economy!)

But back to this thing about memory. Names, numbers, places, things. All are fading rapidly. But now I know why, courtesy of Dr. Radvansky, psychology professor at Notre Dame.

This guy is an expert on doors. Yes, doors. His research has found the answer. Here it is:  

Passing through doorways is the cause of these memory lapses!

“Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” Radvansky explains helpfully. “Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.” Boxed, packed, and carted away.

Doorways! Who’d’ve thunk it?

Prof. Radvansky performed experiments on college students (rewarded with course credits) in both real and virtual environments. They had to go into a room (real or virtual) pick up an object (red cube or blue wedge or some such) and go into another room and exchange it for another object. Randomly they were quizzed about what they were carrying or what they had just dropped off (they couldn’t see what they were carrying in a virtual experiment; in a real one, they were not allowed to look). The result? More errors if they were interrogated after passing through a doorway, than if they were in the middle of a room: the “location-updating effect” (a.k.a. “senior moment”). Memory was worse with a location shift. The funny thing was that even when they returned to the same room (after going through a series of rooms) memory did not improve. It seems that just going through doors does something to your brain, impeding your ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room.

So? Live in a place with no doors and your memory will be pristine!

(I wonder if car doors can do that to you, too. I’m gonna get me a motorcycle!)

Anyhow, I was intrigued to learn that doorways turn out to be “event boundaries.” Remarkable!

Maybe that’s why Jesus called himself a “door.”

“I am the door;
if anyone enters through Me,
he will be saved.”
John 10:9

For it is through him that one has access to the Father.

For through Him we … have our access
in one Spirit to the Father.
Ephesians 2:18

It is the passage through this “event boundary” that changes our eternal destiny. It changes everything!

Therefore, having been justified by faith,
we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom also we have obtained
access by faith into this grace
in which we stand.
Romans 5:1–2

An “event boundary” indeed! The past is forgiven. From sin I am free.

And you know what, that Door does things to God’s memory, too.

“… and their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”
Hebrews 10:17

Amazing, that “Event-Boundary”!

Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I shall enter through them,
I shall give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
The righteous will enter through it.
Psalm 118:19–20

Enter. And forget.

Saturday, December 03, 2011


I preached at a funeral service in Houston yesterday. Those are always hard. Particularly so, when it is the home-going celebration of a delightful gentleman, the father of a close friend. And Bobby’s Dad was about my father’s age. We’d had a 2+ decade-long association when we were all part of a church plant in ye olde city of Houston, in the days of my medical training there.

I remember this sprightly septuagenarian (in those days) crazy about Indian food and, particularly, Indian sweets.

Oh, and he was also crazy about Christ! So crazy he’d share Christ with anyone. Anyone!

I thought I knew him reasonably well. But I learnt something about Dr. Mathew today. When Bobby spoke at the service, in tribute to his father, he mentioned a rather curious incident that happened many years ago.

His father was an anesthesiologist and had, at one time, worked with the surgical team of the venerable Dr. Denton Cooley in Texas Heart Institute (THI). Cooley, one might remember, was the founder and surgeon-in-chief at THI, famous for performing the first implantation of a totally artificial heart.

Apparently, one of Dr. Mathew’s “crazy” habits was, after a busy day in Cooley’s OR, to go out into the streets of Texas Medical Center (TMC) in Houston handing out gospel tracts to passersby. You might want to know that TMC is the largest medical center in the world with 50+ medicine-related institutions, including two (yes, TWO) medical schools, four nursing schools, a zillion other schools (of dentistry, public health, pharmacy, …), 20-something hospitals, and on and on and on. This is an academically dense place.

And our man was handing out tracts after work, on TMC’s campus. Probably looking disheveled in his overworked scrubs, and undisciplined hair. One recipient of Dr. Mathew’s tract took offence at the sight of this scruffy Indian guy doling out shady “cultic” literature in a high-tech, high-brow, high-salary environment, that had a budget larger than the city of Houston’s, and that boasted more employees than ye olde city. Yup, he was ticked off. Ticked off good and proper. How dare this strange-looking person purvey disreputable products in a respectable location?

And so he vented on the dodgy distributor: “Get a job, man!” he said—to this anesthesiologist in camouflage. “Get a job!”

He was doing his job. He was discharging his God-appointed commission.

“Go therefore and make disciples
of all the nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe
all that I commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19–20

Dr. Mathew retired from active practice more than a decade ago. But you know what? He continued his “job.” Earnestly. Diligently. Conscientiously. This man was an evangelist par excellence. Crazy for Christ. He never stopped telling folks about Jesus.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ;
… we beg you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20

That was his life!

And Jesus said …,
“Follow Me, and I will make you
fishers of men.”
Mark 1:17

That was his job: he followed; he fished!

And so I wasn’t surprised at all when the family requested only one thing of me, when I preached yesterday. “Make sure the Gospel is presented,” they exhorted.

And so I did. I performed my “job” as requested. I was simply following the good man’s footsteps.

But you, be sober in all things,
endure hardship,
do the work of an evangelist,
fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:5

I love this “job”!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


This guy knows his stuff. Microsoft paid him a cool $115 million for something he created—Farecast, a predictor of airline ticket prices in the future. It’s now incorporated into the travel website of Bing, with those green, light green, yellow, orange, and red arrows that indicate whether the fare you have searched for is worthy buying (green: “fares will rise”) or not (red: “fares will drop”).

Oren Etzioni. That’s the guy. Expert on data mining and artificial intelligence. Teaches computer science at University of Washington and is Director of its Turing Center. Professor Etzioni.

In time for the season, Prof E decided to direct his skills to the unique phenomenon of Black Friday shopping. According to the New York Times, after examining billions of prices of consumer electronics, Etzioni decided to spend his Black Friday scuba-diving in Bali (sunny; 84°F; winds from the W at 5 mph). Smart man!

The guy’s research points to early December as being the best time to get bargains for electronics, that many of us misguided folks think we could get cheap on Black Friday. Etzioni explains: “The bottom line is, Black Friday is for the retailers to go from the red into the black. It’s not really for people to get great deals on the most popular products.” “Black Friday is about cheap stuff at cheap prices, and I mean cheap in every connotation of the word,” said another deal tracker who works with Dealnews, Dan de Grandpre. Cheap laptops, and cheap models of other stuff. de Grandpre agrees with Etzioni that the week beginning Cyber Monday is the moment of opportunity, the time to buy!

The explanation for all this is simple, according to de Grandpre. Toys and stuff like that are useless after Dec 26 for the retailer, so they cut prices early in December. However, there is only a brief moment of opportunity, a window, if you will, for grabbing things at low prices at this time. For, in a week or so before Christmas, prices escalate again, to exploit those procrastinating last-minute shoppers, who then are left with no choice but to ante up. You wait, you pay!

Aforementioned Professor Etzioni has a website dedicated to searching for deals on electronics. It is appropriately called It will tell you when to buy something you want. And it will also inform you how confident it is about the decision. The opportune moment … to decide.

Oh, yes, and there is an app for that: “decide com.” To help you come to the time of decision.

But the Bible tells us, regarding another important matter:

Behold, now is the acceptable time,
behold, now is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2

Now! Don’t put it off. Salvation comes with believing in Jesus Christ as your only God and Savior.

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Sorry, no app for that. But it is as simple as placing your trust in Jesus as the one who died for your sin and rose again.

Delay can only create problems!

For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Etzioni, from Bali, urged everyone to “look at all the amazing volatility, and wait for the price drops.”

I’d say, look at the volatility of life. And don’t wait.

It is appointed for men to die once
and after this comes judgment.
Hebrews 9:27

The arrow is GREEN! Now!

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Apparently Mom was right! “Don’t slouch!” “Stand up straight!” “Keep your head up and your chest out!” Etc. She was right after all.

It seems, or so the studies say, that not only does poor posture wreak havoc on your spine and neck, not to mention the awful impressions of yourself that you make, it can also make you emotionally susceptible to feeling more pain!

University of Toronto scientists claim in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that adopting a “submissive posture” increases your sensitivity to pain. And those who adopted “dominant poses” displayed higher pain thresholds. This complements earlier studies that showed that powerful postures in some way change hormonal levels and enables them to take greater risks. It has also been demonstrated perceptions of self-control affect mothers’ sensitivity to pain in childbirth.

People feel more powerful, sense more control, and tolerate more distress. Who knew? I’m gonna keep a clenched fist and tight jaw from now on.

Because curling up into a ball or appearing cowed into submission makes the painful experience more painful, perhaps by one’s sense of losing control or by one’s anticipation of pain. Instead standing up straight and performing expansive gestures (e.g., arms away from the body, etc.) create a sense of power and make whatever the painful stimulus is, more tolerable.

Hmm ….

That led me to wonder about postures children of God must adopt before their heavenly Father.

All kinds of postures seem acceptable to God.

Kneeling, of course, is standard policy.

For this reason I [Paul]
bow my knees before the Father ….
Ephesians 3:14–15

But so also is standing …

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive,
if you have anything against anyone,
so that your Father who is in heaven
will also forgive you your transgressions.”
Mark 11:25

And sitting …

Then David the king went in
and sat before the LORD, and he said,
“Who am I, O Lord GOD,
and what is my house,
that You have brought me this far?”
2 Samuel 7:18

And lying down …

When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Psalm 63:6

Or prostrating oneself …

And He [Jesus] … fell on His face
and prayed, saying,
“My Father, if it is possible,
let this cup pass from Me;
yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Matthew 26:39

Heads bowed? Sure.

Come, let us worship and bow down.
Psalm 95:6

Hands raised? Why not?

Lift up your hands to the sanctuary
And bless the LORD.
Psalm 134:2

Eyes open? Jesus did it.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said,
“Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.”
John 11:41

Loudly …

Then falling on his knees,
he [Stephen] cried out with a loud voice,
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
Acts 7:60

Or silently …

Now it came about,
as she continued praying before the LORD,
… she [Hannah] was speaking in her heart,
only her lips were moving,
but her voice was not heard.
1 Samuel 1:12–13

Or even weeping …

She [Hannah], greatly distressed,
prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.
1 Samuel 1:10

Rejoicing …

O clap your hands, all peoples;
Shout to God with the voice of joy.
Psalm 47:1

And singing …

Serve the LORD with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Psalm 100:2

Or even dancing!

Praise Him with timbrel and dancing.
Psalm 150:4

Thankfully, the efficacy of prayer is not gauged by posture or the levels of hormones.

O You who hear prayer,
To You all people come.
Psalm 65:2

He hears! Ours is a prayer-hearing God!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Last week I was in Chicago. Moody Bible Institute had its Spiritual Enrichment Week and I was the designated chapel speaker for this event. What fun!

The preaching itself was fun, of course! I enjoy preaching anyway and to do something you enjoy with an appreciative crowd is makes it even more enjoyable.

But the energy of these kids was contagious and innervating. Add to that a delightful staff, friendly faculty, and a gracious President, you have a mix that is a powerful influence for Jesus Christ in the world.

Moody is a huge enterprise of education, radio, and publishing arms. The education part is the Bible Institute for undergrads with 20 odd programs catering to about 1500 students, and the Theological Seminary for several hundred grad students.

I was impressed with the students. Besides the fact that they hoot and cheer enthusiastically in chapel (we need to do that at Dallas Seminary!), they also sing wonderfully. And having a music department means that the student-led music, with a different band each day, is of high caliber. What joy!

And, then, as guest speaker, during my free times, the school signed up students who wanted to chat with me, giving each a half-hour slot. What a delight. Lots of questions. Lots of probing. Lots of zeal. (Not surprisingly, celibacy and singleness was the area that had many of the students curious.) Inspiring!

Then the casual conversations over lunch (and over the din in the Student Dining Room). Breakfast with President Nyquist. Coffee with a DTS alum and a former student, now a youth pastor in the area, who was visiting with a few of the youth in his church interested in Moody. Delightful!

A visit to a dorm floor at the request of an RA, led to a one-hour chat with a “round table” of students. More questions. More probing. More demonstration of zeal. And then these guys laid hands and prayed for me! Powerful!

I was thrilled with their fervor for Christ and their passion for ministry. It was wonderful to see that their parents and churches and mentors were successfully passing on the faith to the next generation.

I could see why Paul wrote to his ward Timothy:

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you,
which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois
and your mother Eunice,
and I am sure that it is in you as well.
2 Timothy 1:5

Somebody had done a good job in the previous generation.

You, however, continue in
the things you have learned
and become convinced of,
knowing from whom you have learned them,
and that from childhood you have known
the sacred writings which are able
to give you the wisdom
that leads to salvation through faith
which is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:14–15

Youngsters taught well. Youths pointed to the Scriptures. Godliness modeled to the next generation. What a blessing!

It is a tremendous feeling to know you are part of a passing generation that is responsible to hand on the baton to the succeeding new batch of youths. It is joy inexpressible to realize that that baton-passing is happening successfully. Praise God! May they, in their own time, pass it on further.

You therefore, my son, be strong
in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
The things which you have heard from me
in the presence of many witnesses,
entrust these to faithful men
who will be able to teach others also.
2 Timothy 2:1–2

Nope, we are not the last generation. There is hope in the next. Much hope, thank God!