Saturday, October 29, 2011


Information. We’re addicted to it. And we have incredible access to it.

A ballgame score? A chi-square test? Weather in a particular zip code? Treatment options for psoriasis? Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rainman? Directions to a specific street address in a specific city in a specific country? Particulars of the most esoteric kind—all available on the net. Things that would have been virtually impossible to locate, find, or identify a decade ago are within finger-reach today.

Laptops, tablets, smartphones. Google, Bing, and Wikipedia. Information sources outside the finite confines of our skulls. External brains. To keep us from forgetting all that stuff—mostly trivia, inanities, and minutiae.

But some things we must remember.

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Psalm 103:2

This external brain deal is not entirely new. In days past (and perhaps even now) our companions, parents, teachers, etc., served as sources of information from without our bodies. Somebody knew what we were seeking, and we simply tapped into their brains.

And that’s true about remembering God as well. In a community of believers, we remind one another about who he is and what he has done. Especially the future generation, our kids.

… tell to the generation to come
the praises of the Lord,
And His strength and His wondrous works
that He has done.
For He established a testimony in Jacob
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers
That they should teach them
to their children,
That the generation to come might know,
the children to be born,
That they may arise and
tell them to their children,
That they should
put their confidence in God
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments.
Psalm 78:4–7

These days online search engines, internet archives, encyclopedias have become the first recourse for information of every kind.

Complaints have been raised galore about how our thinking patterns have changed—for the worse—since we don’t need to retain all that information in our sulci and gyri of our cerebral cortices. In fact, researchers have shown empirically that believing the information will be available easily elsewhere enhances memory not about the information or data itself, but where and how that information may be accessed. Often our memories prioritize not the “what” of memory, but the “where,” especially when we expect the “what” to remain continuously available, as we wont to expect with online access. It’s all on the web! So, more than remember the actual details of the item, we are more likely to remember where to find those details. Thus internet and all its fractal arms and appendages serve us as external memory storage devices that may be accessed at will and as necessary. Whenever. Wherever.

But to remember God, we must go to the most reliable source, the “external brain” par excellence.

I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.
Psalm 119:16

The processes and practices of human memory are adapting to new computing and communication technology. One writer declared that we are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools; we know not the datum of information itself, but where to find it. Of course, this depends on being constantly wired and online—a possibility that has become reality in most places.

Constantly wired and online … with God.

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


I shall remember
the deeds of the LORD;
Surely I will remember
Your wonders of old.
Psalm 77:11

And pass it on!

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Yes, it’s true. What dermatologists have been declaring for a long time now has been proven. It’s true: Tanning is addictive—tanorexia!

Addiction researchers at ye olde city, Dallas (at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center), have shown that ultraviolet from a tanning bed stimulates reward pathways in the brains of those who tan frequently, not very different from the response pathways caused by other pleasurable stimuli, including food and sex and drugs and stuff. Beta-endorphin (a naturally occurring molecule related to morphine and opium) is released by the skin and reaches the brain, activating those pathways that induce feelings of relaxation and euphoria.

“Frequent tanners” (those who had used sunbeds at least twice weekly in the past 3 months) were recruited to be exposed to UV light and non-UV light. Of course, the “experiementees” did not know which was which. But they did, even without being told! The researchers found an increase in cerebral blood flow in those areas of the brain associated with rewards. Tanners could tell the difference between a sunbed generating the real thing and one producing non-stimulating rays!

These folks were also asked, before and after UV exposure, to rate their desire to tan again. The level of desire went down when they received the actual UV rays, but remained high with the fake light. They knew what they had gotten! And they wanted more: engaging in the suspect behavior despite negative consequences, is a characteristic of addictions.

More than 1 million cases of skin cancer per year in the US. One in five Americans will get it in their lifetime. Incidence of melanoma increasing steadily for the past 30 years, and it is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25–29 years of age, and the second most common cancer for adolescents. One American dies of melanoma every hour.

And people still tan! The power of pleasure!

I know, I come face to face with this weekly: Folks unwilling to give up tanning. Even some who have had skin cancers. Unbelievable, but true.

Tanning “addicts” also demonstrate other common symptoms of addiction: tolerance (needing more and more of the behavior to get the desired pleasurable effect), withdrawal (unpleasant symptoms arising when the behavior is abandoned), guilt, and an unhealthy mental preoccupation.

It’s not very difficult to get trapped, whether it is addiction to ultraviolet or to some other disturbing behavior (and it doesn’t have to be food, drugs, or sex). We are primed to go after the instant gratification, the pleasure generated, the kick, the ecstasy, the enchantment. No, not difficult at all.

Do not love the world
nor the things in the world.
If anyone loves the world,
the love of the Father
is not in him.
For all that is in the world,
the lust of the flesh and
the lust of the eyes and
the boastful pride of life,
is not from the Father,
but is from the world.
1 John 2:15–16

Rather the Bible tells us to seek gratification in the things of God, in the things above.

Therefore if you have been
raised up with Christ,
keep seeking the things above,
where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God.
Set your mind on the things above,
not on the things that are on earth.
Colossians 3:1–3

It may not result in “instant” gratification, but gratify it will, one day, soon, and that will be a gratification for eternity.

In Your [God’s] presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
Psalm 16:11

Let’s not be hooked!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


A study in the Journal of Consumer Research reports that ambition makes you happier!

Study subjects, 134 in all, were part of an experiment that involved them picking stocks, fixing a target goal—a rate of return that would be satisfactory—and then finding out how happy they later were with the actual financial yields of their portfolios. Measuring the level of satisfaction with achieved goals, it was found that those who had set high goals for themselves were happier. Ambition makes you happier!

“The moral of the story,” observed University of California-Riverside professor Cecile K. Cho, “is don’t sell yourself short. Aim high.”

Apparently safe bets are less valuable. One’s satisfaction is somewhat reduced once the safe and easier goal has been met, since it didn’t cost one much to attain it. On the other had if one aims high—a risky shot—and achieves it, satisfaction is much greater, since the cost was also greater.

Aim high. How high? As children of God, we have one grand ambition:

Therefore we also have as our ambition,
whether at home or absent,
to be pleasing to Him.
2 Corinthians 5:9

This is the essence of Paul’s ministry, to see his flock pleasing God.

We have not ceased to pray for you
and to ask that you may be filled
with the knowledge of His will
in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that you will walk in a manner
worthy of the Lord,
to please Him in all respects ….
Colossians 1:9–10

How exactly does one go about pleasing God? Here’s Peter’s answer:

Applying all diligence,
in your faith supply moral excellence,
and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
and in your knowledge, self-control,
and in your self-control, perseverance,
and in your perseverance, godliness,
and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,
and in your brotherly kindness, love.
For if these qualities are yours
and are increasing,
they render you neither useless
nor unfruitful in the true knowledge
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:5–8

Useful! Fruitful! Pleasing God! A high aim, indeed!

Of course things are not as simple as that in the social science studies that were reported. Just aiming for the sky doesn’t make one happy. All of that mighty ambition must be balanced by a healthy dose of realism: Is the grand goal achievable, even remotely? If not, and when failure inevitably ensues, depression, rather than happiness, is bound to be the result.

So what about the Christian life? Is it remotely possible to please God? Is this a realistic goal? If not, why bother? Why fret about something beyond our reach, to end up in depression?

If you backtrack a few verses in 2 Peter 1, the reasonableness of the Apostle’s recipe for pleasing God is explained.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you
in the knowledge of God
and of Jesus our Lord;
seeing that His divine power
has granted to us everything
pertaining to life and godliness,
through the true knowledge of Him
who called us by His own glory and excellence.
For by these He has granted to us
His precious and magnificent promises,
so that by them you may become
partakers of the divine nature ….
2 Peter 1:2–4

That’s amazing. Not only does God require of us a life pleasing to him, he then proceeds to grant us the means to achieve that great goal.

Do this and live, the Law commands;
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
A better way His grace doth bring;
It bids me fly and gives me wings.

Aim high and fly! Please God!

Saturday, October 08, 2011


Steven Paul Steve Jobs, “a crazy round peg in the square hole,” “an insufferable and unrepeatable genius,” passed away on October 5th, 2011 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56. The Apple chairman and former CEO put the “personal” in “personal computer” and the “smart” in “smartphone,” and made both fun to use. And he introduced them into every bag, pocket, desk, and dorm. If there is one in yours, it is because Mr. Jobs created it, or because others were wise enough to copy his genius. “He changed the way movies are made, music is sold, stories are told, and the way we interact with the world around us.”

In a way, he endowed machines with … humanity! That is to say, he made them creative, he made them artful, he made them beautiful, he made them fun!

From humble beginnings to greatness. Given up for adoption by unmarried parents. Grew up in all the strangeness of the 60s. Had an illegitimate child. Dropped out of college. Started Apple in a garage. Developed the Mac. Was fired. Started Pixar. Married. Reunited with biological mother and sister. Came back to Apple. Made it the most valuable company in the world, surpassing, for a time, even the behemoth Exxon-Mobil. Seven times on the cover of TIME.  

In the line of great American entrepreneurs, Ford, Rockefeller, Walton, …. But, unlike these, who created new business models, Jobs just made a bunch of cool products everyone decided they wanted. And wanted again. And again.

iMac. OS X. iPod. iTunes. iPhone. iPad.

Bill Gates, yesterday, said: “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.”

Someone else wrote: “Goodbye, Mr. Jobs. … Now the world will suffer a bit more without your love for perfection, your hyperbolic obsession with magical devices, your insanely great ideas and ‘booms’ and ‘one more things.’ Fanboys and haters, friends and foes—especially your foes, who now will not be able to imitate you anymore—will miss you.”

This century is only a decade old. But it's a safe bet that in 2099, when analysts and pundits turn their eyes back on the decades past, Steve Jobs will be remembered as one of the giants of 21st century business.

He will be missed—501 Levis, black mock turtleneck, New Balance running shoes, and all.

Several years ago, delivering the commencement address at Stanford, Mr. Jobs observed:

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’”

Life is short. Do your best. Trust in God.

You turn man back into dust
And say, "Return, O children of men."
For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night.
As for the days of our life,
they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You
a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:3–4, 10, 12

Be wise.

And … have fun!

Saturday, October 01, 2011


The other day our local CBS affiliate reported on an odd deal.

An auto repair shop offered customers a break on the price of a full service if they could quote John 3:16. Half off. But you have to say the verse.

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

The owner put coupons advertising his deal on doorknobs all over Plano.

Of course, some are raising the issue of “discrimination.”

But store owner Charlie Whittington ain’t budging. If you want a deal, he declared, you need John 3:16.  “If I’m standing for what I believe, so be it,” he said. “Bring it on.”

And if you actually do believe the verse, the deal is eternal. Yup, eternal! And, yup, by believing. Having faith.

For by grace you have been saved
through faith;
and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God;
not as a result of works,
so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8–9

Far more than an oil change, I assure you! Eternal life …

[God] raised us up with Him [Jesus],
and seated us with Him
in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the ages to come He might show
the surpassing riches of His grace
in kindness toward us
in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:6–7

The motive of the autoshop owner? Whittington said he did it as a conversation starter in an effort to talk to people about what he believes. Not a bad idea. And yes, he did get plenty of publicity! Mostly good.

God’s motive for John 3:16 deal?

But God, being rich in mercy,
because of His great love
with which He loved us,
even when we were dead
in our transgressions,
made us alive together with Christ
(by grace you have been saved).
Ephesians 2:4–5

What a deal! SOMETHING for nothing!

Well … nothing on our part. Somebody did have to pay …

But God demonstrates
His own love toward us, in that
while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

He absorbed the “cost”!

He [God] made Him [Jesus]
who knew no sin
to be sin on our behalf,
so that we might become
the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21

One guy came into the shop in Plano, verse on a notecard in his hand, and then had second thoughts. “Why should I be compelled to quote something I do not feel comfortable to quote?” he asked. After arguing with the manager, who declined to give him the break without said verse, the customer refused to quote the passage and ended up paying more than twice what he had hoped to, in the first place.

Nope, no fudging on the deal. That’s the only way to get half off. No other way.

He who believes in Him is not condemned;
he who does not believe
has been condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name
of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:18

Texas state Attorney General had no comment about Whittington’s deal and couldn’t point out any laws this unusual offer was breaking. Another local attorney, with experience in discrimination and denial-of-service cases, said that without any connection to federal monies, the discount was well within the pale of the law.

“The study of the Bible has many rewards,” he said. I’m not sure that God intended a lube discount to be among its many riches.”

Way better!