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!

Saturday, November 05, 2011


In the early eighties James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, both social scientists, introduced the “broken windows theory” in criminology. While the debate continues about the virtues of such a theory, it is quite an interesting idea.

Here’s how the name came about: A building with a few broken windows that aren’t repaired, might be a temptation for vandals to break a few more windows, maybe even to break into the building, or even occupy it as squatters, and so on. Or if there is a sidewalk with some litter, soon more litter accumulates, and even bags of trash. With all of these, the neighborhood becomes unlivable, respectable residents flee, unscrupulous and unruly elements take over, and the rest is history!

Wilson, Kelling and their cohorts believe that a successful strategy to prevent crime is to take care of problems when they are small. Repair the few broken windows quickly; clean up the sidewalk daily; and the tendency for vandalism to escalate is neutralized.

Low-level antisocial behavior leads to petty crime leads to major crime.

Apparently the logic of all this is that an orderly environment sends the signal that this is a locale that is monitored and that residents conform to the norms of law-abiding behavior. On the other hand, an environment that is littered and studded with broken windows sends the opposite signal: “You can do what you want and you can even get away with crime, because no one cares and no one is watching.” It’s that slippery slope idea.

This “broken window” theory was implemented by NY City’s Transit Authority and Police. When Rudy Giuliani became mayor in 1993, the strategy was adopted more widely, as a “zero tolerance” philosophy against fare evasion, public drinking, urination, and squeegee extortionists (who wipe windshields, demanding payment). Crime, both petty and serious, fell suddenly and significantly, and continued its downward trend for a whole decade. Albuquerque, NM, and Lowell, MA, have reported similar successes. In the mid 2000s, Netherlands worked to clear not only broken windows, but litter and graffiti as well; officials secretly monitored the locations to see if people behaved differently, now that the environment had become orderly. They did.

Small bad behaviors can encourage more bad behaviors.

While the Broken Window Theory is still controversial in criminology, I think there is something to it, in the Christian life.

Small bad behaviors can foster worse habits in one’s own life. One thing does lead to another. Sloppiness in one area of life is pervasive and soon other areas are affected. Lack of control with regard to food, time, leisure, expenditure. Loss of discipline in thought, in feelings, in words spoken, in actions undertaken.

Weeds tend to grow if the yard is neglected. Satan needs only a toe-hold to start his nefarious operations. I need only a gentle nudge to topple me down that slippery slope. One thing invariably leads to another.

Like the Holy One who called you,
be holy yourselves also
in all your behavior;
1 Peter 1:15

Be holy FULLY!

… because it is written,
“You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
If you address as Father the One
who impartially judges
according to each one's work,
conduct yourselves in fear
during the time of your stay on earth;
1 Peter 1:16–17


… knowing that you were not redeemed
with perishable things like silver or gold
from your futile way of life …
but with precious blood,
as of a lamb unblemished and spotless,
the blood of Christ.
1 Peter 1:18–19


No more broken windows!