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”!