“Black Friday” Shopping Tips From A Non-Shopaholic

I am not a shopaholic by any stretch of the word.

When ever I enter a store of any sort my head begins reeling with ominous visions of my checking account being fleeced. The only store I can spend more than an hour in is “Books A Million”, and that’s because I am merely loitering/reading the whole time, not planning on spending my money. My wife, an avid shopper, has to put up with two irritated boys (my two-year old and I) if we hang around Hobby Lobby for too long. I mean, why would one store need such an obnoxious number of picture frames?!

Though I know very little about frugal Black Friday shopping in actual practice (my pillow is much too inviting at 3 AM), I now know a bit about it in theory.

We have a “Consumer Awareness” section in the Business Math class I teach. Today I went over some “Black Friday Shopping Tips” in order for my students to be informed customers. I have compiled the best tips I found in the following list:

My only hope is if you absolutely must scratch your shopping itch this Friday, don’t get needlessly reamed in the process!

1. Read the Ads: Check local newspapers on Thanksgiving Day. They will be chock-full of circulars and last minute deals. Friday’s papers will include additional sales. Get on retailers’ email lists, and look for deals and coupons listed on their Facebook pages.

2. Evaluate the Deals: Not all advertised items are great deals. To separate the ho-hum from the good deals, use one of the many internet price comparison sites (BizRate, Nextag, Pricegrabber). If shopping online, find out the total price including shipping and tax (if any), and what the reputation of the seller is using BizRate.com or ResellerRatings.com .

3. Be an Early Bird: Toys-R-Us opens at 10pm on Thanksgiving, Kohl’s at 3am, and Sears and Target at 4am on Friday. Wal-mart will open at 12:01am Friday with all its Black Friday deals except electronics which go on sale at 5am. Plot your route from store to store based on store opening times, and since quantities are very limited, arrive before the doors open. Send family members to different stores if opening times conflict.

Look for “doorbusters.” These are the advertised deals the stores lead with that make so many customers “bust” their doors open in early morning hours. Some of the best deals this year include: a Kenmore front loading washer and dryer pair for $599.98 (Sears): a Samsung 40″ 1080p HDTV for $497 (Sears, WM); a 40″ Westinghouse HDTV for $298, a WD 2TB ext. hard drive $69, Sony Blu-Ray player $99 (Best Buy), Canon SX120 digital camera $129, small kitchen appliances $3 (Walmart), adult sherpa hoodies $10 (all at Target); 150 toys 50% off (Toys-R-Us ); Logitech wireless mouse $4.99 a/r, 8-gig SD memory cards $12.99 (Office Depot); Garmin 265WT GPS Saturday only $99.99 (Kmart).

4. Beat the Early Birds: Wal-mart and Sears have been running pre-Black Friday sales on weekends, with better than Black Friday prices on some items. To plan for the real Black Friday, scope-out key retailers on Wednesday before Thanksgiving to learn each store’s floor plan in advance. Avoid the crowds by ordering online since some Black Friday deals may be available on Thanksgiving Day or Friday in the wee hours.

5. Check the Return Policy: Before buying, find out the store’s return policy. While many stores have extended their return deadlines into January, others are clamping down by imposing restocking fees on certain categories of items, or by using a blacklisting database or returns tracking system to deny refunds to returns abusers.

6. Get a Gift Receipt: Make returns easier for gift recipients by asking the store for a gift receipt and include it in the gift box. Without a receipt, a refund may be denied outright, or may be limited to only an equal exchange, or to a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for in the recent past.

7. Save More with Price Guarantees: The bargain shopping process does not end with a product purchase. Keep checking the prices of the items you bought. Since many stores offer a price protection guarantee, you may be entitled to get back some additional money if the seller or a competitor offers a lower price before Christmas.

If you want to save the most money, feel free to salute Black Friday as I do: on my couch in my sweats with a brewing cup of coffee and leftover turkey leg for brunch, and a healthy dose of college football the rest of the day. The best things in life are sometimes the most understated.

Let’s be good stewards this Black Friday!

Bryan Daniels

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Remnants of a Sore/Conspiratorial/Grieving Yet Hopeful Week

1. I recently began a new workout regimen. I’m trying to ease myself back into a consistent weight training program for the first time since college.

I read a lot from the experts about “muscle confusion” as the way to go. After three days into the plan, I think I know what they are talking about. Every time I work out my muscles are severely confused as to what the heck is going on. They cry out with unwarranted pools of lactic acid, “Why are you doing this to us!?”

When I pick up my two year old son, Josiah, I now have to prepare myself mentally like I’m about to clean & jerk a new Olympic record.

2. I’ve recently been pointed towards an interesting subculture in the world of Christian conspiracy theory. G. Craige Lewis of “Ex Ministries” brings to light some interesting parallels of modern Hip Hop and the occult. It’s a shady underground that includes many radical claims, such as: Jay-Z is a leading member of the Illuminati and Beyonce is a practicing black magic witch. What the Ordo Templi Orientis, Freemasons, and the biblical Nephilim have in common with contemporary Hip Hop can make for one twisted and fascinating tale.

Of course, all of this should be taken with a healthy grain of salt, but I am surprised to admit that behind the shock value there is more smoke than one would first imagine. Many hip hop artists use some very heavy handed and dark symbolism in their lyrics, videos, and performances (Jay-Z has claimed to be “God” multiple times). Whether hip hop artists liberal use of these occultic themes is consciously subversive or merely for entertainment purposes, I don’t know. But this ancient symbolism comes from somewhere, and if not from Scripture, then what are the other options?

Left Eye Triangle? This dude must be a 33rd degree Mason!

If we can learn anything from fringe ministries like Beale’s, it’s at least that we should be careful to filter what popular culture is preaching to us. Everyone worships something or someone, and everyone has a theology of God, even Lil Wayne and Lady Gaga.

One should also be equally careful when delving into the cult of conspiracy theory. Too much tinkering in the darkness and you may find yourself groping in a rabbit hole of fanaticism for awhile (ahem, Jack Van Impe). Know the biblical gospel and share it boldly. Every “principality” and “power of the air” must submit to King Jesus in the end.

3. Jessica’s grandmother, Francis Pitner, died Monday of this week. The past month the doctor found her body was racked with an aggressive form of cancer, and her passing was as relatively quick and painless as one could hope.

She was known for going straight “Jerry Lewis” on the piano in her heyday, and up to recently her signature peach pies would make you smack your momma twice. She passed on her legacy of discount and antique hunting to her youngest granddaughter (my wife).

Most importantly, she loved Jesus and believed she would be healed up until the end. Well, in His presence she is ultimately healed forevermore.

At her viewing, I picked up Josiah to show him his “Manny” for the last time. He looked with a slight grin and put a little finger to his mouth, “Shhhhh! She’s sleeping!”

Yes, she is. She is only dead to this fallen world. And she has awakened to real life now, unbroken intimacy with the Father and Son (John 17:3).

Bryan Daniels

Bathroom Theology: “Toy Story 3 was OK”

It was a dingy truck stop with “World Famous” coffee and yesterday’s News Herald. It was also my pharmacy, where I frequently purchased my Monster energy drinks (sugar-free) and BC powders.

The credit/debit slidey machine was usually down, but for a $2.50 fee you could use the ATM in the back.

After drinking my weight in coffee that morning it was time for me to introduce myself to the bathroom. I took a deep breath before breaking the threshold of the door; I’d rather save my nostrils from the burning sensation.

The condition of the establishment betrayed the quality of the rough and tumble types that frequented it. Bleach was not its friend. The walls, the subject of much sharpie and ball point abuse, were painted and repainted differing shades of white.

White trash graffiti littered the walls above my stall with doodlings that would make Charlie Sheen blush with shame.

In between the “call for a good time’s” and apocalyptic warnings of a race war, a curious observation was made. It was a solitary sentiment of sanity that ignored the nasty upside down world it was placed in.

It made me literally laugh out loud. It read in bold black letters:

“Toy Story 3 was OK”

Some truck stop movie critic saw it fit to inject some innocence into this profane world. Given the positioning of the message (a few inches above my head), it wasn’t written by a child either.

Believe it or not, that little observation got me thinking.  I’m always grasping for analogies no matter how far of a stretch they may be.

I wonder sometimes if the American church’s message is akin to this same type of detached sanitary musing in a filthy truck stop world.

We can (and should) address many things in relation to the gospel.  Rated R movies, alcohol consumption, finances, church attendance, self esteem, political affinities, etc. But if secondary “rule-keeping” issues become the main message the world is hearing then the church has become as irrelevant as light-hearted bathroom graffiti.

A gospel of levity and law keeping cannot begin to address the depth and brevity of the sprawling trash heap that much of culture has become.

The biblical gospel message deals directly with depraved hearts and filthy souls, showing that so nasty is the scourge on humanity, the only viable cure was God slaying His own Son on a cross as an atoning sacrifice. The gospel addresses sexual trafficking, slavery, drug addiction, starvation, rape, greed, child molestation, racism, pornography, and the whole reality of manifest darkness we dwell in. God has seen it all, judged it all, and weighed all of this iniquity in His hand. But then He did something so inexplicable, so utterly shocking we will never understand it in an eternity of eternities.  With that very hand God the Father crushed his own perfect dear Son under the weight of judgment for our iniquity (Isaiah 53:11).

With the Son’s resurrection, the Father ensured His sacrifice was sufficient and new life can be a reality with Him (2 Cor 5:17).

The church has a pearl of great price, so valuable it can restore all manner of broken relationships, political systems, nations, and even truck stops. But the gospel cannot be about mere behavior modification or some domesticated commentary espousing a better life. That would be as misguided as telling an addicted child molester, “Toy Story 3 was OK.”

A gospel that paints over or sidesteps sin never will deal with the root of the issue: the heart.

The gospel must exploit the utter sinfulness of sin in the light of the holiness of God, the blazing love of the Father in the sacrifice of the Son, and the almighty power of God to make all things new in the resurrection.

The gospel is not detached from the reality of sin around us, no, it is the only death-blow to the sin that so dominates our fallen world. An accurate proclamation of this amazing grace is the only bleach for the sin-stained soul, not new laws or 12 step programs.

And as far as our Truck Stop movie critic goes, my two-year old son respectfully disagrees.

He thought Toy Story 3 was awesome.

Bryan Daniels

“Call of Duty”: A Call to Biblical Manhood

The tension was palpable. But after months of anticipation the much awaited arrival of the ultimate video game has been officially given unto us.

“Call of Duty: Black Ops” is this generations “new Nintendo.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops is a first-person shooter video game developed by Treyarch, published by Activision and released worldwide on November 9, 2010 for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Nintendo DS consoles.

Yes, Nazi Zombies....

Black Ops gives every boy and man-child an opportunity to team up with fellow gamers to fight Cuban armies, communist gulags, and…..Nazi zombies?!

In past generations, young American men spared life and limb to fight actual enemies for their God, family and country. Now young American men spare a meaningful life and relationships to fight virtual enemies in the comfort of their bean bag chair. The disparity is slightly sickening.

Young men are looking for something to fight for. What they have chosen is Bill Gates dream, not God’s. One of the high-school seniors in my class waited outside of a store for hours with many other Call of Duty-ers to be the first to purchase “Black Ops” when the clock hit 12:00 AM on Tuesday. He immediately went home and started playing it until he had to go to school that same morning. He went to school and when he got out he went directly back to playing the game until 12:00 the following morning. On Wednesday morning, he looked like a “Nazi zombie” (minus the ‘Nazi’ I guess) in my math class.

Gaming addictions are some of the worst kind.

Middle and high schoolers are not the only victims of this gaming disease. Unfortunately, a large segment of twenty something college and career aged men have contracted it. They should be finding a career, getting married, rearing children, and at the very least moving out of their parent’s house. Instead they are settling for notoriety of their “thumb skills” and ”E-hard” status.

A whole generation of young women are still waiting for their respective “Peter Pans” to awaken from their self induced Never-land’s.

I am certainly not innocent. Though I haven’t been legitimately addicted to a game since PlayStation’s (the first one) NCAA Football 2000, the fleeting attraction of technology still has its grip on me. I spend too much time watching ESPN and perusing meaningless Websites, instead of actually pursuing the knowledge of God, leading my family, and loving people.

Young men need something to fight for. Young men are even created for something to fight for. And though there is not the same type of “World War global crisis” the men of old were beckoned for, there is a very real war and real global crisis contemporary men have been called to.

There is a spiritual war calling for the enlistment of real men.

In Isaiah 32:2 we see a captivating picture of biblical manhood. It states that the good man will be “like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” The verse shows the man as protector and guardian, as life-giver and as the firm rock for others. Married and single men are made to defend and protect their family, friends, church, community and country from spiritual attacks of all sorts.

Real men don’t fight fake zombies, they cast down real strongholds that stand between them and the knowledge of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

This is done with the deadly gospel weapons of Scripture and prayer (Eph 6). This is done by cultivating real fellowship that edifies, challenges, and encourages fellow warriors in the battle of life. What is at stake is not a high score or temporary bragging rights, but the fame of God’s holy name and an eternity in heaven and hell (Malachi 1:11).

I am not calling for a moratorium on fun, or a misguided form of fundamentalist separatism. Maybe just an honest evaluation of our values will do. Maybe we all need to take a heart inventory of what (or who) we truly love, and what we truly desire to pour our time and resources into.

Maybe what is gripping us is also what is killing us.

Maybe there really is something to fight for. Maybe it isn’t a “Call of Duty” but a call for the restoration of Biblical Manhood.

Bryan Daniels



Lil Wayne’s Incarceration: A Call to Freedom

In case you have been too enamored with election results to actually watch the “real” news, let me fill you in: rapper Lil Wayne is free at last!

Lil Wayne (Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.), was recently incarcerated for 8 months stemming from an illegal gun possession charge. As he partook in solitary confinement his album sales for I am Not a Human Being soared to No.1 on the Billboard 200.

Jeezy

Behind the mystique lies a heart-rending tale of modern times.

In addition to gun charges, Carter has also had multiple drug charges leveled against him.

To date, Carter has at least four children by three different women.

Even though he was an honor student, Carter dropped out of high school. (To his credit he is currently trying to complete an online degree)

At the age of 13, he accidentally shot himself with a .44 caliber gun.

Most of these events are just symptoms, pointing to a larger sickness. All of these circumstances have an origin in some way to the most tragic fact in Mr. Carter’s bio:

His parents were divorced when he was 2, after which his father permanently abandoned the family.

In a recent interview, Carter explained why he has dropped the “D” from his given name “Dwayne”, opting for “Wayne”:

“I dropped the D because I’m a junior and my father is living and he’s not in my life and he’s never been in my life. So I don’t want to be Dwayne, I’d rather be Wayne”. Asked if his father knew of this and Wayne replied with a smile, “He knows now.”

Behind the smile lies a little boy still needing his father’s affirmation.

The case of Carter is a case against our times. The prevalence of absent fathers is a scourge on our society.

As a father, all I can say is I don’t fully understand this tendency towards abandonment. I’d rather die a thousand deaths than miss my son’s first words, birthdays, football games, and other milestone moments .

I do know there are a litany of factors to consider: socioeconomic, educational, psychological, learned family traits, etc. But the prevailing factor behind it all can get lost sometimes in our philosophizing:

Sin. Sins of the heart.

Sin not only hardens our hearts against God and His revealed will, it hardens our hearts against people, even the people closest to us; our family. One of the first sins ever recorded in the Bible was a family feud that turned into premeditated murder.

It is cases like Carter’s that make me cling to one of the most compelling promises in Scripture. The very last written OT promise to the nation of Israel is found in the book of Malachi. It is followed by roughly 400 years of prophetic silence, until a carpenter’s son shows up on the scene to turn the world upside down.

It says:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6)

In the NT, we learn John the Baptist came as a fulfillment of this prophecy (Luke 1:17). But there are also compelling reasons to believe there is a final “end times” Elijah that will be the complete fulfillment of this prophecy (Revelation 11:3-12).

Regardless, this prophecy hits at the root of the matter with an axe hammer. It’s a heart issue. All sins are.

Whether by overt acts of abuse, subversive attitudes of disappointment, or the act on trial here: neglectful abandonment. Apart from a turning of heart, all father’s are susceptible to this.

Children are not entirely innocent. This promise would apply to rebellious younger children, neglectful older children and children embittered by what they perceived as a rough childhood. Children must have a turning of the heart too.

If we want to see a revival in this nation, we must start with a reviving of families. It will start with broken families being broken and repentant before one another.

I long for the day when God fully restores broken families, even Lil Wayne’s. I long for the day men like him see freedom not in the context of a prison release, but in the freedom from sin found in Christ. True freedom that breaks every curse, and makes them the fathers, husbands and children that can revive a nation.

Bryan Daniels

Post Election: The Donkey Wept

A few musings about Election Night 2010:

1. Big props to Steve and Steve. Or Steve squared. Or….whatever. Steve Moss won his local school board seat. Steve Southerland won the Congress seat over an entrenched incumbent, Allen Boyd. Both are stand up Christian family men who will be an asset to their community as public servants.

2. “The events suck for the Democrats tonight,” was Chris Matthews exact somber words last night. That tingly feeling he used have run up his leg seemed to be replaced by a swift kick to the man region. The MSNBC crew displayed snide remarks, sarcastic observations and sore loser syndrome throughout their election broadcast. Brewing bitterness was their food all night long.

3.  Conversely, Fox News was the epicenter of giddy school girls at a Justin Bieber concert. When I turned the channel to “America’s Newsroom”, confetti and silly string literally exploded out of my TV, hit me in the face, and fell into my bowl of cereal. The “Mastermind” Karl Rove and the “Martyr” Juan Williams waxed poetically about the massive conservative shifts in Washington.

That either Fox News or MSNBC would claim objective journalistic integrity is disingenuous at best. Both tend to serve as political lap dogs, one for the left one for the right.

4. God is sovereign (Daniel 4:35-36). We must pray (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We must pray for all our leaders, not just the ones we have a political affinity for. The Obama administration, leftist loons, redneck right, red state and blue state. It doesn’t matter. God is the only wise, loving, powerful KING in the universe. His Son is the only living hope for this nation; not reform, new bills, less taxes, or more populist uprisings. Let’s approach Him boldly, and He will grant the only change that will last in the end (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Bryan Daniels

Sister Wives: Neither Nice Nor Biblical

Kody Brown, of the reality TV show “Sister Wives,” is a glutton for punishment. Most men have a hard enough time keeping one woman pleased. But estrogenic attacks, menopausal mercilessness, and wedding dress drama are multiplied by four for Brown.

How did this guy get 4 wives? The hair my friend.

The TLC hit show “Sister Wives”, about a polygamous family living in Utah, has become a cultural phenomenon. Along with four sister wives, the family boasts 16 total children.

The Browns are fundamentalist Mormons. Though the mainstream modern Mormon Church formally rejects the polygamous lifestyle, it is a matter of record that the founding patriarchs and early followers of the LDS church were polygamous. Joseph Smith and his followers exercised what they considered their biblical freedom.

That is what happens when wild personal revelations become the standard for interpreting the bible, and not careful thoughtful exegesis of the text.

Just because the Bible mentions a sin does not mean it permits it. The Bible is a very frank historical record of the total spectrum of human sinfulness. Adultery, homosexuality, greed, pride and a litany of sins are shown in Scripture through many living illustrations.

All of these stark realities are simply descriptive of life as it is, not prescriptive, or commanded, ways of living.

In the bible, polygamy is never shown in a positive light. In the very beginning, we see one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve) as the pre-eminent model for mankind (Genesis 2:18).

The first biblical character to be a polygamist, Lamech, was considered to be an evil man (Genesis 4:19-24). Polygamy was the beginning of the end of wise Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 11:4). The disaster of polygamy is illustrated by Lamech and Adah and Zillah in Genesis 4:19–24, Esau and Mahalath and other wives in Genesis 28:6–9, and Jacob and Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29:15–30. Even though some godly patriarchs took on polygamous lifestyles, never once was their decision considered good or godly.

In the New Testament, godly leadership must be men who are committed to only one woman in marriage (1 Timothy 3:2, 12).

Women of Scripture who are involved in polygamous marriages are frequently shown to be insecure, jealous, and untrusting in their relationships. This was the tragic case with Abram, Sarai and Hagaar, and also Jacob, Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29:15-30).

In the show, this seems to be the case with Meri, who was the first and is the only legally married wife to Kody Brown. Meri is honest about her misgivings and struggles with the “plural” lifestyle. Throughout the first season she is a tumultuous bundle of conflicting emotions. She takes the marriage of Kody to Robyn harder than any of the other wives, even though she was the driving force in setting the two up.

Even after living roughly twenty years within the plural marriage she signed up for, she is still wounded afresh by Kody’s insistence of adding to their family. She rightly feels insufficient, abandoned, and even cheated on. Far from loving her as Christ loved the church, Kody is treating her (probably unintentionally) emotionally as a passing afterthought.

The older wives joke they are glad that Kody finally got himself a younger “trophy wife” in Robyn. The nervous laughter betrays their angst. Robyn is younger, prettier and skinnier than the other wives. Instead of the man being ashamed of his mistress, polygamy brings her home and makes her a part of the family.

“Sister Wives” brings to light some incredibly provocative relational dynamics. And to the family’s credit, they handle most of it with a spirit of cordiality and sensitivity to one another. These are nice people who have chosen to put themselves into an untenable circumstance for the sake of religion.

As nice and as Christian as the family may seem, polygamy is neither nice to women nor is it biblically Christian.

I could make a compelling case for polygamy being cruel to men also. But, then again, some men, like Kody Brown, are just gluttons for punishment.

Bryan Daniels