Why is a $15 toy selling for $5,000?

Posted by    |    December 8th, 2017 at 6:02 am

This New York Times headline that caught my eye: “How the Bot Stole Christmas: Toys Like Fingerlings Are Snapped Up and Resold.”

I had no idea what a Fingerling was or why I should care. Then I learned that fingerlings are “colorful chirping monkeys (and sloths and unicorns) that wrap around your finger.” They have become one of the most sought-after toys on Christmas lists.

Here’s why they are in the news: the fifteen-dollar creatures are sold out online nearly everywhere. You can’t find them at Toys “R” Us, Walmart, or Target. But you can buy them on eBay and Amazon for double, triple, and quadruple their original price. One Fingerling on eBay is advertised for $5,000.

Here’s why: popular items are being purchased by software programs as soon as they are offered for sale. These computer “bots” buy the products at a speed that humans can’t match. They also subscribe to online sales and use multiple email addresses to bypass the purchasing limits set by retailers.

Good Morning America also reported on this story, noting that a Barbie Hello Dream House which retails for $299.99 is being sold on eBay for nearly $1,700. A Nintendo video game that normally sells for $79.99 is being resold for $13,000.

Lawmakers are calling on retailers to “block the bots.” The National Retail Federation is working to “take away the tools being used against innocent customers.” But eBay explains: “As an open marketplace, eBay is a global indicator of trends in which supply and demand dictate the pricing of items. As long as the item is legal to sell and complies with our policies, it can be sold on eBay.”

And therein lies the problem.

The “invisible hand” of greed

In The Wealth of Nations, Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) spoke of the “invisible hand” of the market. He argued that an economy functions best in a free market scenario where everyone works for his or her own interest. If people are allowed to trade freely, self-interested traders will compete with each other, leading markets toward positive outcomes.

For example, a business that charges less for its product will draw customers. Other businesses will be forced to lower their prices or offer something better than their competitor. When enough people demand something, it will be supplied by the market. The seller gets the price he wants and the buyer gets the goods he wants.

But this economic system is fair to customers only when businesses are able to compete with each other. Smith did not envision a day when bots could buy all the Fingerling toys on the market and resell them for outrageous sums of money.

The phenomenon of bots at Christmas exposes this reality: humans are tempted by greed. No matter how much we have or don’t have, most of us want more than we need.

John D. Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in human history. Even though he was noted for his remarkable philanthropy, when a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” he replied, “Just a little bit more.”

During this Christmas season, as materialism and consumerism dominate our culture, how can we set a better example for our secular society?

The value of values

In July 2002, President George W. Bush delivered a significant speech on corporate misconduct in which he noted: “All investment is an act of faith, and faith is earned by integrity. In the long run, there is no capitalism without conscience, there is no wealth without character.”

Similarly, Warren Buffett described the traits he seeks in employees: “You look for three things: You look for intelligence, you look for energy and you look for integrity.” Of the three, he says that integrity is the most important.

How can we choose character over greed?

One: Agree with God. His warnings on the peril of possessions are clear:

• “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
• “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
• “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).
• “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

If you think you’re the exception, you’re being deceived.

Two: Pray for integrity. We cannot be godly in human strength (Romans 7:9). But whatever God asks us to do, he helps us to do.

Phillips Brooks: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”

Imagine a world where all of God’s people accepted this invitation. Will you “pray for powers equal to your tasks” right now?

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Should the US declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel?

Posted by    |    December 7th, 2017 at 5:15 am

NOTE: Given the complexity and significance of today’s subject, this Daily Article is longer than usual.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” President Trump announced yesterday. After his statement, Palestinian protesters burned photos of the president in Gaza City. By contrast, the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City were lit with the colors of the American and Israeli flags.

Why is this such a controversial and divisive issue?

I have been to the Holy Land more than twenty times. Each time, I am amazed again by the complexities surrounding Jerusalem, the religious capital of more than half the world’s population.

Rather than make a case for one position, I will survey the history of the Holy City and briefly outline the various arguments on this divisive issue. Then I will ask you to join me in a commitment to two principles that transcend controversy and advance God’s Kingdom.

An introduction to Jerusalem

Jerusalem has been continuously inhabited for almost six thousand years. Three millennia ago, it was captured by King David and made the capital of his kingdom (2 Samuel 5:6-10). His son Solomon built his palace and the first temple there (1 Kings 6-7).

Babylon destroyed the city and its temple in 586 BC; they were rebuilt after the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great liberated the Jews in 538 BC. King Herod enlarged the temple and city greatly, but both were destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city in AD 129-30, naming it Aelia Capitolina. When Constantine became emperor, he changed the name back to Jerusalem in AD 324.

In AD 614, the Persian army conquered the city and destroyed most of its churches. Muslims called the city “el-Quds,” meaning “the holy.” They believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from a rock in Jerusalem known as the Foundation Stone. (Jews believe this rock is where the creation of the world began and was the location of their temple.) In AD 691, Muslims completed the famous Dome of the Rock over this location. It is the third-holiest site in the world to Muslims (next to Mecca and Medina, the places of the Prophet’s birth and death).

The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque comprise the Temple Mount. The structure enclosing this elevated area on its western side is the famous Western Wall or Wailing Wall. Jews are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, so this Wall is their place of prayer closest to where their temple once stood. It is therefore the holiest site on earth to them.

Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in AD 1099 but surrendered it to the Muslim general Saladin in 1187. Ottoman Turks took over in 1517, rebuilding walls around the city. This enclosed area is known today as the “Old City.” It is only .35 square miles in size, with a population of approximately 35,000 people, and is located in what is known as East Jerusalem. The larger city of Jerusalem is home to more than 857,000 Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

Jerusalem in the modern era

During World War I, the British army captured the city in 1917. Jerusalem remained under British rule until 1948, when they withdrew from Palestine and Israel declared independence. The new State of Israel gained control of West Jerusalem. However, East Jerusalem came under the control of Jordan, which denied Jews access to their holy sites, many of which were destroyed or desecrated.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, Jewish forces regained East Jerusalem. Jewish and Christian access to the holy sites was restored. Israel left the Temple Mount under the jurisdiction of an Islamic authority (the waqf) but opened the Western Wall to Jews.

To this day, Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Since 1950, all branches of the Israeli government (except the Ministry of Defense) have resided in West Jerusalem. In 1980, Israel declared Jerusalem to be its “complete and united” capital.

In response, United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 478 ruled this declaration a violation of international law and called on UN member states to withdraw their diplomats from the city. All twenty-four countries that had their embassy in West Jerusalem eventually moved them to Tel Aviv, where eighty embassies now reside.

However, in 1995 the United States Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, requiring that the American embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all signed waivers delaying this move every six months, citing security concerns. The US took the position that the final determination of Jerusalem should be part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace resolution.

What the president announced

Yesterday, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced a plan to move the American embassy there. He also signed a waiver delaying the move another six months. White House officials explained that the waiver decision was necessary since it would take several years to move the embassy.

The president noted in his remarks that the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress and was reaffirmed by unanimous Senate vote six months ago. Presidents have delayed the move in a desire to advance peace. However, according to the president, “After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”

The president noted that Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. He therefore considers his announcement “nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.” However, he made clear that “this decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.” He also voiced his support for a two-state solution and called on all parties to “maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.”

Arguments for this decision

At least four assertions are being made in support of the president’s decision.

One: It recognizes reality.

Nearly all the agencies of Israel’s government reside in Jerusalem. For this reason, Russia recently recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Is Israel to be the only nation in the world that is not permitted to choose its own capital?

Two: It strengthens Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.

On December 23, 2016, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2334, calling on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” The US chose to abstain, allowing the resolution to become international law.

This resolution affected not only settlements in the West Bank but also historically Jewish sites such as the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The UN resolution forbids renovation or even maintenance of these areas.

UNSC 2334 is part of a larger attempt to undermine Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The “Temple Denial” movement claims that no Jewish temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Last week, the UN General Assembly voted one hundred and fifty-one to six (with nine nations abstaining) to adopt another resolution disavowing Israeli ties to Jerusalem.

UN bodies have adopted eighteen resolutions against Israel so far this year. In response, the president’s announcement lends America’s support to Israel’s solidarity with its capital city.

Three: It does not change the status quo in East Jerusalem.

The American embassy will be in West Jerusalem, an area that has been under Israeli sovereignty since its independence in 1948. The status of East Jerusalem will still be resolved through the peace process as before.

Four: It refuses to bow to the threat of terrorism.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz responded to the danger of terrorism: “No American decision should ever be influenced by the threat of violence. Terrorists should not have a veto over American policy. If the United States were to give in to threat of violence, it would only incentivize others to threaten violence in response to any peace plan.”

Arguments against this decision

At least three assertions are being made in opposition to the president’s decision.

One: It escalates the threat of violence.

Some commentators believe that the president’s statement will not provoke significant violence. Others claim the Arab world is less centered on the Palestinian cause than in the past.

However, King Abdullah II of Jordan fears that the move could be exploited by terrorists to stoke anger in the region. Saudi Arabia has condemned the plan for this reason; Turkish President Erdogan threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel as a result.

The patriarchs and heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem issued a statement warning that this step “will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive divisions.” The US State Department is reportedly bracing for violence at its consulates and embassies as a result of the announcement.

Two: It could undermine the peace process.

A statement from the Palestine Liberation Organization claimed that the US will be “disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative towards achieving a just and lasting peace” and will “contribute to the further destabilization of the region.” The president’s announcement might limit the ability of moderate Arab states such as Jordan to support a peace process initiated by the US. It could force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to walk away from the peace process at a time when his leadership is vital to its success.

Three: The timing is not right.

The president has stated that his administration is working on a plan for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Some argue that yesterday’s announcement should have been part of this process.

Conclusion: What we should all agree on

Whether we agree or disagree with the president’s decision, we should all agree on two biblical facts.

One: Jesus is the only hope for lasting peace.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is difficult to resolve in part because both peoples lay claim to the same holy sites. After millennia of animosity between Jews and Arabs, distrust is deep and difficult to overcome. But Muslims around the world are turning to Christ in unprecedented numbers, many after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus. And missionaries to the Middle East tell me that remarkable numbers of Jews are making Jesus their Messiah as well.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior (Romans 10:13). True peace comes only from the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:7). We should intercede daily for spiritual awakening in this conflicted region of the world.

Two: We must “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). This is a present-tense imperative for all believers.

Have you obeyed God’s command yet today?

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Supreme Court hears landmark religious liberty case

Posted by    |    December 6th, 2017 at 5:56 am

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard what Eric Metaxas calls “perhaps the most important free speech and religious freedom case in our lifetime.”

Eric explains the case succinctly: Jack Phillips is an artist who designs cakes. His business, Masterpiece Cakeshop, is an expression of his faith. He has refused business in the past that conflicted with his faith–for instance, he won’t design Halloween cakes or cakes that celebrate divorce. The Satanic Temple recently asked him to create a cake for Satan’s birthday, but he refused.

When a same-sex couple asked him to design a cake for their same-sex wedding, he declined. He offered them any cake or other product in his store.

But the couple was infuriated and brought him before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It fined Phillips and ordered him and his employees to go through a “re-education” program. He has since stopped making custom wedding cakes, a decision that has cost him 40 percent of his business.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that government cannot force citizens to make, say, or do something that carries a message they reject. For example, the Court has ruled that the government cannot compel Jehovah’s Witnesses to salute the flag. Now the Court is being asked to extend this religious freedom to the rest of us.

Can businesses “discriminate” against customers?

Writing for The Hill, Emilie Kao states, “At stake is whether the First Amendment to the Constitution protects all Americans at all times.” When Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015, he stated, “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

We can claim that people who go into business forfeit the right to “discriminate” against customers. But Colorado already respects the rights of African-American cake artists to decline requests expressing the racist ideals of the Aryan Nations Church. Now the state refuses to respect the rights of a Christian cake artist to decline a request that violates his religious beliefs.

Consider the logic of this decision. Should a Jewish baker be required to make a cake celebrating Hitler’s birthday? Should a Muslim be required to make a cake that defames the Prophet Muhammad? Should a Christian be required to make a cake with pornographic images on it?

This is about more than wedding cakes. As Kao notes, a farmer in Michigan was banned from selling his fruit at a local market because he declined to host same-sex weddings. Families in Illinois are prevented from fostering children if they won’t affirm transgenderism. Residents in Minnesota and Arizona face criminal penalties if they operate a business that doesn’t conform to the state’s view of marriage.

Should Chick-fil-A be allowed to close on Sunday to honor the Lord’s Day? Should Christian retailers be allowed to refuse to sell pornographic magazines? Should Christian bookstores be permitted to refuse to sell the Satanic Bible?

What about racial discrimination?

Of course, some see this as an issue akin to racial discrimination. Would Jack Phillips be able to refuse to make a wedding cake for an interracial couple?

The connection between same-sex marriage and racial discrimination is tenuous, however.

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson of Los Angeles calls this connection “offensive” and says that the civil rights movement “is not about sex.” Bishop Gilbert Thompson of Boston: “I resent the fact that homosexuals are trying to piggy back on the civil rights struggles of the ’60s.” Pastor Garland Hunt of Atlanta adds: “Same-sex marriage has nothing to do with civil rights, this is an issue of morality.”

What are the differences between gay rights and civil rights? In his excellent A Biblical Point of View on Homosexuality, Kerby Anderson notes these facts:

• Race is clearly inherited; the origins of homosexual orientation are still very much in dispute.
• The biological differences between people of different races are miniscule, varying by just two-tenths of one percent. But the anatomical and biological differences between males and females are obviously very significant.
• Race cannot be chosen, while homosexual activity is a choice.
• While minorities continue to face economic discrimination, there are far less financial consequences for homosexuals. To the contrary, studies place the average income of homosexual households at either twice or 60 percent higher than the national average.

I would add that the Bible clearly rejects racism (Galatians 3:28). But it also forbids homosexual relationships and defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.

I want to be clear: racism in all its forms is wrong. God loves the entire world (John 3:16) and calls us to do the same (Matthew 22:39). But it is not discriminatory for a Christian to refuse to make a cake that violates his religious beliefs.

To the contrary, it is discriminatory to force him to do so.

Conclusion

I invite you to pray for Jack Phillips and those who are defending his religious freedom. Pray for the Supreme Court justices to preserve our First Amendment rights.

And pray for God’s people to use this issue to speak the truth in love, defending biblical morality in a spirit of humble grace. We are all broken sexually and morally. We are all in need of grace. And the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

NOTE: A minister recently claimed that those who want to see the Church of England embrace a more open view of the LGBT community should pray that Prince George grow up to marry a man. For Ryan Denison’s thoughtful response, click here.

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