Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Beast from the East

We arrive in Newcastle England in the middle of what is called, "The Beast from the East". It is a cold snap accompanied by snowfall from time to time.  The high temps are right around freezing, so there is some thaw and some melt and some snow falling from hour to hour. And surprising to us is that this is surprising to them.  This is England, not Scandinavia, and apparently this does NOT happen very often. Consequently the local Highway Dept. is not overly supplied with snow-handling equipment. Consequently the roads are nearly impassable.

I am scheduled to speak at noon- the exact hour when the University of Sunderland is officially closing all buildings.  Over here in England, they seem to take their closings a LOT more seriously than we do in the USA. At noon, most everyone evacuates the campus.  The noon talk is hereby cancelled.  OK, G^d is sovereign in the disappointments, as He is in delights.  G^d controls the weather and "The Beast from the East" does NOT catch Him off guard.

I smile, and, though a bit disappointed from preparing for this, I know in the grand scheme of things, it will matter little. I get to chat with some Christian profs in the little time we have on campus.

The Beast from the East may disrupt our plans, but hey, it's just weather!!  We will survive, we will thrive.  Thanks be to G^d.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Growing older...and older...and...

I have now passed my 68th birthday anniversary! Whew, never thought about this.Any ideas I may have harbored about "not really that old" are now surrendered. I am old, and yes, really that old. My body is failing, bit by bit. My mind, likewise, is not as agile as it was once.

Some wiseacre has said, "It's not the years it's the mileage that counts!" Well, I am not sure that works for cars, but it sure doesn't apply to bodies. I have a lot of age, PLUS a lot of miles. I have no idea how many trips to Europe I have made. If I count carefully, I think I have made 4 trips to Africa and probably about that many to the Middle East. I have made lots of trips to Central America, and maybe 4 or 5 to South America. Plus I have made a few trips to the far East, plus once to Australia, several to the Azores, and once to Cyprus. We have been to Canada lots and crossed the USA on occasion. Plus I have run, walked and biked quite a few miles over these 68 years. Whew, makes me tired just recalling these.

And then there is the age thing.  Sixty-eight is a lot of years, a lot of trips around the sun (even more miles)! That's a lot of Mondays, and Saturdays! That's a lot of running, hunting, talking, writing, thinking, even praying!

But even with an abundance of miles and years, that is NOT the substance of which life is made! No, G^d created us for relationship. He created us foremost for a relationship with Him, and secondarily for relationships with a spouse, children, friends, neighbors.

And, that has been the BEST part, by far, of these 68 years!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Promise of Youth

We just spent a day and a half in a regional Christian Faculty Conference. One of the most encouraging things was to meet a newlywed couple, just married last June, who had driven a bit over 5 hours to get to the conference. The young wife had stumbled on some mention of the conference. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. and teach, and her philosophy is that teaching Christianly is her calling. In one of my talks I emphasized the difference between Profs who happen to be Christian, and Christians, who are following Christ as professors. She, even before starting her Ph.D. already is seeking to follow Christ as a prof.  Wow!

I am obviously, an old tired, retired prof.  But this coming generation, they are clearly our future. If one of these young ones, catches a vision for what G^d can do through their career, thousands of students can be impacted; not to mention the scores of other profs and staff.

Thanks be to G^d for allowing us to be involved in what He is doing!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Life review: Childhood

I only recall small bits of childhood.  I do not know if this is normal, as I have a sample of one- me. I do recall building forts, and throwing rocks.  I recall camping out in the backyard and a little later, in the woods behind our house.

I recall being worry-free, playing sports in the yard and school sports.  I recall swim practice, and fishing and squirrel hunting.  As a high-schooler, Mr. Mark Hitt took a bunch of us deer hunting in the North GA mountains, and that was a big deal.

I recall floating the Etowah River in my aluminum canoe with a gang of buddies and brother David, and we put our lives at risk to occasionally harvest a duck, but more often a bunch of squirrels.

Our Mom cooked great food- especially desserts, and my Dad reliably provided what we needed. We did chores, but nothing too time consuming, because studying was a high priority in our culture.

We went to Sunday School, morning church and what was known then as Baptist Training union, but typically described as BTU.  Most every church was Baptist or Methodist, and my one Roman Catholic friend had to go almost to Atlanta for Mass. One of my best friends was Presbyterian, but I didn't understand that to be any different from Baptist.

Our family was a bit atypical of rural Southern families with minimal education, in that we pretty much assumed we were going to college, and never thought of any alternative.

We pretty much grew up in the arch typical small southern environment.  It was pretty much idyllic, and a person getting drunk was noteworthy.  Everyone knew everyone, and why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

Ahhhh, what a life?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Life Review: Automobiles

My FIRST vehicle was a 1967 Chevy Pickup with a camper shell on the back.  My Dad gave it to me as a graduation gift, in 1971, at the start of my senior year at the USNA (you could not have cars before your senior year).  That truck was awesome and we were crushed when the truck was crushed by someone who ran a stop-sign and t-boned us.  That was about 1975 or 76.

In San Francisco in 1973 Brenda and I bought a 1969 (I think) Toyota Corona which we drove back across country to Pensacola, FL.  I remember towing that little white Toyota up to Doug's place in MD where we left it whilst we went to Rhode Island for schools to which the Navy had sent me.

We had an old Chevy full-size van in which we modified the to give more like "in-the-round" seating and toured in all over the central USA.  We also had a "woody" station wagon which a lady t-boned in Northport, within a mile of our home.

All, 100%, of our autos have been used.  I think $6000 is the most we have paid for one. We usually carry only liability insurance, with $1000 deductible. We drive them until they are used up, or maybe a bit passed that, and then donate them and deduct whatever they are valued from our taxes. If we need to make a long trip, for the last few years we have simply rented a car.

I say all this to illustrate our view of economy.  Perhaps someone has found a more economical approach to driving, but if they have, I wish they'd share with me. Many folks identify with their auto, so I understand that most folks want to drive something pretty nice. When we drive a rental, I get to enjoy the latest gadgets, and cruise control with radar is pretty neat. I am not a good driver (ADHD), so that gadget may be especially useful for me.

I have a VERY strong aversion to "wasting" anything, including money, so I approach everything with economy in mind.  I do the same with time. I hope I am a good steward of the manifold gifts G^d has given me. By economizing we are able to give away considerable sums of money, with no pain.

Scripture tells us that "every good and perfect gift is from above...", and so I want to recognize these as gifts from G^d.  And, He has been generous indeed.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Life Review: Immigrants

My mother's father, my abuelo, immigrated into South Florida from La Zona de Monte Cristo, La Havana, Cuba early in the 20th century. He was a restaurateur... and a professional gambler.  When my mom was about 9, her father was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Miami.  It is unknown whether or not he was murdered, or an accident victim, but my mom and her two brothers lost their dad, regardless.

Mom's mom, probably overwhelmed by the sudden loss, and lacking resources, sent my mom, and younger brothers, Ramon, and Manuel to a Masonic orphanage in St. Petersburg.  Mom's mother remarried, had another son, and when that husband died, ended up marrying a third time to the only grandfather I ever knew on her side, Johnny Phillips, for whom I was named.

On the day of my mother's funeral, all 5 of us sons were sitting around the old family living room chatting.  It dawned on me that my Mom, being the oldest had an Anglo name, Mary, whereas her two younger siblings had Latino names, because of their Cuban heritage.  I asked my brothers about this oddity.

My older brother, Doug, quickly explained it. "Her name wasn't Mary, it was Maria!"

And of course that makes perfect sense. My uncle Ramon was called "Raymond"Manuel, was called "Man-u-el" (not much way to Anglicize that one).  So, Maria was called "Mary".

But isn't it a bit odd that I never knew that until the day of her burial?

In the early part of the 20th century, many immigrants wanted to quickly assimilate into US culture (if there is such a thing).  Whereas I understand the impetus, I find it sad that my Mom lived her life under the wrong name.  I wish too, for selfish reasons, that my Mom and her sibs had been Spanish-speakers.

I am extremely proud, perhaps excessively so, of my Cuban roots. I love hearing people's heritage stories. I find people from different cultures to be fascinating, and am probably too aggressive in seeking those stories.  Perhaps that explains why I have such an affinity for Jewish culture.

Christians owe our existence to the Israelite nation. Our creation was from Jews, and our Messiah was definitively Jewish. I revel in Jewish things, and eat more kosherly than many modern Jews. I have a mezzusah on my door, and own two kippas and a prayer shawl (tallit). I know the first of the "Shema" and all of the shehecheyanu.

So, I am proud of my Cuban roots, and my Judaic ones too.  Shalom!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A GREAT Little Book

I am doing a slew of speaking this spring.  In preparation for some of it, my daughter Kelly has loaned me several books. Because I am in the middle of two other books already, I asked her which was her top couple.  She named them, one of which was Supernatural Living for Natural People, by Ray Ortlund Jr.  This is an excellent study of Romans 8.  I highly recommend, it.  He gets to the point and all 39 verses are covered in only 143 short pages with study questions at the end of each chapter.

I am writing down several quotes that I will use, hopefully, for the next several years. The topics of Romans 8, are living as a disciple, and the work of the Holy Spirit.  I will be speaking on both these topics, so that may explain why I like the book so much.

Another reason I like the book is that these two topics:  the Holy Spirit and Discipleship, are mostly under-considered in US evangelical Christianity.  I have speculated before about the influence of capitalism on Christianity in the USA.  We like to count things, and once you are baptized, there isn't too much to count.  And, I am an ardent capitalist!

It is sad to me, that we seem to have so many Christians in the USA who have bought a spiritual "life insurance policy". We have sold the idea of grace, which is undeniably the only true means of salvation, so strongly that most of us Christians seem to want to live our lives primarily in the flesh with a trip to church at Christmas and Easter, and maybe a bit more.  After all, we know we are saved.

But, Ortlund explains that this is a wholly inadequate. G^d has paid a very high price for you and for me. How should we then respond? 

Here is an Ortlund quote (pg. 37) that seems to capture some of this, "The love of the world, and the love of G^d are like the scales of a balance; as the one falleth, the other doth rise." (from The Life of God in the Soul of Man, by Henry Scougal, who taught at Aberdeen Uni in the 1600s).  Practical yet profound, eh?

Rather than write more, let's just meditate on that quote for a while...