Thursday, January 31, 2013

What's the Greatest?

In about 1974 I was sent to USAF survival school in Ridgely, ME.  We had to dig a hole in the ground to spend our first night in the field.  Supposedly that would keep the "enemy" searchers from finding us.  They gave us almost no food, to the point that, when I caught a small black snake, everyone insisted on cooking it.  Our next task was to run 5-6 miles up and down mountains, supposedly to elude the "enemy" looking for us.  The enemy had the advantage of knowing where we were coming form, and where we trying to go.  

Needless to say, we were eventually "captured" and put into POW camp.  In POW camp we were harassed, sleep deprived another night, and tortured (mildly and harmlessly, but nerve-wracking-ly).  We had no food and little water.

Finally, the exercise was ended.  I was dirty, hungry, exhausted and relieved, and I only really wanted ONE thing...

Yes, a hot shower with lots of soap.

That was 40 years ago, and I spared you a great many details that I recall clearly (e.g. I didn't mention the Bible, the US flag, the questioning, the escape attempt).  It does amaze me that my top priority was the shower.

I recall running the Atlanta Marathon in about 1980 or so, in the spitting snow and light cold rain.  I was wearing too little clothing and my hands were extremely cold at the finish.  When the hot shower hit them, I almost vomited at the pain.  Still the shower was terrific.

Here in Botswana, most everything is different,  but the hot shower is still delightful.

Kind of reminds me of those verses:

Ps 51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 
1 Corinth 6:11 you were washed you were sanctified. in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lord, Make it so!

( The picture above is NOT of our apartment shower, but of the hotel where I lived the first week.  Hotel was quite nice, but I am thrilled to have any shower.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fallen Nature of Man

The infastructure of Botswana is impressive.  As I walk around campus of UB, I am impressed with the money that is being put into this resource also.  Am embassy friend tells me that the government has been good about using the national funds to build the country.  This supports the statement from a UB faculty member that the government has been extremely supportive.  This is all impressive to me.

My experience around the world, including home, is that politicians mostly cannot resist corruption at some level.  The US history includes many jailed governors and other politicians, including a couple of presidential impeachments.  One of my home state's former governors happens to be in jail right now.

There is a long history in the world of presidents becoming dictators, of national leaders stealing billions of dollars, pesos, bolivars, or whatever the currency may be.  This is why I am pretty shocked to hear that since the independence of Botswana in 1966, things have seemed to go pretty well.  This is the exception.

I have noted on this blog before, that those who don't accept the fallen nature of mankind are not paying attention.  Man is fallen, corrupted, really hopeless.  Though I am by nature cynical, I don't think I am being overly negative here, I am just being realistic.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of G^d.  All we like sheep have gone astray...  There is none righteous, no not one.

We are so hopelessly lost that there is no hope we can save ourselves (note "hopelessly" personified).  Thanks be to G^d that at the right time He sent The Christ into the world to save sinners (of whom I am chief). 

That is why I stand amazed to hear the story to servant leadership acted out in real fallen world.  My hat is off to the leaders of Botswana.

As Howard Hendricks says, "May your tribe increase."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What we Take for Granted...

In the USA, where I usually reside, we take a LOT for granted.  I cannot recall a time when my parents home, and our home, hasn't had a clothes washing machine.  We have had an automatic dish washer for many, many years.  We expect elevators to be available and to always work.  We in the USA expect never to wait in line for more than 4-5 min.  We expect a lot, and usually we get it.

We very easily forget, or never realize in the first place, that many of these expectations don't exist in the rest of the world.  Botswana is impressive.  So far, I have seen good roads, potable water right out of the faucet, a nice UB campus with plenty of new, high-quality, construction.  There are many nice homes, and construction is on-going.

But we forget those things so common in life.  Here's a few things I have taken for granted, that I NEWLY appreciate:

  • Being able to drive myself around, independent of others.
  • Knowing where things are.
  • Driving on the right (as opposed to the left).
  • Being confident of culture, language, belonging.
  • A/c and heat.
  • Curtains, pots, pans, plates, forks... well you get it. 
  • Clothes washer.
  • Lots of friends only a phone call away.

G^d has Blessed us richly.  We ought NOT take things, great or small for granted.  We ought to thank G^d every day for his abundance, and most of all for his Salvation.

Lord, may I live a life that expresses gratitude to you for ALL you give and do.  AMEN.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Where Am I, LA?

I am surprised at how much this part of Botswana reminds me of LA.  LA can mean several things:
  • Los Angles
  • Lower Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Latin America.
In this case, I mean Latin America.  Flying in to Gaborone I was struck by how green it was and how much water I saw in NW part of South Africa.  As I am beginning to move around the similarity of the University campus, and the town, and the flora, all correspond with sights in Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and other LA locales.  I noticed a mimosa/locust type tree with red flowers that looks just like some they have in Costa Rica.

There are some key differences that might be mitigated over time.  The housing here seems very good everywhere I have seen.  The roads are good, the drivers not any more aggressive than in the USA.  Cleanliness here, around the campus and streets is remarkable.  I have only picked up a few pieces of trash in my four days walking around the campus.
So far, it has rained every day but one.  It is warm, even hot at times, and the humidity is higher than I expected.
It seems that we only assess things relative to something else.  This is nicer, cheaper, cooler, than that.  I guess that is the way by which we understand things.
I guess everything can be compared to something else, except G^d.  No, My G^d is not bigger, faster, stronger than yours.  No, my G^d (and I do hesitate to use the possessive) is the ONLY, and so there can be no comparison.
·  Isa. 6:3: They called out to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord who commands armies! His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!"
·  Isa. 40:13: Who comprehends the mind of the LORD, or gives him instruction as his counselor?
·  Jerem. 10:12: The LORD is the one who by his power made the earth. He is the one who by his wisdom established the world. And by his understanding he spread out the skies.
·  Rom 11:33: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways!
Yes, NO comparison!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Nicest People In the World??

It is challenging to the ego to be totally dependent upon others.  My ego needs challenging, but perhaps not this much.

On the other hand, being helpless gives others the opportunity to help.  I have been greatly helped in the three days since arriving in Botswana.

Here's a brief summary:
I was met at the airport by two people, including my department head who drove all the way out there just to meet me.
  • I have been personally guided through the challenges of establishing a household by:  Lebo, Doreen, and Chedozie, each spending considerable time.
  • Ms Chohudi, Tebogo, and Buna have patiently unraveled problems and made telephone calls to grease the wheels of starting the job and getting settled.
  • Tebogo drove me in his own auto all the way to the hotel because I had to miss the shuttle.

And everybody does this without complaining even though I tax most of them with teaching me a tiny bit of Tswana.  I found the Filipinos to be exceptionally nice, but thus far, the Batswana (from for people of Botswana- pronounced with long O to distinguish it) have surpassed all other groups.

Kind generous people are always in short supply.  There seem to be a good number here, when I need them badly.

Thank you L^rd

Saturday, January 26, 2013

G^d on Trial

The brilliant C.S. Lewis (a professor, by the way) made a brilliant observation.  He noted that historically humanity approached G^d as their judge with themselves on trial.  Modern man has reversed the roles.  Now G^d is the one on trial, with mankind as the judge.

Despite that I believe that mankind is neither progressing nor regressing, the human ego apparently has continued to expand, thus explain why humanity would be so eager to assume the role of judge.

I can clearly relate to this flaw.  I express it with all my being.  I get help from my Professorial colleagues.  I have trouble not imagining myself giving counsel to G^d.  Pride is the sin that caused the Fall, and ties in most other sin.  Pride=ego=pride.  I have a pride problem.

I and my colleagues have some interrogatories for G^d in the dock:
  • 1) What's up with pain?  Why?
  • 2) If You (G^d) are good, why do little kids die of cancer?
  • 3) What's up with bad interpersonal relationships?
  • 4) Why don't you do things more like I would do them if I were G^d?
  • 5) Why is Christianity so miraculous, strange, difficult, demanding?

Good questions, eh?

I'm so smart.  If I were G^d, I'd take care of these things, and leave no answered questions.  I'm so smart.

Did I mention how smart I am?

See what I mean about the ego/pride thing.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Today I got a HUGE lesson in expectations. I hope I learned something.
CS Lewis wrote this, “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

I think Lewis is correct.  What we expect strongly influences what we think.  Today illustrated that.  My good Nigerian friend Chebozie planted the positive idea that we would get everything done and move into the apartment today.  I was psyched and packed my bags.

I got to campus about 0830 and waited until about 1130.  Finally someone volunteered to take me to the apartment.  We searched for about 30 min, then finally found it.  The exterior was surprisingly nice.  There is a guard in front (well he/she wasn’t there, but assume they will be at night), there is covered parking, a reasonably nice courtyard, and an overall nice appearance, within sight of the South gate of the University.  I was optimistic even more.

We climbed up to the top floor, opened the door, and found a fairly nice apartment pretty much stripped of everything but furniture.  There were no curtains, pillows, pots, pans, security system, plates, utensils, washer, drying rack, dish drainer, a/c, or electrical adaptor for the fridge, which takes a special type.  Worse, there was NO electrical power.  The last profs who lived here, did they take EVERYTHING when they left??

I was surprisingly devastated.  My hopes had simply been too high, that is all.  Had we NOT lived in Sweden, where EVERYTHING was right there for us, I might NOT have had such high expectations.  But the failure is mine.

In the final analysis, it isn’t the best approach to be a total pessimist, but our expectations must be honestly realistic, and that is where I failed.  For a few hundred Pula, all will be put right.  I am forced to stay in a nice hotel with free meals.

Tomorrow will look better, and the next day too.  But… let’s not be too optimistic either.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

A “Non-denominational” Prayer

My department recently held its annual Christmas dinner.  My wife and I enjoy these and go every year.  With the retirement of our senior Christian a few years back, it has fallen to me to offer the token prayer before the meal.

First, I must say that I am very pleased that we do offer a prayer.  Our University, and our College are not known as bastions of religion, particularly Christianity.  I also acknowledge that I feel honored to be the one called upon for this Christian activity.

I was first called upon three years back, in an emergency manner, when the host realized that my Senior Christian Colleague was missing at the meal.  A request was made that I offer a non-denominational (what was meant was a non-sectarian) prayer.  I replied that I would be happy to pray the only way I knew how.  Desperate for someone they assented.

I missed last year’s dinner due to a conference.   This year, I was asked well in advance to offer a non-denominational (non-sectarian) prayer, and I quickly agreed.

When I was called upon to pray as the first function of the meal, I prayed in a loud voice this short prayer,

“Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, Sh’hecheyanu, V’Kiyemanu, V’Higianu LaZman HaZeh.” (Blessed be You, the Eternal One our God, Ruler of the Cosmos, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.

I then went on translate the prayer into English, to thank G^d for the opportunity to work in such a nice setting enjoying such a great job with great peopel.  I, of course, ended “in the name of Jesus, we pray.”

The reactions were fantastic.

“Was that Hebrew?”

The dean was pleased.   "Wow, you started with Hebrew, and ended “in the name of Jesus”, you covered everything but Islam, but Ali wasn’t here, so that’s OK."

“Yeah, had he been here I would have added an ‘insha’Allah’ and a ‘Mash’allah’, I replied.

So what?

The Hebrew prayer is a great one that any Christian should be happy to pray.  The prayer ended, as it should, recognizing the powerful name above all names, the one through whom we ought to pray.

At best, it is an illustration of a useful tactic, complying with the request in such a way that honors Jesus.  How can I do any better than that?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

That tightness in the pit of my Stomach

Today Brenda hauled me to the BHM airport to begin the long, long flights to Gaborone, Botswana.  I have flown many times, traveled thousands and thousands of miles, under all sorts of conditions.  I have been stranded by 9-11, hurricanes, and volcanoes.  Despite all this, generally speaking all has gone remarkably smoothly, remarkably.

So here I go again.  I feel that little bit of stress in my stomach.  I have never been to Botswana, but I have my boss and an HR person to meet me at the airport.  This is not common for me.  Often I am on my own.

To save your time, I'll get to the issue.  I have NO reason whatsoever to be stressed.

Yet, I am stressed.

I do not feel a lot of stress yet, but I expecting it.

How to deal with stress in my low-stress culture?  I take great comfort that G^d is Sovereign.  It take greater comfort in knowing that regardless of what may happen:

Heaven is a lovely place and my future home.
Life is short, even if we live to an old, old age.
G^d can better take care of my family and friends than I ever could.

An unusual Scripture comes to mind,  "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."  (Matt 10:28)

A better Scripture would be, Deut 31:8,  "The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."

Knowing is one thing, now to the much harder task of doing...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ask an Atheist? What?

At my institution of higher education, we have an ardent, zealous, and very studious appearing student group with the unusual monicker, "Ask and Atheist".

This calls for (NOT begs) the question, Ask an atheist?  What?  Or perhaps, Ask an Atheist? Why?

Now i don't want to seem a bigot, or atheismist (e.g. racist, sexist), but what would I ask, or why?  In fact, what would be the point?

Get my drift?

Atheists claim to KNOW that there is no (a) G^d (Theos).  It logically follows then, that an atheist believes that there is no purpose, no point, no "reason" for life or for us.  To be consistent, we were not created (no Creator), we are here by statistical chance alone, as a product of random mutations.  Consequently, there is nothing of substance/value (existential nihilism) to be known.  So why ask, and what would we ask?  It's not that atheists are stupid, it's not that they don't know some things, it's just, based on their own philosophy, there is nothing really worth knowing.

Go figure.

"The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good."   Ps 14:1

Ask an Atheist?  What?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Value of a Guide

Today was my first day in Botswana.  The International Programs office at the Univ of Botswana was kind enough to assign a senior undergraduate to guide me around a bit.  What a Godsend!

His name is Lebo, and you can see him below standing in front of the big plaza of the UB Student Center.

Lebo knows Botswana, Gabarone, and UB.  He answered my questions about the local language, showed me around the campus, and guided me through a physical exam and purchasing a cellphone plan.

BUT, the KEY thing he did was give me great comfort and inspired confidence.  And that, in a strange and stressful situation, is invaluable.  If you have been in this situation, you know just what I mean.

In fact, a LOT of life is like this...

We do much better with a guide.  And there are plenty of volunteers to lead us.

So the question we must face is, Who will we follow?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why go to Botswana?

We have tried not to mention our move to Botswana too much among our friends.  Travel info seems get old rather quickly.  It does need to be discussed at times, so when we do, there are two questions raised:

  1. Why go to Botswana?
  2. Where the heck is Botswana?

The second Q is easier than the first.  Botswana lies to the NW of the country of South Africa, between Namibia and Zimbabwe.  We are in Gaborone, North-West of Johannesburg and Pretoria.  It has just over 2 million people and is one of the LEAST densely populated countries in the world.  It is chiefly known for diamond production, which is 50% government-owed, and 50% private.  It has been described as, "The most stable government in Africa."  I hope that is not some sort of jinx.

Why go to Botswana?  Lots of reasons:

  • Beautiful place to visit.
  • #3 in world (by some ratings) in wildlife
  • Okavango Delta
  • Fulbright Fellowship
  • Chance to learn new stuff
  • Chance to meet new, interesting people
  • Opportunity to see southern Africa
  • Chance to teach some classes in a new venue with a new culture

Will you do ministry there?, some ask.

I am ashamed they would have to ask.  My job is to teach and do research.  My desire is to have an eternal impact for our L^rd, Jesus the Christ.  Prayers appreciated.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Not-so-Innocents Abroad

I am not certain as to how many times I have left the USA.  It is a lot of trips over the years.  Many times I have traveled with groups.  Initially it was mostly with a flight crew.  On occasion I have traveled with different groups of missionaries.  These trips are typically low stress.

Over the last 25 years or so, I have traveled abroad alone on many occasions, and with Brenda on quite a few.  In my experience, traveling alone, or only with Brenda, is much more stressful than traveling with others.  I recall the stress of leaving for Sweden, the greater stress of leaving for Mongolia.  Now I am already feeling the stress of heading for Botswana.  Right before I leave, I ask myself, why did I get involved in this?

Staying home is comfortable, it is relatively safe, and it is low stress.  Why not just stay at home?  I have had a couple of people ask that question.

Here is some of the answer:
  • Leaving home is a chance to learn
  • Leaving home is a chance to grow
  • Leaving home is a chance to meet brothers and sisters in Christ I wouldn't otherwise.
  • Leaving home means I will trust G^d more than I would in a calmer situation.
  • Leaving home means I will experience stress that will cause me to Grow in Christ, and to realize how nice low-stress really is.

So we venture forth on another adventure, trusting that G^d will mold us, G^d will change us.  I pray that we will be conformed to the Image of the Christ.

"For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren."  Rom 8:29.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Over Christmas holidays we reviewed VHS tapes of home movies from 1991-92.  Wow!  How did we ever survive with one 15 year old, and 4 kids under 10 ?

The tapes had some humor, especially because all 5 kids survived to adulthood.  A sane person would have likely guessed against that in 1992.  The chaos, the noise, the action was reminiscent of a professional wrestling show.  Wow, again!

There we were, apparently calm.  What were we thinking?  Weren't we even remotely aware of the chaos?  How could we do this day after day, week after week, month after month?

My wife and I have always noted that Ps 127 mentions, "...blessed are the children of one's youth."  We have joked that the word "youth" is a key term.  That word is SERIOUS.

G^d has blessed us with a great, large, happy family.  This is not all that common, which is why we thank G^d for it, taking no credit.

"The fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth."  Ps 127: 3-4


Sunday, January 13, 2013

English Use, 1000 ways to mess up!

On the tv show, "How I Met Your Mother", Marshall cannot tolerate the misuse of "affect" and "effect".  I am happy the writers included this, because I think many people can relate to it.  I do.

English must be one of the most challenging languages to learn, second only to Japanese.  In English we have rules, but we violate these, even in correct usage.  Plus, English has a HUGE vocabulary.  There are lots of words borrowed from other languages.  And, there are plenty of ways to say the same thing.  You can convey a similar message in a variety of ways.  You can communicate a given message using multiple wordings.  You can speak or write identical information in a plenitude of motifs.  I guess you got my point.

Here are a few of my favorite misuses in order:

  1. The word "unique" NEVER takes a modifier.  Something cannot be:
  • more,
  • less,
  • very, or
  • extremely 

    2.  The phrase "begging the question" is a logical fallacy that describes assuming the concluding point as part of your argument.  It does NOT mean, "This raises the question."  There are perfectly good ways to say, "This bring up the question", but "begging the question" is not the way to say this.

I'm with Marshall on tv, I hate to see "effect" and "affect" misused, but I can't distinguish between them in most speech, so that doesn't bug me so much.

Clearly, English mistakes are not sinful.  The fact that I am irritated with misusage speaks more to my own egotism and sinful judgmental attitude than it does to the speakers.

I believe I am not alone in this.  Most of us are pretty judgmental.  BUT, it is important for us to realize that we are not appointed as Language judges, or any other kind of judge (assuming there are no courtroom judges reading this).  When I realize HOW MUCH I have been, and will be, forgiven, I feel a little less inclined to judge others.

"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."  I Tim 1:15

Now that begs the question, am I very unique on this?