Thursday, October 31, 2013

Flowers, Flowers, and More Flowers

Some of you may be wearying or hearing this, but the most startling thing for us about this part of Africa is the flowers.  It is mid-winter and there are flowers blooming everywhere.  Here are a few of our favorite flowers:

G^d created this beautiful garden, and we corrupted it, or rahter we corrupted ourselves whihc got us kicked out.  But, we have this reminder all around.  These beautiful flowers.

As beautiful as these flowers are, Heaven is sure going to be something to see!!!!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Basket Case

Except for diamonds, a few cattle, and some tourism, there aren't many sources of income for the local populace.  It's similar in neighboring Zimbabwe, except they don't have diamonds.

Consequntly, in the numerous markets around Bots, there are a lot of crafts for sale.  You can find lots of carved wooden and stone animals, bone/horn bottle openers, items made of wire and of beads, and screen prints.  But, the most interesting to us are the beautiful and inexpenisve baskets.  These come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from quite small to huge.  The colors are light, medium and dark brown, black, and a tiny bit of white.

The true art pieces can run a couple of hundred dollars, but you can also buy nice ones the size of dinner plates for under $3.  To look at these and think that the materials can be gathered and the baskets fabricated and retail for under $3??  Brenda heard that some of these are machine made, but even if they are, $3?
We asked yesterday about a couple of cheap ones, and the lady said they were hand made.  Maybe she was strethcing the truth, maybe not, but $3?

Likewsie, there are carved animals of stone and wood for very low cost in view of what it took to make them.  I can't imagine that the people making these objects are earning more than a dollar or two an hour.

Scripture is full of warnings of the dangers of wealth, yet me, and everyone I know still wants to be rich.  Remeber those health and wealth preachers?  It is the easiest sell in Christendom.

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

L^rd open our deaf ears!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Happy, Happy Birthday!

Today is an important birthday anniversary for my dearest Brendy.  She has a big birthday anniversary today, but I will leave it to you to guess (40).

If you have not met my wife, you have missed out on one of the finer things in life.  To know her is to love her.  She is probably the most considerate person I have ever met.  If you aren't worried about your own happiness, let Brenda know, and she'll take up your cause for you.

I have said this numerous times, she is clearly a Prov. 31 kind of woman!  She is sweet, loving, kind, patient, adventurous, and hard-working.  Plus she is willing, excited even, to go along on the most foolish of adventures.

Proverbs, the book of wisdom, tells us in Chapter 31 vs 30:
"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."

Brenda is clearly deserving of much praise.
Thanks be to G^f for my wonderful wife, the wonderful mother of my children, and a friend to all.  Amen!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Africa Smells

You might have thought we were suggesting that African Smells bad, but that is FAR from what we have experienced.  I guess the title should have read, "African Smells", but I liked the double-entendre.  At the time I write this, it is mid-September.  A bit over 2 weeks ago, we were using space heaters, now we have fans running.

We have mentioned the flowers.  It is spring time here starting in one more week.  The serenga trees are blooming, and we are guessing that is the wonderful perfume fragrance that fills the air.  How pleasant!

"For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing."  2 Corinth 2:15.

Having now experienced a truly natural fragrant aroma, a truly pleasing one, it is hard to see myself that way.  Among those being saved, we are the aroma of the Christ.  Go figure.

I am supremely glad that I don't have to understand the HOW and WHY of G^d.  All I have to do is trust that HE is able, and enjoy the ride.

Wanna sniff of me?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Joys of Pressure!

My great friend, Barry McGlothin, right before we left for Africa, gave me a little devotional book by RJ Morgan titled, "All to Jesus".  I used a story from it to write the first Ministry Minute of this academic year.  These short essays go out to Christian profs in the USA.

Today I read another one of Morgan's devotions that ministered to me, and hence you are reading about it, unless you abandon this post right now.  Morgan's day 174 devotional is about Paul's attitude in 2 Corinthians 1: 3-11.  In verse 8, Paul writes that "We despaired even of life".  Wow!  Paul was where I was the first weeks here, and maybe where you were.  Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life.

Verse 3 tells us that G^d is the G^d of all comfort.  He is our source of succor in times of need.  We may benefit from the comfort of friends and family, and that is clearly important, but ultimately comfort flows from G^d himself.

The pressures we face give us a foundation for comforting others.  Through our own trials we can comfort others, and be a conduit for G^d's comfort. (vs 4).

James Chapter 1 tells us that trials produce endurance, and now verse 6 points out the same truth from a different author.

Pressures, trials, tribulations teach us to trust in G^d rather than our selves.  We waiver, falter, fail, BUT G^D does not.

The negatives of life give us remind us of our need for faith and hope in G^d alone.

Verse 11 tells us that trials lead us to pray.  As I have written several times, few of us like to pray, and even fewer pray earnestly and regularly.  We need the exercise of prayer, and apprently we need the pressure to push us to pray.

Verse 11 also circles back to thanksgiving in a parallel way that James 1 starts with joy.  Again, you may be tired of reading this, but if we take the time to recognize what G^d has done, we ought to be so grateful that we are LOOKING for ways to express our thanksgiving to G^d... even for the pressures of life.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wimpy's Coffee

One of our favorite things in Gabs is Wimpy's coffee.  We frequently visit Wimpy's, a popular restaurant chain here in Southern Africa.  A week or two ago we were there and there was a kids' party at the other end.  they were noisy, really noisy, but they were seemingly having a great time.  There was even a clown, not sure if he was from Wimpy's, with balloon art and entertainment.

We enjoy eating at Wimpy's because it is a cheap meal.  All day long you can get a "streaky bacon" breakfast of two eggs, bacon, chips (fries), with a grilled tomato slice for only 20P ($2.50), but a large coffee will cost you another $2.

We have asked a couple of times about how they make it and do they sell the coffee beans.  The answer is that:  A) "you need a big machine", and b) "NO".

They used frothed milk on top, which is delicious and caused us to buy some frothers in Italy.  We suspect they also use just a hint of chocolate.  Try it.

So, add one more mystery to the list.  It is a long list indeed.  IF you think you are smart, take a few seconds and consider all that you don't know.  I don't know anything about particle physics or British Lit.  I know nothing of psychology, sociology, or music.

You and I don't understand G^d?  Well, what did we expect?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Motorcycle Gang Invades Church Meeting

This morning we did not have any obligations at our "home" congregation, so we decided to visit some Christian friends who worship in a different congregation.  I know the pastor, but had never been to one of his services, so it was all good.

When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw this:

These are two of our friends, Wimpy (pronounced Vimpy) and Nicolene, originally from South Africa.  We met them back at Easter on a camping trip to Khama Rhino Reserve.  They are a terrific couple who seem very committed to the L^rd.  They attend Harvest Christian Church along with our friends Ronel and Dave.

We don't normally associate motorcycles with church, much of what we do associate with church is modern and irrelevant.

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."  Micah 6:8  Sounds pretty basic doesn't it?  But of course the challenge is in the doing!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On Strike!

In travels to campuses in other countries, I have noted that the student government often exerts much more clout than in typical US universities.  Our SRC, Student Representative Council, called a strike last week.  According to my colleagues, a year or two ago they closed down the whole campus for 2 weeks.  Wow!

I was, of course, totally bewildered by all this.  I assumed it would NOT impact me.  Perhaps some of my weaker students would cut class, but that is no different from non-strike weeks.  I had heard a word here and there about students coming into classrooms and disrupting class.  I had also heard rumors of students on strike assaulting lecturers and students.

We were doing our third try at freshmen orientation last Tuesday afternoon.  About 45 min into it, we heard the telltale sounds of strikers coming.  The students in the room grew visibly tense.  Some started gathering their belongings, preparing to flee I supposed.  A few faculty members stirred a bit, but I just sat there, dumbly, as is my usual response.

After a few minutes the strikers apparently moved on, so things returned to normal.  The next day I was sitting in my office, and heard the strikers coming, so, of course, I did the right thing. I grabbed my camera and ran toward the noise.

Here are the strikers.  It turns out that they menace everyone by... singing.  It was 200-300 of them kind of chanting-singing in unison.  I kinda liked it.  I guess I coulda been assaulted, but i escaped this time.

G^d preserves us from a lot of bad stuff.  I don't seem to notice that, I just notice when I have to experience bad stuff.

Thank you L^rd from all the unseen perils from which you have protected me, including violent singing strikers!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hindu Shrine

You never know what you will find in a Gabs neighborhood.  I dropped Brenda off for Navigator's Bible study in a very nice neighbor on the Northwest side of Gabs.  As I drove over to the mall to pass some time, here is what I saw,

From a distance it looked like a huge, elaborate wedding cake or something like that.  Close up it is still pretty impressive.  Some well-intentioned people spent a lot of money to build a beautiful shrine.  Not sure to whom the shrine is dedicated, but this is just an obvious example of what many of us do as well.

We erect an enormous shrines to:
  • Personal wealth
  • Fame
  • Ecological awareness
  • Power
  • Knowledge

We are told, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."  I Corinth 6:19-20
Pair that with this concept from Luke 20:24-26, "“Show me a coin. Whose image and name are on it?”
They said, “Caesar’s.”25 Jesus said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.”

So sounds like someone has invested in us, so where should we invest ourselves?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

That's SOME Bread!

One of the things we have enjoyed in Bots has been a type of bread.  It is delicious, and must be good for us.  Here's a picture.

We really think this bread would be a big hit in the USA.  It is nutty, great with a little butter, and goes with anything.

You probably recall that Jesus quoted Scirpture on bread, " He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."  Deut 8:3.

As good as this bread might be, it will not sustain real life, the life of the spirit.

Recently in quiet time, I was struck by Romans 8:6-7.  I was  impressed to memorize these two verses, and they have proven handy already.

"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."  Rom 8:6. 

Rom 8:7 might disturb some of my Evangelical friends because of its reference to the Law of G^d, so turn away if you must.
"Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so." 

Bread is necessary for the flesh, but The Bread of Life, feeds the spirit. L^rd capture our minds.

Monday, October 21, 2013

We Won! Oops!

Brenda and I just returned from a Navigator's Marriage Seminar.  I am proud to say that we won?  Our prize was this book:

I hate to tell you how we won it.  At the very end of the seminar, they gave a book to the couple most recently married.  And then we got a book too.  I am betting you can guess how we won it.

Time certainly flies.  It seems that we were newlyweds just the other day.  It is hard to imagine that all of my children are older than most of my students, and I don't mean undergrads, but older than my graduate students.

Just last week we were living in Clear Lake, TX.  It seems like yesterday that we were living in NY State, but it was 16 years ago we moved up there.

As I have blogged before, as James said it, "How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog--it's here a little while, then it's gone."  Ja 4:14.

The Scots say, "Ye be a lang time ded."  Wouldn't it be foolish to put all our attention into this bit of fog that is soon gone without a trace.  It would be kinda like spending most of your life working on a sand castle built below the tide line.  Yep, kinda like building your house upon the sand.

"... And every one who hears these my teachings and does not act upon them will
be found to resemble a fool who builds his house upon sand. ..."  Matt:7:26.

Yep we had been married the longest!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Writing a Book Manuscript, Investment or Folly?

I am not totally sure why I want to write another book.  I write a lot anyway, more than enough to satisfy any normal desire.  I write for a magazine.  I write for Campus Crusade. I write lots of journal articles.  I write this blog.  And, I once wrote a text book.

I am happy to have written that text.  I wrote it out of sheer desperation.  From my perspective, there wasn’t a good alternative text.  The book is about the mathematics and statistics of measuring and evaluating.  Math is not a popular topic and many are psyched out before they even begin.  Most people who write text books are deeply in love with their subject matter;  so, they don’t see any need to make an inherently lovable topic lovable to the poor student.

Now a friend, Walt Larimore, MD, and I are writing a book on exercise and fat control.  In a lot of ways it is fun.  I have been teaching this stuff since about 1983, so most of it I can write off the top of my head.  It is still a lot of work though.  We are just at the stage of writing where we are looking for a publisher.  Typically you don’t even write a magazine article without assurance that the publisher will buy it.  And, in this case I had written only four chapters to send out with the query to potential publishers.  But, I have time, and the second-level option is that we self-publish it , but I have been reluctant to pursue that course of action.
So I guess it is a faith effort we are undertaking. 

Christianity seems to be the ultimate long-term investment.  We are looking forward to a  New Jerusalem, “…the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  Rev 21:2

I have no doubt that that investment will pay a BIGGER dividend than any thing we could invest in a pyramid scheme (or anyway else).

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What kind of Cop?

A Hammerkop.

We saw our first hammerkop up close in the Okovango.  It was flying alongside our boat only about 12 meters away at a matching speed.

What you see above is a hammerkop nest.  It was huge and probably weighed well over 100 lbs, maybe close to 200, or even more.  The nest obviously is used over and over, and not just by the hammerkop, but by other critters as well.

But how does a bird that weighs a few ounces build such a big, heavy nest?

He does it bit by bit.  A lot of things can be done that way.  We earn degrees, accumulate savings, make our bodies fit, little by little.  Most things cannot be done at once.

One may become a Christian in an instant, but GROWING in the CHRIST is done bit by bit.

I want to be more like a hammerkop.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rob’s Inheritance

Rob’s family has a well-developed sense of humor.  Robert was a Ph.D. student of mine several years ago.  He grew up in Fish Hoek , a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa.  His pop is a retired veterinarian, and his mom a clever woman in her own right.  We had a chance to visit them in RSA, so we took it.  We were NOT disappointed.

They were rightfully proud of their 600-hectare farm and we made a hike  around the core of the land.  One of the places we visited, was Rob's peak, the highest hill on the land.  Here's Rob's Peak.

But that's not Rob's inheritance, and that's what I am supposed to be describing.  Rob's inheritance is part of the farm that is designated for him, when that unhappy hour arrives.  It is a peaceful place, a place of serenity and possibility.  It is a special place, and a vital place.  It is the kind of place that really fulfills an important role in life.

Don't know about you, but I am looking forward to an inheritance from G^d himself.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stones that Bloom

We took a marvelous hike in the karoo with Dr. Tim P.  He showed us the hammerkop nest, the evidence of over-grazing, the best forage for cattle and antelope.  He showed us the edible berries, and the old exploratory diamond mine that abide on his 600 hectares of karoo (neat word, eh?).

At one particular spot he exclaimed with great glee, “stoneflowers”.  And sure enough, in groups of twos and threes were these delightful little succulents (fat leaves like aloe) with little blooms on the very top.  This particular species, we later learned, was a “conus” because the fat little leaves were bunched tightly like a pine cone with the bloom at the very top.

 (Yes, this photo is upside down).
In books and in the SA Museum, we saw many other types of stone flowers.  These little flowers look like greenish or gray stones that are really plants.

G^d is creative indeed.  Being able to see such a variety of birds, animals, trees, shrubs, plants, topographies, and people is a great blessing indeed.

Even the “rocks cry out”, as Scripture tells us.  Maybe the Writer was thinking of stone flowers at the time.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the
Lord!”“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”    Lk 19

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Future of the US Church?

If Italy, or Eataly, has anything, it's cathedrals.  They talk about a church building on every street corner in the SE USA, that's close to true in Italy too.  We have seen so many beautiful cathedrals that our interest in them has declined somewhat.  They are often HUGE, with beautiful adornments.  It also appears there is seldom occasion to use them.  Italy and Japan offer an interesting contrast.  Japan appears to have some old Buddhist shrines but very few Living Christian churches.  A few years back I traveled from east coast to west coast near Osaka and saw a total of one cross.  In Italy, I think you would be hard pressed to walk 100m without seeing a cross, a relevant statue, or some other symbol of Christianity.

But the differences end there.  It seems that  western Europe is truly largely in the post-Christian era.  There aren't many Christians left, and most of the citizens are not only irreligious, they are also disinterested.  Europe has a rich heritage of Christianity, but little residual impact.

It is sad to see.  In fact, the institutional church, especially in Italy, seems to be a MAJOR obstacle to the Gospel.  Sad indeed.

But what does that have to with us and US?  I fear we are headed down the same road as the European Christian Church.  We build impressive structures.  We have huge organizations.  We have economic clout.  But, we have declining influence.  A young friend of mine said his generation is more concerned with social justice than they are with Christianity.

How sad.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Favorite Barber

My father was a barber, and so for the early part of my life, every haircut came from Dad, later known as Pop-Pop.  He was a good barber, and I never had to pay him.

I left home and went to the US Naval Academy where the Navy provided my barber for several years.  I even cut hair a little myself, first at USNA, then onboard ship.  Sometime along the way I recruited a terrific barber who is willing to make house calls, even here in Africa, and previously in Sweden.

One of our early purchases here was a set of barber clippers that run on 220v.  I think we got them on sale for $2 or so.  They aren't terrific, but they work,  see:

For many years now Brenda has cut my hair, which is part of the reason, just part, why I am so handsome.

It is just a very small example of what a blessing Brenda is to me.  She takes care of me in many ways, and she does it with a smile (mostly).  As I said before, she is a Proverbs 31 woman.

And, she is... my favorite barber.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The honor system?

The Honor System doesn't seem that plausible in this part of the world.  Thefts are so common that people wall in their houses.  Cars are guarded in good parking lots, because it is needed.  You leave nothing of value visible in your car.  Warning abound about not taking chances, being alert, and watching out for your stuff.

Yet, around Gabs people stack up firewood by the road. I am not sure it is the honor system, but it seems close.  In South Africa, near Montagu, the honor system is a reality.  Brenda and I these oranges and just had to stop.  For 10 Rand ($1) we bought a big bag of oranges.  The money was put in a slit in that blue plastic jug, which is chained down, but it still requires some degree of trust.

It was comforting to know that even in "lawless South Africa" there is a vestige of honor. 

The fallen nature of man is undeniable.  We are broken, all of us, and we need a Savior.

There shouldn't be any doubt about that observation.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


As we are driving into the valley of Montague South Africa, we are struck by the beauty of the clouds.  The mountains force the wet sea air upwards which causes cooling and the result is the beautiful "orthographic" clouds.

Clouds are pretty simple. Little particles of condensed water vapor collected in sufficient density to be visible.  We don't get too many clouds in Bots, especially now during the dry season.  Maybe that's why we appreciated seeing them this time.

In our culture we seem to value complexity, yet there is much to be said for simplicity.  How about this simple story:

  • Good news- G^d created the world.
  • Bad news- Man fell.
  • Better news- G^d in the form of the Christ comes to rescue man.
  • Worse News- Man crucifies the Christ.
  • Best News- He rises from the dead, defeating death and giving us a way to a relationship with the G^d of the Universe.