Thursday, May 28, 2015

New Friends

Friends are a valuable commodity.  Friends help you, challenge you, make you better.  They pick you up, and sometimes put you down.  They can be counted on, and can count on you.

New friends are great.  A little while ago they were totally unknown, now, suddenly, they are a most valuable possession.  I was fortunate on this trip to make some new friends.  I am certain I have left off names and misspelled names.  Please forgive me.  You all are treasures.
Marco B, M.D.
Brad B
Zach S
Hamilton M
Erik H
Russ M
Gayden H
Kristen R
Tori T
Caroline W
Laura Lee M
Bean W
Joel H
Kitty H
Dakota H
Emma H
Ann O
Lyn M
John M
Ruth M
Marco N
Sam L
Joel H
John B
Jo B

Plus I deepened the relationship with these more seasoned friends:
Jesus, the Christ.
Friends are a valuable commodity.  Friends help you, challenge you, make you better.  They pick you up, and sometimes put you down.  They can be counted on, and can count on you.

Thanks for being a friend!

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Body

One of the great joys of traveling the world is to unite with the Body of Christ.  Sunday AM we worshiped with a sweet congregation and with the students along on Summer Mission.  The songs are American, translated into Italian.  The sermon had been translated into English and written into a nice outline that allowed us to follow along.  Everyone was very welcoming.

After the second song, we were well along into the service.  I turned around to see everyone.  It was a beautiful sight to behold.  There were young and old, dark skinned and light, new believers and veterans, from who knows how many countries!  

My eyes filled with tears. 

What a beautiful sight!

That evening, in a smaller, and somewhat older evangelical congregation, I tried to track along, with less success.  We took communion together, both services, and we sang.  This congregation preferred hymns, one familiar, one not, to choruses.  Regardless of language barriers, of cultural barriers, of customs and traditions (both communions used my preferred- wine), these were without doubt, my brothers and sisters in the Christ.

How beautiful to KNOW they are there, there in pagan Rome.  How comforting to know that both congregations are salt and light.  They are small flames, but they are bringing light to a vast darkness.

What a privilege to know they are there. What a beautiful thing it will be one day when we are united in heaven.

What a beautiful sight that will be!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Trains in the USA!

I am, at this writing (9 May), on a train leaving T-town for ATL.  I am taking the train because the one-way price is $44.  Airfare from BHM to ATL would be $360 or so.  I am going a day early to make my connection, but will get to pass some time with one of my all-time great mentors.

My wife and I were talking.  At least one of us has ridden trains in China, Japan, Switzerland, Italy, England, Sweden, Peru, Australia, and probably a couple more places, but not in the USA. Well, Brenda rode one almost 20 years ago from Highland Falls, NY to NYC.

There is a lot to be said for train travel.  You can get to the station about 15 min before departure, and no one cares.  You have a LOT more leg room than on a plane.  I have my computer plugged in to a 120v outlet.   It is smooth and quiet.  I am seeing T-town from the tracks, and it is a neat viewpoint.  At BHM we are invited to “de-train” for a smoke and a stretch.  I get off and do 3 sets of push-ups and walk around a bit.  The train stop in BHM is pretty bleak with abandoned buildings comprising the skyline.

Most of the trip between BHM and ATL is a “long green tunnel” as some have described the Appalachian Trail.  It’s nice to see the green, wooded sections, interrupted by a small homestead here and there.
We just went through some small GA town just inside the state border.  I only know this because the conductor told us to set our watches ahead to EDT.  There is an antique car show in a parking lot just beside the train tracks.  The people look up at us with a bit of curiosity.

“Who be that traveling through our town on Amtrak?” they must be asking themselves. Along the way several people and children wave at us.

No traffic lights, no weather delays, no complaints.

“We are but quiet travelers heading for ATL in the long green tunnel.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rule Book or..Owner's Manual?

A surprising number of my Christian friends are buffaloed by the LAW found in the Foundational Testament (aka Old Testament).

They will argue with considerable passion that the LAW is passed away...
That the Law and Prophets were until John,  (Luke 16:16)

But overlook, "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail." (Luke 16:17).

I think part of the problem is our natural anarchist nature.  We don't want NO laws restricting us in any way.  We want to be free- absolutely, positively, undeniably- FREE.

My hypothesis is that we believe ALL law, even G^d's, to be arbitrary.  It has no inherent value, just a set of arbitrary restrictions on our freedom.

But maybe there is a better way to think of G^d's Law.  Maybe the Law is more like an "Owner's Manual" than a rule book.  Perhaps G^d's law are not arbitrary restrictions, so much as guidelines on how best to live.  Perhaps G^d knows how we really ought to live.

Let's think about it.  Who knows what we should eat better than the G^d who created us?  If he says to avoid port, and shellfish, and scale-less fish, who am I to argue.  If G^d has rules about cleanliness, and ways to do business, and keeping the Sabbath; what's surprising about that?  If he says we ought not lie or covet, where's the opposing argument.

Don't misunderstand.  On a couple of occasions when folks asked Jesus, G^d with us, how to enter heaven, he said, "Keep the LAW!"  Don't misunderstand.  He didn't mean that we "earn" salvation, or that it was even possible to KEEP the Law.  What he was DEMONSTRATING was that NO one could keep the LAW.  The LAW is the owner's manual, but the best of us steal, covet, lie.  We NEED salvation from our sin, our failing the LAW.  Without the LAW we have no knowledge of G^d's instructions, and no knowledge of our own sin.

But inside we know.  We know we fail G^d's Law, even if we are only vaguely familiar with it.  We need the grace and mercy of G^d.  We know we need the Blood of the Christ to wash away our sins-- our salvation is dependent upon the Mercy, and Grace of G^d.  Jesus indeed paid it ALL.

But don't throw away the owner's manual.  It may keep you from major damage.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Faith yes, but in What? Faith in nothing?

Many of my anti-Christian friends like to ridicule faith.  I find this a bit amusing, and a bit confusing.

Any ridicule of faith  is amusing/confusing because these people are all people of great faith!

"Argh" they say.  "now we are people of reason, religious people are the 'faith' people!"


No way!!

Religious people by faith believe in something, but you believe in NOTHING.

Christians believe in a G^d who has demonstrated his activities across history. Christianity stands out because in this faith, G^d reached out to man, in fact became man, to save man.

Yes, it takes faith to believe that G^d exists and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  Yes to believe that Jesus was The Messiah takes faith.  No doubts there.

But with absolutely NO evidence, atheists take the FAITH LEAP that we arose from nothing, life has no meaning, and death has no after-life.  Again, there is NO evidence that these beliefs are true. 

Now that is faith, and faith in NOTHING!  Faith indeed!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Basics of Understanding Insurance

I AM NOT an economist or an insurance expert, but I do understand the basic concepts, and as a teacher, I feel compelled to share a bit. The reason I feel this compulsion is the TV ads I see for car insurance.

These company's adverts say things like:
  • "We'll insure you even though you have a bad driving record!"
  • "You have a fender-bender and your rates go up!"
  • "You destroy your brand new car and they only give you 75%, and say it's 'depreciation'!  How can your car depreciate before it's first oil change?"

My unofficial advice, from a non-expert, non financial counselor, is DO NOT deal with any company with these kinds of adverts.  Why?

  1. Money is neither created (except be the Feds) nor destroyed (except by inflation), it merely changes hands.  All insurance companies, whether life, car, property, liability, disability, or other has to do the following:
  2. Find willing customers
  3. Collect premiums from said customers
  4. Pay all legitimate claims
  5. Cover their own overhead of sales forces, actuaries and other risk forecasters, adjusters, adminstrators, buildings, utilies, etc.

The premiums MUST increase as claims increase, all other expenses being equal.  SOOOOOO, don't insure with companies paying out a lot of claims.

"But how do I do this?"  you might ask.

You look for companies that assess risk very carefully.  You want to be "the riskiest person" in your particular pool of customers.  It's simple logic and economics.  Stay away, stay far away, from any company that is seeking other customers who are MORE risky than you!!

But keep in mind, as many have said, "Advice is worth what you pay for it."

And, remember the key caveat, "Phil isn't as smart as he thinks he is!"  And in truth, I don't think I am all that smart, so apply my advice only with great care.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Admiration for Atheists

I have great admiration for the many vocal atheists I know.  I want to send them this letter:

Dear Atheist Friend,

I am writing to express my great appreciation for your positions.  As a follower of the Christ, I could never live up to your philosophy.

I admire that you, unlike me, believe that you came about by NOTHING but random chance and natural selection.  Despite your belief that there is absolutely NO TRUE PURPOSE for your own being, you still get up every day and do something that has no purpose beyond its impact, good or bad, on those around you.

I am sincerely impressed that, with absolutely NO MORAL PURPOSE, you, for the most part, are good citizens, friends, spouses, and parents. Despite your denial of anything being truly "right" or "wrong", you do the right thing mostly.  Even though you deny claims of supernatural moral truth, preferring moral relativism, most of you, my atheist friends, still manage to believe in “natural morality” and argue that we should all ascribe to it, because… you know… “it’s natural”. .

You might not be able to define "Good" in any rational, philosophically consistent way, yet you tend to be generally good people.

Of course the things you consider to be good and bad have almost no justifiable basis in nature. You insist, understandably, that murder and rape are bad, even though murder and rape are extremely common in most species including ours.  You even manage to overlook that there are very few restrictions that could be supported by the concept of a universal natural morality, but let's ignore that for now.  Yet, you live quite happily, and surprisingly morally, with incoherence!

Some of you appeal to the Darwinian concepts of natural selection and cultural group selection to explain your good behavior.  Evolution requires that life have no goals, but results in the “most successful” organisms becoming more common.  Natural selection requires that we each look to our own interests first.  Helping family, cooperating with others, being a “good person” all evolved because they help our genes become more common.  We (humans) should cooperate because it is in our own interest to cooperate.  Indeed, no other species cooperate on the scale that we do except for some ants, bees, wasps, and termites.  Thus, being a (kinda) good person (or seemingly good) is actually an optimal behavior for a self-interested human.  You use the idea that we are evolved to be "good" to justify your “natural morality”, ignoring the “bad” behaviors that we are also evolved to do, such as cheating, lying, stealing, murdering, raping, and engaging in warfare.  In this way, you can manage to use a bit of biology and a healthy dose of willfully ignoring biology to explain atheists' generally kind, considerate, and generous behavior.  But again, generally you are surprisingly good people, even based on your own inconsistent arguments.

Wow, just wow!

Ultimately, you believe that one day, not many years hence, you will pass from existence without any hope for anything further, no ultimate destiny at all.  Yet, you stare your ultimate obliteration in the eye, without so much as a blink.  Your irrational bravery is truly impressive.

As a Christian, I have to admit, that IF I believed as you do, I would not be nearly so kind, compassionate, loyal and honest as you.  If I shared your philosophy, I'd "Go for the gusto"!  I'd be all about serving my own desires.  I'd cheat and steal to the limits of my ability.  If I were an atheist, I can't imagine being loyal to anyone or any cause.  I'd devote my life to "Looking out for Number ONE"!  Yet, you guys are good people in many ways.


Keep up the good work!


(With Thanks to Andrew B for his help on this.)

Monday, May 11, 2015


I am getting older, day by day.  Nothing new about that.  I run more slowly and shorter distances- much shorter distance.  I am slowly losing muscle mass, and I have little to spare.  I am getting fatter as my basal metabolism falls, in part because I am losing muscle.

Old age is not for sissies! 

Of all my losses, the most debilitating loss is the loss of margin.  I can do my job, physically and mentally, but I have almost NO margin.  I am about at my limit.

I work hard, but I get tired- mentally and physically.  I ride my bike into work, and back home, about 3 days per week because of my schedule.  I lift weights twice a week. I run about 3 days per week.

Sounds tiring?  Yes, but in earlier days I could do all these things with plenty of margin to do, think, write, work on other stuff.  That margin is gone.

I think loss of margin is G^d’s way of reminding us that we are NOT long for this world.

You still got plenty of margin?  Great.  Enjoy it, it doesn’t last long.  You’re not long for this world either- no matter how young you are.  Trust me. Even without margin, I know that much.