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Tuesday was one of those moments. Jeremy our third offspring celebrated his birthday. We all jumped in to help make the day memorable.
At a local restaurant twelve of us showed up to party it up. Ten of us were relatives. Two more were good local friends of his.
That distinction didn’t last long. By the time everyone showed up and the decibel level rose to fill the smallish eatery, we were are family. Partying has a way of blending everyone into one happy gathering of love and memory-makers.
There was plenty of teasing going on. Reliving goofy moments of the past enfolded those who did not share in the episode but jumped in the later historical revitalization. Now, we could all own a funny moment of history.
No one who took pictures had to urge anyone to smile. It was a common countenance feature on all dozen of the faces that surrounded the table. Even the waiters came by and added their glee.
First on the necessary agenda was the food. Everyone had a chance to order their Thai cuisine. The fragrance that came with the serving made everyone lose thoughts of hunger.
It was time to feast. My dish was a venture from my normal foray into Thai dining. Usually, I order Pad Thai or Pad See Yew.
Once the plate was set before me, I had to fight off my relatives who were sitting around me. Hands were creeping closer and closer. Slowly I wrapped my hands around the knife on the the table.
Creepy hands reversed direction. Food nappers changed their mind when the defenses went up. My posture added an exclamation mark with that Lionhearted look and a hearty laugh.
Everyone chose well. The aroma of fragrant food added to the cheery conversation. We all had our fill. Lots of food was shared.
Then, the climax of the evening came. A Birthday cake was served. It was an angel food cake bountifully decorated with whipped cream and plenty of fresh fruit.
Happy Birthday, Jeremy! I love you! You are a blessing.
photo credit: bruce fong photography
When you walk into the Redwood forest, it is natural to look up. The magnificent trees tower over us mere mortals, we of the humankind. These ancient guardians of the soil are flora, they live for the manufacturing of chlorophyl through the amazing process of photosynthesis.
Our lives are a motor-dependent existence. We are bipeds walking from here to there. Some are nomads, others are occasional travelers but we are all mobile creatures who have only poetic roots.
The trees of the forest live with real roots. They dig themselves into the ground for water and nourishment. They they stretch in the sky to grab sunlight and grow to massive heights.
Splashes of color give moments of contrast to the expanse of the forest. God’s creative touches alone are accented with the hints that He loves variety. Delicate leaves illuminated by the rays of the sun make the most stressed among us breathe easier.
I stretched my neck to look straight up. My equilibrium wasn’t used to the steep angle. So, I laughed at myself when I stumbled for a step or two.
When I looked up again, the strong rays of the moving sun snagged my attention. I squinted and by reflex turned my head away. Looking directly into the sun with our vulnerable human eyes is painful.
So, I avert my eyes slightly. At an angle my peripheral vision gives me a wonderful look. The sunlight is scattered through the boughs of the giants trees.
Rays of light stream through the tree tops like beacons. All that is really needed is to put real sound to the orchestration that is moving around me. This walk in the Redwoods is delightful.
There are birds chirping. A babbling brook adds constant rhythmic texture to the atmosphere. No human made sound disturbs everything that is all-nature.
In this wonderful paradise in a moment of solitude I keep looking up. No, I do not stop at the tops of the Redwood forest or even the heavens that is home to the sun. Instead, I look up way up to the home of my Heavenly Father and His Son who created it all.
photo credit: brucefong photography
For months we anticipated this day. It is a high point in the Christian calendar. Every aspect of our service was planned, rehearsed and creatively orchestrated.
OK, it was a modest adjustment from our normal weekly service. We put our lives into our ministry every week. However, because Easter is special and our guests arrive in increasing numbers we ramp up our normal strides that strain towards excellence.
Normally a casual church, our team arrived with a step-up in our dress. T-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts and tennis shoes were replaced by collared shirts, neckties, dresses and suits. Wow, everyone looked great!
Guests had arrived early. It was fun to greet them, welcome them and honestly tell them how much we enjoyed having them at our service.
I watched from the back of the auditorium as people arrive on any given Sunday. As people come in I do drive-by prayer. It is a purposeful prayer that I pray on behalf of those who enter.
Sure, I may no clue as to what is going on their lives. But, who couldn’t use directed prayers in their lives? Besides, God knows and I’m just linking with Him.
Sunday, I was ecstatic. People were arriving early. Now that is NEWS worth announcing!
That kind of crowd dynamic was generating a lot of enthusiasm. I’m not anxious about people’s tardy habits. It is a reality that can be adjusted modestly but, this is a modus operandi that has the momentum favoring the masses. Yes, this is a matter of bending with the wind rather than trying to stand against it.
But, on Sunday, Easter Sunday, it was different. People were coming in early, bringing family and guests with them. Parking is always a challenge for us so that was surely a motivation for many who were filing in and filling up seats.
In our second service I walked forward to take me seat and it was the only one left in the first row. Normally, there are plenty of seats in the first two rows. Today they were ALL filled. How great is that?
Worship was outstanding. Baptisms were thrilling. Fellowship was fantastic. Reunions were stunning. Laughter was boisterous. Prayers were effective. Several were born again. Church was just great!
photo credit: brucefong photography
Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of all. That was Good Friday. Death was the penalty for sin and thus that is the price that He paid. Only He could have done so as the very Son of God that He is.
He was perfect, without sin. That made Him the sacrifice that would satisfy the holy and judicious standard of God. It was horrible, painful but such is the nature of His amazing love for all of us.
John 20 captures the moment when Mary was reunited with Jesus after His resurrection. It took place in the garden where Jesus’ tomb was located. A simple word from Him and she recognized her Savior.
Mary’s grief blocked out all possibilities of hope. She was torn and mourning the loss of her Lord. But, in the tenderness of a moment He spoke her name and everything changed for her.
This poignant episode was what inspired Austin Miles in 1912 to write the words to the classic hymn “In the Garden.” For me personally, this hymn holds a great deal of my hope. My late father was so touched by the lyrics that he memorized them. Maybe it was the portal of grace through which he made the gospel personally his by faith. I can only hope.
In The Garden
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
Words: Charles Austin Miles (1912)
Do you know Him? Accept Him as your personal Savior. He loves you. Come to the garden and hear Him call your name.
photo credit: brucefong photography – olive garden between Bethany and Jerusalem
On my way to work today, traffic flowed like usual. The sun was shining brightly through my windshield, like usual. There is always a goofy driver who depends on the safe driving of most of the other vehicles on the road like usual.
When I turned on to Sunset Boulevard, the city bus was in front of me forcing me to slow down or pass like usual. Pedestrians, actually teenagers on their way to school took their sweet time using the cross walk and slowing down traffic, like usual. Joggers were huffing and puffing along the lake, like usual.
Once I got off the Boulevard and drove through a business district on Noriega, a service truck ran a stop sign, did not look left and cut me off. It was illegal, but I have seen that move often, like usual. Of course I shook my head, like usual.
When I got to my office, I realized that I had forgotten my keys, not usual but not unusual either. I had my keyless pass so that I got into the building, like usual. Our office staff just laughed at me and used the master-key to open my office door, like usual.
But, today is not usual as a Friday. In fact it is very unusual. Today is Good Friday.
We call it Good because a very good and amazing thing happened on this day thousands of years of ago. Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world. That is very unusual.
As the Son of God He gave Himself as a substitute for all people. He paid for the penalty of sin, which is death for everyone. The Father in Heaven accepted this sacrifice, was satisfied that the price for sin had been paid by the death of His only Son.
He who knew NO sin became sin for us. Wow! This is not usual.
It is rare that a person will give up his life for someone he loves. But, how often will someone give up his life for someone who hates him? That would be unusual but that is exactly what Christ did for us.
Can you pause from your usual life to consider what we commemorate on this day? Then, thank Him, praise Him, worship Him for His unusual sacrifice. If you have never accepted Him as your Savior, then do it. He wants to be YOUR Savior.
photo credit: google image
The movie “Doubt” traces this ugly side of humanity. This story opens with a sermon from Father Flynn who is preaching about doubt. Sister Aloysius is the high-strung, rigid and judgmental principal of the church school.
During a meal with the Sisters of Charity, she asks her fellow nuns if they had noticed any unusual behavior that would give Father Flynn a reason to be speaking about doubt. Nothing is brought up. She tells them all to be alert for any such behavior.
The dynamic of the suspicion even in a religious context whets the human appetite for inappropriate discovery. Sister James is young, innocent and impressionable. Her mind is now filled with suspicion. Father Flynn’s benign activities and interaction with one of his students suddenly does look suspicious.
To Sister James’ credit she talks directly to Father Flynn about some of her concerns. He answers with reasonable answers. She accepts his explanation and ultimately tells him that she believers him, trusts him.
In contrast, Sister Aloysius pursues her suspicions. There is very little hard evidence. She is simply convinced her own mind that she is right and will not stop finding a way to have him removed from the church.
She tries to protect herself from any imagined retribution. Father Flynn is frustrated but never desperate. It seems like he knows something but as the audience we can never be sure. We swing with the skill of the storytelling.
Then, in a final confrontation, Sister Aloysius tells Father Flynn that she has corroborated her suspicions of his inappropriate behavior. Her claim is that a nun from his most recent post has confirmed his secrets. Aloysius demands that he resign or she will release the information.
Father Flynn resigns. His superiors reassigned him to another post. It is a promotion.
Sister Aloysius confides with Sister James that she lied about her contact with a nun from Flynn’s previous post. She quotes the words, ”in the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God.” Then, in a poignant moment that ends the story she sobs, “I have doubt…terrible doubt.”
It is a story where human suspicion and meddling are the tools of the self-righteous. Meddlers judge others out of their own sin. They try to push aside their doubt but it will always haunt them.
photo credit: google image
For most of my Saturday I was busy with errands, studying and enjoying Yvonne’s company. This Saturday, however, I had an eye on the clock. At 7PM I was signed up for a Bassist Clinic held at our church.
It’s a new thing for me. Playing bass guitar is not a strength of mine. But, I know how important this instrument is to worship.
Every ensemble builds on the foundation that the bassist lays. That instrument interfaces with the drummer, lending tone to the rhythm of the percussionist. Their tag team music gives the band the structure to establish a link.
So, I was curious to sit in on the clinic taught by Norm Stockton. He is a professional bassist playing with major worship groups, sponsored by major labels and music sponsors. We are blessed at Sunset Church to have a connection with him through our Worship Director, Claura.
My life doesn’t cross roads with this world of worship and music from the performance level. I value this talent pool as much as any, but I don’t share that talent with them. If I could take a pill to enable me to be one of them, I would do so without hesitation.
Through a very stormy night I made my way to our CE auditorium. A gathering of musicians took their seats. I enjoyed meeting a number of new people.
The clock struck 7PM and the clinic began. Norm introduced himself, won a friendly rapport with us in the audience, then, substantiated his skills with a solo bass piece that left me with my mouth open. It was stunning!
I didn’t if I should gaze at his left hand dancing among the frets of the neck or stare at his right hand thumping, plucking, slapping or picking at the five strings on his 535 bass guitar. What we as an audience of worshippers usually “feel” during meaningful praise is what we were treated to hear unfettered on Saturday night. It left me smiling, deeply curious and thoughtfully contemplative.
After the clinic, I met Norm in person. He was ver approachable, whimsical, thoughtful, fun, cheerful and sensitive to the things of God. We had a delightful first meeting.
Over the next months I’ll get to know him better. I will connect with him on FB and Twitter. But, even more I’ll hear the sounds and rumble from his CD that is now mine.
photo credit: google image
“Bruce, I can’t find my phone,” my wonderful wife spoke with a tone of concern in her voice.
“Oh, oh…don’t worry. We will find it,” I stopped my end-of-the-day chores and started looking.
“Maybe I left it in the car,” she wondered, questioned, theorized all at the same time.
When we lose something, we often retrace our steps, pull back and watch our lives from a third person perspective. Then, we alternate our view of every part of our recent routine. Our countenance grimaces and we think and think and put a cramp in our brain trying to remember.
Before I went out to the car, I thought that I would take a quick scan around the house. We are busy unpacking boxes of stuff from our recent move. It would be easy for something essential to be buried under something.
Nothing was obvious. I looked twice. Then, it was time to be creative.
I pulled out my phone. Next, I dialed up Yvonne’s phone number. Finally, I pressed, “Call.”
Timing is everything. Just when I thought that I heard something, the furnace turned on. The loud fan washed out all subtle sounds, especially a muffled cell phone trying to answer my call.
Yvonne came downstairs. “What are you doing?” she asked with hopeful curiosity.
“I’m calling your phone,” I revealed with high drama. “But, the furnace is so loud I can’t be sure. I think that I hear your phone but I’ll have to wait until the furnace turns off. I just turned down the thermostat.”
“I think that I hear something too,” she lit up like a prospector who found a gold nugget in a mountain stream.
We waited until the furnace finally stopped. With the house now quiet, I dialed her number up one more time. Faintly, in the distance we could hear the sound of her phone. Like a lost puppy stuck in a hole, whimpering for help, Yvonne’s cell phone was ringing some where close by.
I turned left and headed for the dining room. But, the sound grew fainter. Yvonne turned and headed right.
She did not wander like me. Instead, she was on a beeline to a destination. En route, she exclaimed, “It’s in my apron!”
Swooping down like a hawk claiming its morning prey, “Here it is!”
“Great!” I exclaimed, “check to see if you have any important calls.”
“Hey,” she responded, “I have four calls. Oh, it’s just you…” (smirk)
photo credit: google image
The concourses here at the Hyatt McCormick Center are huge. Once a plenary session was over I rarely could choose a destination. Instead once I stepped into the concourse, the human traffic swept me along. The best that I could hope for was a friendly eddy to swirl out of the current and catch my breath.
Four times I heard my name. Each time it was fun to be connected with an old friend in the masses of strange faces. Always there was a smile!
Brian and I looked at each other with an identical smile. Our smiles erupted and we laughed. “Bruce!” “Brian!”
We happened to be heading in the same direction. Together we flowed with the crowd of people. In that brief time we caught up.
Just as I handed him my business card with my latest information, the stream of people parted. He was swept right and I was diverted left. We waved.
After the next session the current of humanity moved me down a wide concourse and swept me into an eddy while the main movement curved right. Just at that moment of rest, Crawford emerged from a double door entrance. “Bruce!” “Crawford!”
For a few moments we caught up on family, ministry, hopes and dreams. The best part is that he and his bride are coming to San Francisco this year. We hope to enjoy our fellowship even more deeply.
I smiled at that intersections of life. These were unplanned times of fellowship. Each one was a gift from God. He is full of wonderful surprises.
These surprises were not yet complete. After a plenary sessions, I stood up and wove my way through the milling crowd of strangers. Then, a distantly familiar voice called, “Bruce!”
I turned to an unfamiliar face. “It’s me, Dempster!” “Whoa! So good to see you. It’s been so long, years.”
He was a student long ago. Now, he is busily serving faithfully in a Michigan church. With enthusiasm he told of his journey.
I listened with rapt attention. He had the glow of a man thrilled with the privilege of ministry. We not only caught up with each other but with a mutual friend from years gone by. Fellowship, it’s a treat both planned and spontaneous.
photo credit: google image
Leadership always has its enemies. Paul had opposers in his life. Critics took issue with Paul benefiting from those in the church. None of these negative voices considered the practical option for Paul and Barnabas.
Like most careless talkers, the criticisms leveled against Paul were nonsensical. Laid against reason the allegations made no sense. The principle of pay for service is a Divinely approved. As an apostle, compensation for service was right.
There was an understanding among the people of God in an agrarian society. They even let the animals eat while they were laboring. Common sense should tell all that those who labor in the church should also have that privilege.
If a greater service in the spiritual is provided, then a lesser benefit is well within reason. Financial compensation is the lessor of the two. Christians who benefit spiritually from its leaders should take care of the material needs of their spiritual overseers.
Public service providers are a good example. In our modern-day we all appreciate our brave firefighters and law enforcement personnel. Since we benefit from their services we all willing pay our taxes to give them a comfortable living in return. This same reason should be the baseline for our spiritual servants in the church.
Paul willingly and deliberately chose not to use this right. He did not want to hinder the gospel of Christ. The very distraction that he is discussing is the one that he wanted to avoid. It was more important to him to set aside compensation and personal rights in order to lessen any distraction from the Gospel of Christ.
God laid out a practice for the priests. Their compensation came from the sacrifices brought to the Temple. The priests were allowed to eat their food from the offerings brought for sacrifice.
Just as the priests of the Temple were beneficiaries of the service that they provided for worshippers, Paul and those who served in the church have the right for a similar benefit. This is beyond common sense. It is a command from the Lord
Christians should take care of their spiritual leaders. Make sure that as they do the spiritual work you care for their living needs. Be generous as they are generous with you. God will bless you.
1 corinthians 9.1-14
photo credit: google image